December 8, 2009

Gingerbread House

I couldn't tell you exactly when the gingerbread house entered into our holiday traditions. I can tell you it was a disaster when it did! Kaitlin and Brianna were young girls the day I naively opened my 1972 Betty Crocker cook book, turned to the Christmas cookie section and decided we would make a gingerbread house. I cooked everything from scratch, baked my own bread and bagels and neighborhood children were known to knock on my door to get a cookie they knew would be coming out of the oven.

I was also known for my cake disasters. I could make a cake to taste good but when it came to icing it or making it look pretty... forget it! There were many laughs in our family, neighborhood and among friends at the expense of my cake creations.

I think gingerbread houses must fall in the cake category. I have no idea how many houses we baked that day in an attempt to get one that didn't crack and become a mess of crumbs. When we finally got something reasonably close to what it looked like in the book, there was no way we could get it to stay together. We iced and patched and fixed and held it together until I could no longer feel my fingers nor bare the thought of looking at one more dollop of icing.

My girls, about 2 and 6 at the time, were so traumatized we had to abandon the gingerbread house altogether for many years. When Brianna was about 10 and Kaitlin 14 or so, we were taking a cooking class at our local extension office, when we found this ingenious idea. Making gingerbread houses out of milk cartons and graham crackers. We went to the supermarket and spent a fortune on every pretty candy we could find, emptied a bunch of half and half cartons, invited my mom for back up hands and spent an entire day making these personal gingerbread houses.

There were candy, nuts, coconut and icing from one end of the house to the other. The kids were wired from a sugar overload. The smell of sugar made my morning sick self nauseous. But everyone had a wonderful day and had a finished gingerbread house to show for the effort. All in all, I dub it a great success. (You can find the directions for these on many websites. I did a quick search and came up with no less than a dozen.)

The next year, I don't know what she was thinking, my mom brought us a gingerbread house kit. Now this seemed like it would be an easy endeavor. There was no baking involved. Everything was there and all we had to do was make the icing, glue it together and do the fun part, decorate it. Um, right.

This was only slightly easier than baking parts ourselves. At least we didn't have to worry about crumbling cookies. We spent the better part of an afternoon and a kitchen aid full of icing trying to get the thing to stand up right. No doing. In the end, I scraped off what icing I could and used my glue gun to fasten the parts to a cardboard base and to each other. I fixed one more bowl of icing, turned it over to the girls and let them have at it.

They employed the skills they had learned after several months of cake decorating lessons with a friend who owns a local bakery, and it turned out remarkably like the one pictured on the box, minus a few gum drops here and there. At last the years of scarring from our first gingerbread attempt fell away and the children could finally move on with their lives.

The next year, my mom, thinking of her train loving grandsons, brought a gingerbread train kit. There was no way I was getting sucked into that icing and candy business again. I convinced Allen it was the perfect project for him to do with the kids while I went to the gym. After a good workout and as much stalling as I could muster, I came home to find I had made the right choice.

As a matter of fact, it came out so nice and they all had so much fun, I bought a second kit at the after holiday sales and put it away for a rainy day. In the Spring when it was indeed raining cats and dogs, I pulled it out with a supply of pastel colored candy and we made a festive spring train to grace the center of our table.

The next year, the tradition was now established and before the Thanksgiving turkey had cooled there was talk of what our gingerbread house would look like. I took a page from previous success and marched right off to Joann's for a gingerbread house kit. That was the year I got over my fear of gingerbread. If I remember correctly we hot glued that one, too. By then, I thought I was smart for coming up with the idea. It had an extra benefit, in that I had a good reason to give the kids when they asked why they couldn't eat the candy on the house.

Last week, while Allen was off at meetings and a cold rain fell outside, we spent the morning decorating our gingerbread house.

After Brianna and I had made beautiful trees and a wreath out of the gum drops, we turned around to find Elisabeth had stuffed them in her mouth!

We rolled some more and the finished product looked quite delectable, if I do say so myself.

"At Christmas play and make good cheer, For Christmas comes but once a year." ~Thomas Tusser



  1. I actually just bought a gingerbread house kit for my kids, and I planned to do it tomorrow if they cancel school in our area. I have only done it once, and can't honestly remember how it went. I am so hoping our's goes up as beautifully as your train and your last picture. Cross you fingers for me.

  2. You guys certainly have more talent than I do. These houses look awesome.

  3. We do a gingerbread project every year, but I, like you said, allow my husband to head up that project. That way I can get other things done around the house and just pop in for a few minutes to stick on a gumball or 2 and marvel over their creation with no gray hairs gained when the roof falls off for the 3rd time!! I don't bake ours, but do the kits (we've done the same train one you showed). But this year when opening the kit my husband was like, "You could make these gingerbread pieces so easily." Now that I've heard your experience no way I'm baking my own -- they'd crumble for sure!! Thanks for saving me from that stress and despair next Christmas!

  4. Kat,

    We started this tradition about 3 years ago and love buying the premade ones in the box. The only issue you usually end of having is that some of the gingerbread can be broken or that it's too stale no one could eat it. We have done a gingerbread decorating contest, diving the family in two, and hiding behind a divider of sorts and coming up with the best decorated houses using all the candy in the box. No eating any!

    Last year, the girls did the very same thing at their Christmas party with friends and the amount of fun that can be had by teens when you remove the directions and pictures is just too much fun for words. Now I just have to dig those pictures up!

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat