Gingerbread houses have become a Christmas staple. There are kits available in all the stores, but the more adventurous among us bake their own, custom houses.
About.com is happy to tell you how. And Meg McConahey of The Press Democrat has an amusing article about using gingerbread to stave off the craving to build your dream house, or even to practice creating architectual designs in a non-threatening, delicious sort of way. Recipes are included, for gingerbread and royal icing, plus engineering principles to guide your construction.
if you love to compete, there are gingerbread house contests, and books are available to help you hone your craft, with titles like: Making Great Gingerbread Houses: Delicious Designs from Cabins to Castles, from Lighthouses to Tree Houses, or The Gingerbread Architect: Recipes and Blueprints for Twelve Classic American Homes, or Gingerbread Castles To The Max: How To Create And Construct Gingerbread Houses.
There is an entire industry built around these edible dwellings, and the little gingerbread people that don’t really get to dwell in them because ~ in spite of running as fast as they can ~ they are edible, too. As stated in 10 Clever Gingerbread Houses, “The witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel has nothing on these confectionery structures.”
So what got me started on this? Well, my brother-in-law, Gerhard Wiebe, makes gingerbread structures. He began this sweet obsession about 10 years ago, when he read a gingerbread article in a food magazine, and surprised himself by thinking, “I could do that!”
He chooses a building that catches his fancy, and either researches the physical dimensions online, or takes photographs if the structure is located in Winnipeg, where he lives.
To date, he has constructed a gingerbread Taj Mahal and Notre Dame Cathedral, before turning to Winnipeg buildings such as Thunderbird House, St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Luke’s, and the old St. Boniface Cathedral (“Before it burned down,” Gerhard told me. That would be the actual cathedral, not the gingerbread version).
Gerhard prefers cathedrals because the stained glass windows are such fun to duplicate with Jolly Rogers. The structures are wired and an inner light installed to show off the windows to best advantage. (Jeanne Benedict provides an excellent guide of other candies, nuts, cereals and so on that can be incorporated into gingerbread decorating).
A few years ago, I took part in adhering candy to one of Gerhard’s structures. It is quite amusing to see a cathedral sporting Smarties or Spearmint Leaves (someone ought to produce gummy gargoyles). His Christmas 2009 offering, Westminster United Church, was in its “bare state” state when I snapped these pics. Gerhard is interested in creating a general representation of a building, not an accurate architectural model. “If I don’t like an ugly addition,” he laughs, “I just leave it off of my plan.”
Gerhard donates all his completed houses to Rossbrook House, a neighbourhood centre for children and youth in Winnipeg’s inner-city that was started by Sister MacNamara (“She was a saint,” Gerhard assured me.). When I inquired whether the Rossbrook kids just gawked in awe, or actually broke off pieces for a nibble or two, Gerhard assured me that they were not delicate in their approach.
“They devour it,” he happily informed me.
I wonder if the fancy, shmancy houses I looked at earlier are devoured by eager children? Let’s hope so. I can easily imagine Sister MacNamara nodding her approval.