Every major holiday has its own signature sweet treats. Halloween has almost every candy under the sun, Thanksgiving has pies (the apple vs. pumpkin jury is still deliberating) and Christmas has the gingerbread house.
This year, I entered the Hillview Community Center’s annual Gingerbread House Exhibit. Run by the Los Altos recreational department, the 22-year-old contest is held each December and ran from Monday, December 8 to Friday, December 12. It showcases the hard work of gingerbread engineers of all ages, and participants with the best houses can elect to have their edible architecture showcased at the San Jose Children’s Museum from Friday, December 12 to Tuesday, January 13.
Having never made a gingerbread house before, I was a little daunted starting the project. I dug up an old recipe book in my family’s kitchen and gathered the necessary materials. As I beat the vanilla and whipped cream, I wondered what kind of amazing constructs I would create. Visions of giant spaceships, huge manor houses and enormous towers filled my brain. However, my prior baking experience helped me realize that such large scale building projects would take a lot of time and require multiple batches. Plus, I would need extremely accurate measurements to make sure my final product could stand without collapsing and could survive transport.
I finally decided on a simple, traditional gingerbread house with little gingerbread people and a ginger snowman on the front lawn. I began my toil by mixing the ingredients, a job made difficult by the large quantity of flour required to make the stiff dough needed for a sturdy house. A single batch required nine cups of flour, a task that taxed my electric beater and forced me to mix in the last cup by hand. My ordeal yielded 3 1/2 12-inch by 13-inch slabs, which I used to construct 2 roof panels, 2 side walls, a front wall and a back wall. The final half-sized slab was used to construct the gingerbread men, women and snowman.
After making the gingerbread, I set about the actual construction of the house. The front and side walls went together easily with the help of some icing cement. This, however, was where the real challenge began. I had to somehow cement the roof to the walls without having the roof panels slide down the sloped walls. In the end, I used two cups to support the roof panels while they dried.
With the roof done, decorations could begin in earnest. I started by icing my entire house to give it that just-snowed-on look. Then I frosted the edges with red and green frosting. I also fixed two candy canes to the front of the house and made a dark chocolate walkway to the new home. Then I added two green trees, a frosty snowman and a gingerbread man dressed in full winter regalia. My house was almost complete; I just had to let it dry.
After taking a break to watch football, I checked on my house only to find that my cats had decided to do some unscheduled demolition without consulting me. Perhaps my gingerbread was just too tantalizing to be left alone or maybe they disagreed with my architectural prowess. Whatever the reason behind it, the cats had decided the roof panels had to go.
One of the panels was on the ground, cracked into three pieces. My cats’ destruction also terrified the inhabitants of my gingerbread house, and several of my gingerbread men were either decapitated or missing limbs. My construction project looked more like a gingerbread trauma ward than a gingerbread house.
I was forced to make another batch of gingerbread, and my baking kept me up into the wee hours of the morning. But as the sun rose and I placed the final roof panel into place, it dawned on me that I had built an entire house out of gingerbread. From scratch.
And so it was with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment that I cemented the roof onto my very own gingerbread house.