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Baking London’s Largest Gingerbread Man

December 14, 2018
by the gentle author

Louise Lateur at E5 Bakehouse

Many years ago, I bought a gingerbread figure of St Nicholas in a bakery in Galway. A few years later, I bought another gingerbread figure – this time of Krampus – in Prague. While St Nicholas brings gifts to good children each December, Krampus punishes those who have misbehaved, so I realised that my gingerbread figures belonged together. And all this time, they have lived side by side in a glass case on my bookshelf.

Imagine my excitement when Fiona Atkins, antique dealer and proprietor of Townhouse in Fournier St, showed me a hefty old wooden mould for a gingerbread man she had bought in an auction. The design was of a man in Tudor clothing, not unlike the outfits worn by the yeoman warders at the Tower of London, and the figure was over two and a half feet high. He wore a wide-brimmed hat, a ruff and long quilted coat with slashed sleeves.

At once, I persuaded Fiona to let me find a baker to make us some giant gingerbread men. My good fortune was to meet Louise Lateur, a pastry chef from Flanders working at E5 Bakehouse, who agreed to take on the challenge. Thus it was that, early one frosty morning this week, Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven & I arrived at the Bakehouse under the arches in London Fields to record the baking of London’s largest gingerbread man.

As a Belgian baker, Louise knew that the correct name for these gingerbread figures was ‘speculaas’ and recognised the design of the mould as one of St Nicholas’ helpers. Her father had a similar mould hanging on the wall at home in Ghent and she knew the traditional recipe. “At pastry school in Belgium, it is one of the things you have to make to qualify,” Louise revealed proudly. Yet although Louise has made speculaas, she has never made one of this size before.

Already, Louise had done a week of experimentation to address the challenges posed by the giant gingerbread man. She perfected her recipe to create dough that was flexible enough to take an imprint of all the details of the mould yet stiff enough when baked so the gingerbread man was not too brittle to stand up. At first she experimented with decoration, adding icing to the figure, but decided it was better without. Most importantly, she created the ideal mixture of spices – ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cardamon, pepper and coriander to bake the classic speculaas. “In Belgium,” she revealed, “every bakery has their own spice mix for speculaas.”

Taking out a large lump of the golden dough, Louise rolled it on the table and then placed it on top of the mould, pressing and spreading it out to fill the figure. The density of the dough rendered this an arduous task, demanding twenty minutes of pushing and pummelling, requiring skill and muscle in equal degree. As she worked, Louise trimmed the excess from the back of the mould with a flat knife and added it to the bulk of the dough as it extended to fill the mould.

Once the mould was full and the edges of the dough neatly trimmed, Louise faced the challenge of turning the gingerbread man out in one piece. Tilting the mould sideways, she stood it up on its longest side and then quickly turned it face down onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. Lifting one end carefully, she used her flat knife to coax the edge of the dough from the mould. We held our breaths.

Suddenly the head fell out and, as Louise lifted the mould away, the entire figure rolled down onto the greaseproof paper in a single wave. He did not break and the impression of the mould was perfect in every detail. What had seconds before been mere dough suddenly acquired presence and personality. Behold, London’s largest gingerbread man was born. We stood amazed and delighted at this new wonder of creation.

Exhilarated and relieved, Louise painted the figure with egg white to give it a shine and a crust when baked. Meanwhile the gingerbread man lay inert, regarding us with a vacant grin. After another twenty minutes, he emerged from the oven as shiny-cheeked as a footballer from a tanning salon. Glowing with delight, we stood together and admired our festive bakery miracle. Could this be the birth of a new Christmas tradition in London Fields?

These giant gingerbread men are available now at Townhouse Spitalfields, Leila’s Shop and E5 Bakehouse

The Gentle Author’s St Nicholas purchased in Galway in 1989 and Krampus purchased in Prague in 1992

Pressing the dough down into the mould to imprint the design

Slicing off excess dough

The completed mould is filled with gingerbread dough

Preparing to remove the gingerbread man from the mould

The gingerbread man comes out head first

The birth of London’s largest gingerbread man

The gingerbread man and the mould

Detail of the mould

“the gingerbread man lay inert, regarding us with a vacant grin”

Coating the gingerbread man to give him a shine and a crust

Taking him to the oven

The gingerbread man emerges from the oven

London’s largest gingerbread man

Pastry chef Louise Lateur at E5 Bakehouse

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

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20 Responses leave one →
  1. Saba permalink
    December 14, 2018

    Wonderful, fascinating, and full of fantasy! Also, the baker has such a fascinating, lovely face, especially with the interesting hairline. Beauty all around!

  2. December 14, 2018

    The gingerbread man looks great! Here in Germany they are called ‘spekulatius’ and are a favourite at this time of year. I always stock up so I have some for later, too. All the bakers’ windows are filled with figures and gingerbread houses just now. Valerie

  3. Helen Breen permalink
    December 14, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, delightful story! So many memories of gingermen past from childhood. Glad he turned out so well!

  4. Paul Loften permalink
    December 14, 2018

    Have you thought about the consequences of biting into St Nicolas , specially for your teeth?
    Yes it’s a good thing you have Krampus there to watch over his misdeed of offering you temptation . That old Gallway fellow should have allowed himself to be eaten years ago !

  5. Laura permalink
    December 14, 2018

    What an adventure!

  6. December 14, 2018

    Well done, Louise!

    Very impressed that at your first attempt all the dough come out in one go. That’s the advantage of using an ‘older’ mould that has been used many times and has been well oiled years ago, or more recently.

    Happy speculaas spice baking times ahead!

    All the best Steven
    The Speculaas Spice ‘Master Chef’

  7. Rupert Bumfrey permalink
    December 14, 2018

    I assume Louise oiled the mould, correct?

  8. December 14, 2018

    Stand back — Let me through! I am pushing my way past the security lines, and hopping a plane so I can have one of those ginger men.

    Nah — I’m just here, still in my jammies. But I thoroughly appreciate everything about the story and would give anything to be in your wonderful town right now, buying up cookies for everyone I know. I love the baronial size of the cookie — a real statement, methinks. And, wow, that wooden mould is so handsome — Makes me wish there was a ginger LADY to go along with.

    Happy Holidays!

  9. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    December 14, 2018

    Bravo! What a magnificent ginger man!

    I read somewhere (not so recently, since I can’t cite the source) that here in New England in the 16th and early 17th centuries ginger men were forbidden because they were “graven images.” Our Puritan forefathers were no fun at all! They refused to “celebrate” Christmas as well. The “observed” it. Not the same thing.

  10. Virginia Heaven permalink
    December 14, 2018


  11. Juliet permalink
    December 14, 2018

    Does anyone have tips for stopping the dough sticking to the mould?
    I have a small St Nic mould, about 6″ high carved from pine.
    I bought some years ago in Germany, but I’ve not yet used it.

  12. Jill Wilson permalink
    December 14, 2018

    My great nephew Rupey (aged 4) will be interested in this! He has been busy making (and eating) lots of ginger bread recently but nothing of this scale… it looks amazing, and the figures are full of character. Great baking!

  13. William Osborne permalink
    December 14, 2018

    I agree with Saba. A large & handsome Gingerbread Man and such a lovely baker. I am entranced with her and that warm beautiful smile that has lifted my spirits. Thank You.

  14. the gentle author permalink*
    December 14, 2018

    Oil the mould with a light vegetable oil to stop the gingerbread sticking, Juliet

  15. Chris Connor permalink
    December 14, 2018

    Brilliant and what a fabulous end product. Wondering how long he was baked for, given his size I assume it wouldn’t be the usual 18-20 minutes at gas mark 4

  16. Marcia Howard permalink
    December 15, 2018

    Brava Louise

  17. John Campbell permalink
    December 16, 2018

    I expect these delicious figures would have been commonplace in times gone by around the ‘little Germany’ area of Spitalfields with it’s many bakeries?
    Makes me peckish!

  18. Gill Patterson permalink
    December 17, 2018

    Wonderful Christmas season piece. Well done Louise, and I love the Krampus-he looks bad!

  19. December 19, 2018

    I have one of these molds (er, moulds) hanging in my kitchen. It was something my mom collected years ago, but I never knew exactly what it was. Alas, I don’t think my oven is big enough for a ginger man of that size — but thanks for the education!

  20. Deby (in Canada) permalink
    December 23, 2018

    Everything about this post makes me happy …
    Wishing you a splendid holiday and hope you
    will be eating some gingerbread xx

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