The first recorded mention of gingerbread being baked in the town dates back to 1793; however, it was probably made earlier as ginger was stocked in high street businesses from the 1640s. Gingerbread became widely available in the 1700s.
Originally, the term gingerbread (from Latin zingiber via Old French gingebras) referred to preserved ginger, then to a confection made with honey and spices. Gingerbread is often translated into French as pain d'épices (literally bread of spices). Pain d'épices is a French pastry also made with honey and spices, but not crispy.
A variant dough is used to build gingerbread houses à la the "witch's house" encountered by Hansel and Gretel. These houses, covered with a variety of candies and icing, are popular Christmas decorations, typically built by children with the help of their parents.
Another variant uses a boiled dough that can be molded like clay to form inedible statuettes or other decorations. A significant form of popular art in Europe, major centers of gingerbread mould carving included Lyon, Nürnberg, Pest, Prague, Pardubice, Pulsnitz, Ulm, and Toruń. Gingerbread moulds often displayed the "news", showing carved portraits of new kings, emperors, and queens, for example. Substantial mould collections are held at the Ethnographic Museum in Toruń, Poland and the Bread Museum in Ulm, Germany.
The cake form tends to be a dense, treaclely (molasses-based) spice cake. Some recipes add mustard, pepper, raisins, nuts, and/or other spices/ingredients to the batter. In one variation, the cake omits raisins or nuts and is served with warm lemon sauce. In the United States, the cake is more often served in the winter, particularly at Christmastime.