In my family, we had very few traditions around Christmas. When I spent the holidays with my dad, we always read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve, but with my mom there wasn’t much that we did every single year without fail, and my husband’s family was much the same. Christmas was still fun for me even without specific traditions, but my husband and I still want to create some of our own family traditions that our children will remember fondly.
One of the things that I’d like to start doing every year is the gingerbread house. If you know me at all, you know that I loathe the idea of buying a kit. This might not be something that we eat (or maybe we will?), but it’s going to be made from scratch if we’re going to make it at all! Lee Valley has an awesome pan that they only sell seasonally (and quickly sell out!), and it’s the perfect way to bake a homemade gingerbread house without having to roll, measure and cut the pieces yourself. I’ve been itching to buy one for a couple years now, but both in 2009 & 2010 they sold out before I placed my order. This year, I was on it in November, and now I have one of my very own! I adore the fact that it’s a log cabin on one side, and a victorian-style cottage on the other!
This year, I also thought it would be fun to make the gingerbread house decorating into a social event! I invited over a couple of friends and their kids, and we set up in my kitchen. I pre-baked all of the gingerbread houses, which took me nearly a full day – the pan only bakes half a house at a time, and I had to let it cool between batches! In exchange for all my hard work in baking the house parts, my friends brought over icing sugar to make the royal icing, and supplied all of the candy for decorating. It was perfect! Since our kids are all a little young to be left to do gingerbread house assembly solo, the adults put the houses together while the kids entertained themselves, and then we called them up to give us a hand with the final decorating process. Eliza loved it, she directed where she wanted me to put blobs of icing, and she covered the whole thing in candy. The hardest part was convincing her that the gingerbread house was for us to look at for a few days, and not for immediate eating!
Now, a suggestion for those making these gingerbread houses in the above-mentioned pan… I have heard that recipes that call for leavening agents like baking powder or baking soda don’t work well in the mold. You are supposed to press the dough in with your fingers, and it takes a pretty thick chunk of dough. Leavening agents will cause the cookies to puff up, and while that’s great for eating gingerbread, it’s not optimal for house-building gingerbread. The recipe that comes with the pan is perfect – it’s flour, sugar, molasses, spices, water – nothing particularly exciting. It makes a dense dough that presses easily into the pan, and the cookies come out hard and perfect for building things. I am not kidding when I say this gingerbread is not for eating… even fresh out of the oven the cookies are hard as rocks (and I didn’t overcook them!), I shudder to think of how tooth-breaking they’ll be after a few days on display. My husband claims that it’s still good to eat, as he polished off all the extra pieces that I baked in case of breakage, and all his teeth are still intact. Maybe it’s best enjoyed with a glass of milk?
Happy holidays, my wonderful readers. What holiday traditions have you crafted with your families?