Make a Gingerbread House
Gumdrops, lollipops, chocolate squares, jelly bears, and peppermint candies. The sky is the limit as far as decorating your own gingerbread house. They are a ton of fun to decorate, but first you need to make the house itself.
You can put it together fast from graham crackers and store-bought icing, or you can make it slowly, cutting in shapes according to a pattern or patted into a special gingerbread house mold. Those quick treats need to be eaten soon before they fall apart, but old-fashioned gingerbread houses are a tradition that can last through the holidays. Whatever way you pick to enjoy this yummy craft, know that your gingerbread has a spicy and delicious history.
The Historic Cookie
When the Crusaders came back from the Middle East, they brought wondrous spices that clever cooks of churches and wealthy families turned into amazing recipes for celebrations. An early European gingerbread was a mix of ground almonds, stale breadcrumbs, rosewater, sugar, and, of course, ginger. They pressed this paste into pretty molds. The finished cookie might be decorated with edible gold paint!
As time went on, spices became less expensive. Soon everyone could enjoy a treat of gingerbread, whether baked stiff for cookies or served as a simple cake with a warm vanilla sauce. Gingerbread was especially popular in colonial America. Mary Washington, George Washington's mother, was said to have served her special gingerbread to her son's friend, General Lafayette, at her home in Fredericksburg.
Visions of Gingerbread
The Annual Gingerbread House Contest and Exhibit at George Washington's Ferry Farm is a sweet holiday tradition. In this event, sponsored by George Washington's Fredericksburg Foundation, bakers recreate the 18th century in a most tasty way. Entries will be accepted from Sunday, November 25 to Friday, November 30, from 10 AM to 3:30 PM. The entry fee is $5. This year's theme is, "Songs of the Holidays." The houses will be on exhibit from December 1 (opens at noon) through 30, 2012, from 10 am to 4 pm (closed December 24 and 25) at Kenmore on historic Washington Avenue. Admission charged. Check their Web site for official contest rules and other December events, including gingerbread workshops.
A Gingerbread Inspiration
One year, my then 10-year-old daughter decided to make a "gingerbread" playhouse for her four-year-old brother at Christmas. She found two very large cardboard boxes, and (with Dad's help) cut the pieces just as you would for a gingerbread house but on a larger scale. We found it was better to make the roof lightweight so it could be easily lifted off. She used paint to create a diagonal grid pattern on the roof, then glued halves of Styrofoam balls in the center of each diamond to look like candy buttons. By the time she had finished with all of her decorations, the house was truly beautiful. The two of them enjoyed sharing Christmas cookies and cider by the light of the big tree in their own little house.
If you are new to gingerbread houses but would like to try to create your own, the library has some books and step-by-step videos that should make constructing these fun and edible crafts a piece of cake-- ginger cake, that is.
Where to Learn More About Gingerbread Houses:
In the Library
Click on any title to go to its listing in our catalogue. From there, you may request that the book or video be sent to your favorite branch.
Gingerbread Houses: A Complete Guide to Baking, Building, and Decorating by Christa Currie.
Fancy gingerbread houses for experienced confectionery architects. Many patterns, pictures, and ideas for the baker who wants to take the process to the next level.
It's a Gingerbread House: Bake It! Build It! Eat It! by Vera B. Williams.
Let Grandpa Ben teach all you need to know about making, baking, and building a gingerbread house. His clear instructions unlock the secrets of a delicious holiday tradition for young and old alike.
Featuring dozens of recipes, this little book contains everything you ever wanted to know about the holiday goodness of gingerbread.
Making Great Gingerbread Houses: Delicious Designs From Cabins to Castles, From Lighthouses to Tree Houses by Aaron Morgan, Paige Gilchrist.
"If building a gingerbread house has long been on your Christmas wish list, this is the year to pull out the mixing bowls and rolling pin and begin. The book starts with the basics of house building -- complete, easy-to-follow instructions and how-to photography for baking, designing, assembling, and decorating. Then comes an unruly settlement of 40 diverse houses to build. There are even a few non-Christmas surprises: a gingerbread birdhouse, a carousel, and a haunted Halloween house."
No-bake Gingerbread Houses for Kids
Provides step-by-step instructions for no-bake gingerbread houses which are easy to prepare and assemble--not just winter designs.
The Gingerbread House.
Patti Hudson shows how to make a gingerbread houses. Includes patterns and recipes.
The Magic of Gingerbread Houses.
A guide to designing, constructing, and decorating beautiful and creative gingerbread houses.
On the Web
A Gingerbread Tradition
Follow the history of gingerbread, from its origins in the medieval crusades to country fairs to today's holiday treats. Includes both historic and modern recipes.
Make a Gingerbread Baby House
A craft project to go with the Jan Brett's book, The Gingerbread Baby. No cooking (but, alas, no eating) with this house. A quick and easy holiday decoration.
Make a Gingerbread House from OrganizedChristmas.com
Sweet and easy mini houses make perfect holiday place cards.
Necco Gingerbread House
Necco wafers, the candy that's 150 years young, makes a beautiful roof on a gingerbread house. The bakers at Necco have teamed up to create directions for a classic construction. No patterns or templates here, but measurements are included. Necco recommends baking the house pieces a day or two in advance (possibly weeks! This tough gingerbread freezes well). It's no fun to have walls of hot gingerbread caving in at the construction site. This recipe also works well with gingerbread house molds, such as those made by the John Wright Company.