Gingerbread Houses

By Jan Hostyn.

I took a deep breath and surveyed the damage. Well, not damage, exactly. Complete and utter chaos might be more accurate. You see, my usually-somewhat-presentable dining room, along with everything in it, was splattered with white blobs. Walls, floor, ceiling, the light fixture hanging from the ceiling, table, chairs, even the eight little bodies, kind-of-sitting, kind-of-standing and most-definitely-squirming in those chairs, were spattered.

What had I been thinking?

The plan had been to host a simple gingerbread house decorating party, the kind with cute homemade gingerbread houses, plate after plate of impossibly tempting candy, individual bowls full of ultra-sticky icing and a bunch of extremely-excited-but-oh-so-patient-and-tidy little people.

At least, that’s what I thought.

I had carelessly neglected to take into account one little detail, however: I had never even attempted anything remotely gingerbread-ish before, let alone a single gingerbread house.

Those little people? Eight of them, three years old. Patient, tidy and three years old simply do not go together, ever.

The whole idea popped into my head one afternoon as I was flipping through a cookbook. An idyllic picture of adorable kids scrupulously decorating gingerbread houses caught my eye. Next to it was a detailed description of everything you would ever need to know to throw your very own gingerbread-house-decorating party: recipes, a pattern, step-by-step instructions.

What could be more perfect for my daughter’s birthday party, whose big day happens to land during the week before Christmas?

I bought everything I needed (along with some stuff I didn’t) well in advance: paper plates and candy and baking ingredients and streamers and balloons.

When it came to whipping up the dough, cutting out the pieces and assembling the houses, it didn’t even cross my mind to do it weeks ahead of time. The dough wasn’t a problem — after all, I had been making cookie dough for almost as long as I had been eating cookies.

Rolling out the dough — well, rolling it out to a uniform thickness — proved to be a bit trickier. That required rolling, re-rolling, and then rolling again. Eventually, I gave my lopsided effort a passing grade and moved on.

Taking the carefully traced and cut-out pattern pieces and transforming my slab of lopsided dough into individual house pieces involved a lot of cutting. Unfortunately, since my newly acquired gingerbread cutting skills were somewhat challenged that day, it also involved patching up all those less-than-stellar edges. Cut, repair, cut, repair, cut, repair — and maybe the odd curse or two. Finally, a grand total of two-and-a-quarter houses sat before me.

Moving all of those carefully cut-out pieces onto the waiting cookie sheets turned out to be the next deceptively complex task. Much sticking ensued, followed by numerous attempts on my part to re-figure the now somewhat disfigured pieces. A couple of uncooperative pieces refused to be salvaged at all, dropping my total house count from just over two houses to just under two.

Then I repeated that whole process with the other three disks of dough.

Many hours later, everything was baked. One last tally of the gingerbread pieces revealed my addition skills were somewhat lacking that day — I was short one roof and one wall piece. Since almost eight houses for eight kids was not the plan, I retrieved left-over scraps of dough from the fridge and started rolling again.

When it came to putting together the actual houses, who knew there was going to be such a learning curve to holding multiple pieces of gingerbread while attempting to apply icing? These houses weren’t going to lack character, anyway.

The party hadn’t even started yet. How does one prepare for eight increasingly demanding voices asking for help with everything all at once? Or even attempt to get 16 eager hands to put more icing and candy onto the houses rather than into eight willing mouths? How does one make sure icing doesn’t end up smeared into every nook and cranny? One doesn’t.

Two pieces of advice: never make eight gingerbread houses on your very first attempt and never host a party for three-year-olds all by yourself.

My daughter is now 20, and she and her younger sister still insist on decorating gingerbread houses every single year (along with a slew of friends). Now, making the houses is easy. So
easy that the urge to tackle something much more elaborate often overtakes me, but my daughters will have no part of that. Everything has to be exactly the same.

Well, except for the whole icing-splattered dining room, that is.

Jan Hostyn is quite possibly embarking upon her nineteenth gingerbread-house-making marathon right at this very moment.