In December, Flanders was under a dark shroud. Outdoor life came to a halt and late medieval citizens crowded around the smouldering fire. Sweet gingerbread and honey cakes were the most prized sweets back then. On the occasion of Saint Nicholas’ day, the Christmas celebrations, New Year’s Eve and Epiphany, people tended to indulge in sweet pastry more than during the rest of the year.

Did You know? The distribution area of gingerbread (including in the form of peperkoek, Lebkuchen and pain d’épices) stretches from the foot of the Alps to Northern Europe. In Southern Europe, people still mainly eat nougat. This was already the case in the 15th century.

Sweets from the bee garden

Around 1330, the religious complex of Saint Bavo’s Abbey bordered the Sint-Baafsvesten neighbourhood, which featured two green areas dotted with trees. Only the zone between the abbey and the fortifications was freely accessible. This zone was probably home to the bee garden. People could walk freely in the area.

The earliest mention of the bee garden dates from the 1262-1279 period. We do not yet know exactly why this area was named that way. We do know that honey was a prized sweet in these almost sugarless times. The oldest preserved accounts of the City of Ghent (1314-1315) mentions a tax on honey which accounted for no less than 0.8% of the city’s revenues.

In the 13th century, gingerbread bakers started to appear in all major cities in Northwestern Europe. The gingerbread made in Ghent was apparently very popular. A regulation of the City of Ghent from 1441 makes mention of a Ghent-based grocer who was entitled to sell his gingerbread throughout Flanders. Chauvinistic author Marcus van Vaernewijk (1516- 1569) furthermore writes down the following in the 16th century: “Ghent outperforms all other cities in the baking of high-quality gingerbread.”

Get started

Beef stew with gingerbread

Ingredients (serves 4):


  • 30 g cinnamon
  • 10 g nutmeg
  • 5 g anise seed
  • 10 g cloves
  •  5 g grain of paradise
  • 5 g coriander seeds.
  • Crush everything in a mortar.


  • 750 g cleaned pork cheeks
  • 250 g beef stew
  • 300 g shallots
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp spice mixture
  • 50 g muscovado sugar
  • brown beer
  • water
  • 2 slices of gingerbread
  • 2 tbsp mustard.
  1. Cut the meat in equal pieces and brown in salted butter.
  2. Remove the meat from the pan and brown the shal - lots very well (until nearly burned).
  3. Add muscovado sugar and bay, season with the spices and let heat for a couple of seconds.
  4. Deglaze and moisten with a mixture of ¾ brown beer and ¼ water that has pre - viously been brought to the boil briefly (to remove the bitterness)
  5. Cover with two slices of gin - gerbread topped with a thick layer of mustard.
  6. Put a lid on the pan and let simmer at 85° for one hour / Season to taste

French toast with gingerbread

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 4 slices of stale bread (white, rye or raisin bread, sweet bread rolls, croissants, nut bread, brioche…)
  • ½ gingerbread (± 125g)
  • 3 dl fresh milk
  • 1 dl cream
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 25 g sweetener: honey, brown sugar, black treacle, maple syrup, corn syrup, malt syrup, date syrup, agave syrup…
  • spices to taste: cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, saffron, liquorice…
  • flowers to taste: marigold, sage flowers, mint flowers, African marigold…
  • a dash of rum or tea
  • a knob of salted butter
  • 10-20 g brown sugar for each slice of bread (depending on the size of each piece of bread)
  1. Soak the stale bread in 3dl fresh milk, 1 dl cream, 2 large free-range eggs and the sweetener of your choice.
  2. If desired, flavour the milk with spices, flowers and a dash of rum or tea.
  3. Roll the bread mixture into powdered dried gingerbread before baking.
  4. Panfry the French toast in salted butter and some brown sugar.
  5. Serve with some fruit, fried egg with bacon etc. if you wish