It was three Christmases ago, and for the first time ever, I had the whole week of Christmas off work. I decided I was going to make the most of this gift and go all out for Christmas – baking cookies for the whole neighborhood, visiting all the popular light displays, and – the challenge to top them all – making a gingerbread house. From scratch.
And just like that, a tradition was born.
We’ve continued to make a gingerbread house every year and it’s something we all really enjoy doing together. However, I’ve learned a few things over the years.
One of those things is that if you’re deathly afraid that your gingerbread house will cave in because we live in a damp climate, you can purposely burn it to a crisp to prevent that from happening.
You can also just stop worrying about it because even though it’s drizzly around here, it’s not exactly humid. Properly-baked gingerbread works just fine.
But in all seriousness, even the most well-loved holiday traditions can just become items on a “to-do” list instead of ones that are enjoyed, savored, and cherished if you’re not careful. Here are some tips on how to keep gingerbread-house-making on the “nice” list, instead of the “this-is-stressing-me-out” list.
- Spread it out. There are lots of steps to making a homemade gingerbread house. You have to come up with a design, bake it, assemble it, and decorate it. This isn’t going to happen all in one day. Plan to spread all these activities out over the course of 4-5 days (or more).
- Don’t stress over the recipe. These are not delicious gingerbread cookies you’re baking for a Christmas party. It’s not about taste, it’s about construction. There are a zillion options but pretty much anything will do. This is the recipe I use (hint: double it).
- Be organized. When you design your house, cut out model pieces that you’ll use as templates when you cut out the gingerbread. LABEL THESE TEMPLATES and keep your baked gingerbread pieces organized after they come out of the oven so the assembly step is simply “assembly” and not “piece together a 3-D puzzle.”
- Trim your pieces while warm. After you take your gingerbread pieces out of the oven, they’ll have spread and warped a little in the baking process. While still warm, lay the original template over the top of the gingerbread and trim it with a sharp knife. This will ensure that your assembled house will fit together well and be more stable.
- Leave assembly to the adults. I know the kids will want to help, but consider doing this one night after they go to bed. A solid assembly is key to a house that doesn’t fall over, and keeping the pieces organized and unbroken doesn’t hurt either.
- Don’t rush! This is supposed to be fun; don’t squeeze gingerbread house decorating in between other Christmas activities. Make a relaxed night of it – order pizza, put on Christmas music, and enjoy the time together.
- Let go of perfection. It’s hard. Believe me, I’ve had my share of grumpy moments when my control-freak self saw that things weren’t going exactly according to my vision. Remember that this is about memory-making and not winning a contest.
- Only do it if you actually want to. Don’t make a homemade gingerbread house because you think it’s something you “should” do or because you think it might impress other people. If you aren’t going to love the whole process of doing it, then don’t. They sell kits at the store, you know!