Creating the Perfect Edible House
I’ve been sorting through a lot of old things lately and came across a series of essays from 2003-2004. I thought they deserved to see the light.
“You can run, run, run, as fast as you cant,
but you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man.”
-The Brothers Grimm
What started out as an innocent holiday project when I was five or six years old has become a greatly anticipated Christmas tradition. The smell of hot gingerbread is in the air as the noise of eager children squabbling over colors of candy and Christmas carols play in the background. Making gingerbread houses is one of my favorite yuletide activities. My siblings, Logan, Griffin and Marah, and I each get our own box of mix. Gingerbread dough is my favorite cookie dough; it doesn’t need any eggs. Taste test after taste test yield delicious results without the possibility of a stomachache. Once the dough has cooled in the refrigerator, it’s time for imaginations to run wild. Two sides, two pieces for roofing, a front, and a back, are necessities. Windows, doors, porches, fences, and people are optional added touches that make any house a home. Logan is our resident architect. He always designs a cutting-edge cookie creation that pushes the envelope of gingerbread construction. He’s attempted everything from a church to a school bus. Flour find its way onto everyone’s clothes and the floor, and generally coats the kitchen as four busy bees work their baking magic. Waiting for the pieces to cook and cool is the hardest part. So much waiting and anticipation is associated with Christmas. I guess it’s the necessary patience act makes it so special.
Molten sugar is the perfect adhesive when it comes to holding the gingerbread frame together. The deep-brown, boiling liquid lends itself to two main methods of application. The first involves dipping opposite ends of the gingerbread into the hot pan and scooping it onto the piece. I find the method to be the more dangerous of the two. Burns seem most frequent when one side already has the sticky hot sugar on it and the opposite side needs dipped into the pan. The method I prefer is the “spoon it on” method. Two people must work together, the first holds the pieces in place on the aluminum foil covered cardboard the houses sit on, while the the other spoons sugar on the the joints. Sometimes, a combination of the two methods is used, but eventually all the houses are standing and the time for decorating draws closer.
Mr. Bulky used to be our candy store of choice. Since it went out of business, we’ve been to the candy aisle of every grocery store in the area trying to find interesting edible decorations. Confectioners sugar and egg whites make a snowy frosting that lets candy morsels adhere to the gingerbread. Snocaps, lemon heads, Bottle Caps, licorice, chocolates, Necco wafers, and Gummi Bears turn boring brown cookies into works of edible art. Our masterpieces sit proudly on the kitchen counter for all to admire until after Christmas.
It may sound as though our gingerbread houses always turn our perfectly. This is far from the truth. Many mishaps have occurred over the years and, when remembered, never fail to bring smile to our faces. One year, when we were making the dough, my mom read the wrong recipe on the back of the box. We ended up with four batches of gingerbread cake batter instead of cooke dough. We froze the cake, saving them for my birthday in January, and bought four new boxes of mix and started again. Another time, someone got the brilliant idea to switch from frosting to marshmallow cream. The gooey the substance was so sticky it was hard to work with. It also never hardened. The candy snowy slid down the houses and ended up in a sticky puddle at the bas of the walls. Marshmallow cream hasn’t made an appearance in our house since.
By December 26, the week-old ginger bread is stale, and the candy is hard as a rock. Mom sets the half-eaten houses on the table and tells us whatever isn’t eaten has to be thrown away. We chisel the pieces off with a butter knife or our nails. The novelty of eating our own creations makes the candy palatable, but just barely. Usually pieces of gingerbread house are pawned off on friends or visitors who politely take a bite. By the time the New Year rolls around, the houses are a thing of the past. Another house has been raised and demolished . Another Christmas has come and gone. Another year has begun, and it will be another twelve months before the set smell of gingerbread fills the house again.