Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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For the Love of Gingerbread and Bundt Cakes

Gingerbread has a long and fascinating history with its origins lying with the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians.  In its earliest form it was baked to be firm so that it could be used for religious ceremonial purpose and when  the concept of gingerbread came to Europe around the 11th Century  its primary use continued to be for that of religious purposes. Containing the expensive spices and sugar meant that gingerbread was the preserve of the wealthy and  this coupled with the fact that the creation of religious icons was seen as a sacred and prestigious practice, European royalty of the time only permitted gingerbread to be prepared by specially trained gingerbread guild members with the exception of Christmas and Easter times. As a result, most people could only enjoy the delights of this exotic delicacy during these times and is why we still associate gingerbread with Christmas festivities’.

An early European recipe for gingerbread consisted of ground almonds, stale breadcrumbs, rosewater, sugar and ginger and on occasion other spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.  The ingredients would have been pounded together and the resultant paste was then pressed into wooden moulds. These edible works of art would be decorated with icings, gold leaf or studded with exotic spices and would be in the shape of crests or in the image of figures of the monarchy or religious symbols.

In the 16th century, the English replaced the breadcrumbs in the early gingerbread recipes with flour, and added eggs and gingerbread started to resemble the bakery delight that we recognise today. The first gingerbread man is credited to Queen Elizabeth I, who impressed visiting dignitaries by presenting them with a gingerbread person baked in their own likeness. Gingerbread tied with ribbon was popular at fairs during the Elizabethan period and, when exchanged, became a token of love, which explains why we still sometimes see love hearts made from gingerbread.

Indeed gingerbread is in our hearts and our literature; remember the fairy tale about the  gingerbread-man cookie that sprang from the oven and ran off to escape a trail of hungry hunters only to end up being  devoured by a wily old fox? The story was first published in America in 1875 in a children’s magazine called St. Nicholas and is testimony to our love of gingerbread men.  In many ways the gingerbread-man is one of the most well-known forms of gingerbread and indeed the idea of edible animal and human figurines harks back to ancient celebrations in which they were used as substitutes for live sacrifices.   In England there was a tradition on Halloween that maidens would eat a gingerbread figure that was symbolic of a husband to ensure that they would find a love match. Whilst in Hungary and Yugoslavia, decorated gingerbread dolls were exchanged as love tokens, inscribed with romantic sentiments or inlaid with tiny mirrors a European tradition that symbolises a man and woman gazing at one another for eternity.

Gingerbread has held a place in American culinary hearts for many decades with a mention in Amelia Simmons American Cookery, which was the first published U.S. cookbook,  printed in 1796 where she recommended that the housewife should, “Shape [dough] to your fancy,”  This eventually sparked a trend for  fancifully shaped tin cookie cutters and indeed there are many competitions for the creation of exquisite gingerbread houses, indeed the Americans have turned gingerbread into an iconic art form as well as a delicious treat.

When it comes to iconic bakes that have that all American seal the Bundt cake has to be mentioned.  Indeed whilst the Bundt cake’s lineage shows its roots are German it is undoubtedly the 1960’s American dream cake and has come a long way from its German origins to take the crown of American bakery hero.

The Bundt cake takes its name from the fluted sided, ring tin that it is baked in.  Not only does the tin produce a pretty looking cake, but the ring shape provides even heat distribution which in turn ensures the cake has a firm crust all the way around and is baked to perfection in the middle.

Bundt pan inventor David Dalquist first created the pan at the request of a group of women known as the Minneapolis Hadassah Society. The society’s members were looking for a modern pan suitable for making a version of the traditional  Austrian/German cakes of their homeland.  He was given a large and heavy ceramic kugelhopf mould and asked to recreate a modern lightweight version and that’s exactly what he did.. Dalquist originally named the Bundt mould a ‘Bund’ mould (a German word meaning alliance or bond) but added a silent ‘t’ to trademark it after it soared in popularity.

Dalquist created the original Bundt pan in 1950 but it became a must-have baking item in 1966 during the Pillsbury Bake-Off competition. The Pillsbury Bake Off a prevalent American competition which has been around since 1949. In 1966 the competition focused around quick and easy bakes, which appealed to women who were busy in the workplace as well as the home.  In was in this year that finalist Ella Rita Helfrich used one of Dalquist’s pan’s to create a cake known as the Tunnel of Fudge Cake, which secured her the runner-up title. The chocolate and nut cake has a firm outer crust but has an incredibly gooey centre: the perfect decadent treat. The Tunnel of Fudge Cake became notorious in the baking community and soar the sales of the Bundt tin soar and so another winner in the history of American baking was born.