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  • Mary Kay

Santa Landed on My Gingerbread House!

25th Day of "25 Days of Angels Baking Christmas Memories!"

I’ve always loved Gingerbread Houses, and had a desire to spend some time creating them from scratch, designing my own structures. And I did!

In fact, I've designed patterns and stirred up and baked and constructed Easter baskets, a St. Patrick's Day House, and a Valentine's Day House, Tulip baskets and numerous types of gingerbread cookies.

Ever since I was a little girl I enjoyed visiting some of the larger department stores in Minneapolis to marvel at their Christmas displays, many of them in Gingerbread décor, and one even had a huge auditorium with a walk-through Christmas display of animated holiday characters each year. It was an annual family trip.

In later years, my husband and I would make a similar trek to visit the same auditorium I had visited as a child, enjoy some holiday shopping, have dinner at a special restaurant downtown and stay for the entire weekend.

Gingerbread baking and creating has been a fun process from start to finish, researching the gingerbread process, various recipes and why some recipes worked and others didn’t, the advantages of thinly or thickly rolled dough, construction successes, the differences between decorative frosting and “cement” frosting, what to use for decorating, etc. I got so involved that I went on to design and create my own gingerbread houses for Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day plus round baskets with handles for Easter, and tulip baskets all from my own patterns.

I basically spent a year doing research, trying different recipes and building a variety of gingerbread constructs, with the goal to use all gingerbread products as the main construction parts including inside supports - even to make round cylinders for the Easter baskets. Those were the toughest to make, bending and baking gingerbread dough over the round sides of metal cans…and they were the most rewarding of all the gingerbread projects I created. (Watch my blog for future postings of these other holiday gingerbread projects and party hors de oeuvres charcuterie building projects.)

The Gingerbread House I created for Christmas includes Santa on the rooftop with his reindeer. Colored rice paper pics of different Santa Clauses appear in the windows below, a little brook babbles alongside the wintery home, square dog treats shingle the roof, cereal trees with gummy toppers surround the home, sliced caramels form the outside of the fireplace chimney, split vanilla wafers place the front walk and pretzels mark the fence around the snow-covered lawn.

Of course, one of my cocker spaniels had to give his expert nose-sniff approval. I'm sure he could smell the dog treats I used for shingling the roof. He was especially interested in what I was doing during the baking and building process, and constantly “vacuuming” the floor for the little bits. So I had to be very careful not to spill any dough, raw and baked, or candies on the floor.

When I began the Christmas Gingerbread House, I thought I knew exactly what I was going to use as decorations, I had done so much research. But after cutting my patterns from big old calendar card stock pictures, as I worked along, I was always looking for other items that fit together better and created the effect I desired. You see, I started in October, fitting pattern pieces, shopping for

construction materials while visiting other cities. (I would never work on Gingerbread in the summer. There's just too much humidity.) Everywhere I went, it seemed I was looking and visualizing how things could be used and “cemented” together with frosting. Some items looked fun and workable, but some I knew would be just too heavy, and probably weigh down portions of the house such as the roof.

Patterns are available in so many places, in magazines, books, online and in kits. Just about any baking or food magazine you see throughout the fall and Christmas holidays offers Gingerbread recipes and house patterns. And, you don’t need to buy all the magazines. There are so many ideas available online and in libraries. Just take the time to look around.

I won’t go into any recipes at this time. I strongly encourage you to find a recipe you are comfortable with. Think through what exactly you would like to build and how to decorate. Try some recipes to see how they act during the baking and building process.

Many people start out with pre-baked gingerbread houses with ready made frosting and sets of decorations to help you complete a quick project. Those are great starter kits and create a lot of fun for kids. They can usually be built and decorated in an afternoon.

There are also magazines and books available for you to follow very good directions to replicate what a gingerbread artist has already figured out for you. These have normally been tested as far as structure strength, etc. And, of course, there are many YouTube videos and Gingerbread baking and making competitions on television. There are so many options.

Do you want to make just a house? Get kids involved? Combine it with a baked and tiered cake? Create a vignette or an entire village? Do you want to create a replica of your own home along with replicas of your family members and pets? Do you want to enter a local competition to test your creativity and gingerbread skills?

Do you want to recreate a local landmark? There are so many ways you can get involved…but, make sure you have fun!

If you want to get more involved, plan on taking more time to research, read up on and test different recipes, patterns and decorating ideas. Don’t be afraid to take ideas from one magazine or book and combine them to make your own personal creation. There are even gingerbread classes you can take or organizations you can join to gain more skills. The sky is really the limit.

Storage? I have saved some of my favorite gingerbread projects from year to year, storing them carefully inside a sturdy plastic dome and then wrapped in heavy plastic wrap. I surround the clear dome with paper stuffing and then seal them in plastic totes and store them in a cool dry place. It’s amazing how the colors hold from year to year as long as you don’t display them in a sunny spot.

I’ve enjoyed researching, baking and making gingerbread projects. I hope these photos give you an idea of some of the things you can accomplish. Best of luck while you "Bake your own Memories!”

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