Gingerbread has been munched in France since the eleventh century, when the Gingerbread Fair was first held in Paris. The local monks would sell their own gingerbread, shaped into little pigs. This may have been what gave the first Queen Elizabeth the idea of ordering little ginger cakes (the first gingerbread men) to be baked in the shapes of portraits of those she knew. You might like to pursue the same idea.
Combine sugar, golden syrup, butter, spices and fresh ginger in a heavy-based pan over low heat, and let melt, stirring. Remove from heat and cool for 2 minutes, then quickly stir in bicarbonate of soda until light and fluffy.
Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre, add eggs and gradually add the syrup, stirring until all flour is incorporated and you have a dough. Wrap dough in plastic and chill for 1 hour.
Heat oven to 180°C (350°F) and roll out dough thinly on a floured surface. Cut into the shapes of men, women, animals, stars, trees or rounds, and place on trays lined with baking paper. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before removing from tray. Cool on wire rack, and store in airtight container.
© 1998 All rights reserved. Published by Murdoch Books.