Gingerbread houses were always something someone else did. You heard about people doing them. The kind of people who knew how to play tennis and whose cars didn’t break down on vacation. As a kid gingerbread houses existed mostly on TV and in shop windows. But they always sounded pretty exciting.
As an adult I’ve tried to make them a couple of times. My brother and his wife sometimes invite us to make houses with them. My sister goes to a gingerbread house decorating party from time to time, and my children have sometimes received the spoils. About 4 years ago I actually tried to make a gingerbread house with my kids. I remember holding it together with carpentry nails and cardboard and being generally frustrated.
This year, since I’ve been all Martha Stewart and sh*t for the past 13 months, I figured I’d try again.
I started with the usual “google a recipe” technique for whenever I make something novel that requires actual attention to formulation (e.g., mousse, brownies, etc.). I found this recipe, which I chose mostly because the physical dimensions given sounded reasonable for a project involving all three of my children. (the only part of it I paid any attention to was the approximate cutting dimensions and the bread recipe itself).
Baking with my children involves a lot of yelling. On the children’s part because that’s their natural tone of voice, and on my part after they’ve emptied an ingredient on the counter instead of into the mixer one too many times. I carefully did not tell them I was mixing the dough until fairly late in the process for this reason. We got it successfully cut, baked and cooled. The kids dealt heroically with the fact that it was a TWO day process. One day to bake and cool and one to decorate.
I went with my two older kids to Sheridan’s Fruit Market where one can get all kinds of things in bulk, including candy. This worked out well because I could get a small handful of a bunch of different things (chewy gummies – including the all important Turkish Frogs, mint lentils, jelly beans and so forth). My kids succeeded in distributing the candies into bowls without freaking out. I managed to make a icing mix with the proper texture. I held the bread together with toothpicks and it actually didn’t fall down (!).
The icing worked very well in the antique frosting and cookie squirter I found at goodwill. (and we even made a gingerbread wreath and some gingerbread shrubbery with it, using the last dabs of dough). Then my kids decorated it. They didn’t fall on it and shatter it. No one got so agitated that they had to be excused from participating. They requested help when they needed it. And I even got to put icing and chocolate mint lentils on one side all by myself).
It was a Christmas miracle. And the bread recipe even tastes good.