There's not a flake of snow on the ground here in Texas, but the holidays are upon us. Our Christmas tree has been up and decorated since before Thanksgiving so I can enjoy it for a bit longer and my Santa collection is on display in several rooms. Cut-out cookies have been baked in anticipation of a decorating party later this week. The presents have all been wrapped or sent and our family is planning a series of family activities for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. One of the traditions at our house is making and decorating a gingerbread house.
Many years ago, Andy and I spotted a gorgeous homemade gingerbread house on the cover of the Time-Life German Cookbook. We decided to give it a try. Andy cut the patterns out of cardboard and I gathered the ingredients, which include honey, spices (although no ginger), butter, sugar and lots and lots of baking powder, which helps the dough set up like cement. We baked three recipes of the dough, which gets rolled out in pans before it cools completely--the honey, sugar and butter are brought to a boil and then added to the flour mixture. When the gingerbread has been baked and cooled slightly, we cut out the pieces and transferred them to a rack. The top of a door and a round window are cut out with a knife and backed with aluminum foil. Several recipes of royal icing are made to assemble and decorate the house.
The first year we tried this, we baked a base for the house. It proved somewhat uneven and messy, so we got a piece of plywood and cut it to size instead. We attempted to attach the steep roof pieces with frosting, but they slid right off! Andy, ever the engineer, hit on the idea of using toothpicks to "nail" the pieces together, which worked like a charm.
Over the years, we have made these houses not only for ourselves, but as auction items and gifts to friends. Now that my grandchildren are older, they help me decorate. I used to use frosted Italian cookies for the roof, but they are hard to find here, so now I use frosted mini-wheats to create a "thatched" roof. The candies change from year to year, depending on what I can find, but usually include gum drops, starlight peppermints and old-fashioned "cut rock." To my mind, there is no such thing as too much candy on a gingerbread house. The best thing is that, properly stored, the houses will last for 4-5 years, even retaining its wonderful smell.
When I look at one of the gingerbread houses, it always brings Scrapple, our first dachshund, to mind. One day decades ago, I came home to an empty house and heard a scratching sound. I followed it into the dining room and found a furry criminal on the dining room table gnawing a cookie off the roof. Attracted by the smell, he had apparently jumped up onto a chair and then the table. I screamed at him and he took off. Scrapple knew he was in big trouble and hid from me for days!
I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.