Czech Gingerbread Traditions
Written by Pavlina Dvorakova and Tereza Maresova
Gingerbread, one of the oldest pastries known to man, possibly even older than bread itself! Simple form made just of water, flour and honey was discovered even in ancient Egypt inside of the pyramids. It was popular with the rich in Old Rome. People added different ingredients and spices when they became available.
First mention of gingerbread here in The Czech Republic is from year 1355 from Turnov, where the tradition had arrived from Nuremberg, Germany. Their gingerbread supposedly had 90 different rare spices and herbs. These spices include cinnamon, anise, coriander and cloves. The raised dough is made of flour, sugar, eggs, oil, cocoa, honey and spices. It was made in wooden forms and baked. Gingerbread was traditionally made by men since it was difficult to work. In 1515 Pardubice started making it after the town`s owner bought the recipe from the town Hradec Kralove.
Every single gingerbread master had his own special formula to achieve the best taste, the recipe usually kept a secret and handed to their successors. When bakers started adding pepper to the dough, gingerbread got his Czech name ‘Pernik’ (after the Czech word ‘pepr’ for pepper).
During the 16th and 17th-century Gingerbread baker guilds started to appear, from bakers and confectioners, the most significant in Pardubice and Cesky Krumlov. Back then, gingerbread was usually made for festive feasts. Gingerbread was also quite expensive and many people couldn’t really afford it. But luckily that changed over the years.
Today you, can buy gingerbread at any time or just make your own at home. But even now are gingerbread figures a traditional part of Christmas, Easter or Saint Nicholas day. They are usually decorated with frosting made of powdered sugar, they can either have a shape of a classical gingerbread man, animals, and Christmas symbols or build impressive gingerbread houses. For Christmas there are amazing gingerbread Bethlehems, the biggest one in the Czech Republic is made out of 1806 pieces of gingerbread and was made of over 120 eggs and 30 kilograms of flour. It contained 1255 gingerbread people and took about a month to make.
A very common shape of gingerbread is a gingerbread heart. They are usually sold at festivals. They are decorated with many colors and with inscription (for family members or loved ones). These ginger-breads are made hard, more like a cookie. Pradubice has a festival the 8th of May every year.
There is also a soft kind of gingerbread dough, more like a cake. Most home-made ginger-breads are the cake type. Another form of gingerbread very popular among children are snack ginger-breads. A sandwich two pieces of soft gingerbread dough with fruit jam in between them then coated with chocolate!
Long lasting tradition makes Czech gingerbread a great souvenir, one of the best known is definitely Pardubice’s gingerbread. It comes in many forms with beautiful decorations, favorites are hearts and neatly made gingerbread houses. Another famous are original hand pressed ginger-breads from Cesky Krumlov, which are also made in various shapes, such as hearts, roosters, eggs and chimney sweeps (these are considered to be a source of good luck in the Czech Republic)