Yang Yongfang (also known as Chef Grace) is just one hotel pastry chef in China who’s been in a gingerbread frenzy this month. For Domain bakery at Beijing’s East hotel, she’s created do-it-yourself gingerbread-house kits, and all month she’s been hosting groups of local Chinese schoolchildren who squirt fat streams of white icing to glue the pieces together and then decorate them.
“Whenwecame up with this idea, we thought we’d sell maybe 10,” says the hotel spokeswoman, Mina Yan. “But thanks to social media, it really took off. I know we’ve done at least 200. Chef Grace says she’s done nothing but made gingerbread all month. She probably wants to kill me.”
While gingerbread is unfamiliar to some Chinese, everybody knows the ginger root that gives it flavor — used much more in everyday cooking in Asia than in the West. Gingerbread can be a cake or a type of cookie or biscuit; in the latter form, it’s popular to cut the dough into shapes of gingerbread men before baking.
The first recorded gingerbread, as we know it today, was made for England’s Queen Elizabeth I, who had it served to important foreign visitors.
Jean-Luc Vasseur, executive pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong, says he enjoys making gingerbread during the holidays in different shapes. For the hotel’s high tea, for example, he makes soft gingerbread lollipops with orange marmalade in the center. “Chinese people like it because I put a lot of citrus flavor in it and a little star anise.”
His Chinese guests like the flavor “if you play with it”, he says, but notes that they don’t care much for the hard biscuit-type gingerbread cookies favored in theWest. “Sowedo cupcakes with gingerbread flavors, or creme brulee.”
The biscuit-type gingerbread is also made into houses — from the tabletop sizes Chef Grace makes with kids to almost life-size houses in some hotel lobbies that people can walk inside to buy holiday goodies.
Chef Yang Yongfang (left) leads parents and their kids to make gingerbread houses at Domain bakery, at East Beijing hotel.