This Bakery Has Used the Same Gingerbread Recipe Since 1807 — Here's the Secret

It's just as delicious today as it was then.

C. Winkler Bakery

Andre Jenny / Alamy Stock Photo

In 1807, Thomas Jefferson had comfortably settled into the sixth year of his presidency, Napoleon led his French forces to a victory over the Russian empire, and a Swiss baker named Christian Winkler bought a bakery in a town that was then known as Salem, North Carolina. Winkler's descendants continued to run that bakery until 1926. Although it's currently owned by the Old Salem Museum and Gardens, it's still there and still baking sugar cake and other holiday treats, including one very special cookie that the team makes using the same recipe Winkler did more than 200 years ago. 

Although Winkler Bakery is just a short walk from thoroughly modern brewpubs, boutique hotels, and Winston-Salem's reasonably new minor league baseball stadium, when you step inside, it's like setting a time machine for the start of the 19th century. The oven is heated with wood, and a small team of bakers prepares Christmas cookies using techniques older than 26 U.S. states. 

In addition to the wood-burning oven, North Carolina Field & Family reports, Winkler Bakery uses other historically accurate ways of baking to represent what it was really like for the staff in the early 1800s.

"The bakers usually arrive between five and six in the morning to fire up the wood-burning ovens," Amanda Bumgardner, who works at the bakery, shared with North Carolina Field & Family. "By around 7:30 a.m., the fire has normally burned out, and the bricks are fully heated. It usually gets to around 700 degrees. They have to wait for the oven to cool to around 400 degrees."

The bakery — believed to be the oldest in the state — makes its ginger-spiced, thin and crispy Moravian cookies from scratch (which, according to Google Trends data, is the most searched-forChristmas cookie in the state of North Carolina). According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Moravian cookies are relatives of the German Lebkuchen cookie, which makes sense as many of the area's original Moravian settlers arrived from parts of present-day Germany. Sister Deborah, one of the bakers (and historical reenactors) who work at Winkler, told WRAL, the cookies are made the same way they always have — with black molasses for a special touch. 

"This is actually a nutritious dessert with black molasses, ginger, and spices that will soothe a cough or congestion," Deborah said. "The black molasses strengthens your blood, and it's delicious!"

The seasonal treats are distinctly thin, which is entirely on purpose to help maximize the number of cookies bakers could roll out of a batch of dough and made them highly transportable for customers who stuffed them in their saddle bags while riding through the state. 

"It's hard work, but our bakers have been doing it for years," Bumgardner added. "I think it's really interesting to have things that are still done by hand in this time." 

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