Monday, December 28, 2009

Help! Mother Trapped in Gingerbread Houses

If you've been following my blog for a year (thank you!), you know that last year Evelyn and Clementine designed and constructed gingerbread houses and I was not that into it.  I had to convince myself it was a learning experience.  Then, for Christmas last year Evelyn got the book, The Gingerbread Architect: Recipes and Blueprints for Twelve Classic American Homes.

When the topic came up this year and the book came out, I blithely agreed.  I did insist that the kids choose houses that, on the 4 gingerbread man scale of difficulty, rated only a 1 or 2, but otherwise I was game.

Was I deterred by the weeklong gingerbread house construction schedule provided in the book?  Not at all.  I thought it was a grand idea to set the kids expectations!   We'll just spend an hour or two each day on the houses instead of leaping into an all-day marathon.  Excellent!  Did I quail when Evelyn revealed that the book was the collaboration of a baker and an architect?  Why should I?  I even laughed off the section titled "Historical Accuracy and Reinterpretation in Gingerbread".  And that is how we ended up spending almost every waking hour of one solid week on three historically and architecturally accurate gingerbread houses.

And we didn't even finish them.

Greta: the Dawson City gold rush house
Clementine: an Adirondack cabin
Evelyn: a Victorian farmhouse

Day 1 was a shopping day.  It took 3 stores to get all the ingredients and five hours of shopping.  Five hours!  In two of the 3 stores cashiers were prompted by the piles of candy to give me a stern look and admonish the children not to eat all the candy.

Day 2 was the day to make the gingerbread and enlarge and cut out the templates.  Five batches of gingerbread dough--25 cups of flour!--later it was a lot later than I anticipated.  I finished the last batch when the kids were in bed.

On the third day of gingerbreadhousemaking we baked the gingerbread.  Roll, lay on the template, cut, bake.  Repeat 55 times.  This took so long that we baked on the fourth day, too.  For walls with windows the girls crushed jolly ranchers and sprinkled them in the window holes. 

Alas, if we ever do this again we'll have to research the best candy for glass because after a couple days the window glass ran leaving jagged holes.  Evelyn's vandalized Victorian mansion, particularly when unlit, took on more of the flavor of Halloween than Christmas.

Day 5: Assemble houses...  Some of the decorating had to be done before the assembling.  2 gallons of royal icing later...

Gold rush house roof:

...Greta had finished her Dawson City gold rush house.
She chose to decorate the facade with historical accuracy and my help, and
to decorate the rest a la the witch in Hansel and Gretel.

And Clem's Adirondack cabin was also coming along.

Hers was complicated by a chimney.

And a porch.

Getting the pocky stick porch supports just the right length for the warped porch roof was a trick.

She covered the chimney in candy rocks.

And tiled the roof in cinnamon gum.  FYI 12 unwrapped packs of cinnamon gum work better than any aromatherapy candle.

Evelyn's house was also coming along.  But we didn't bake it long enough and its soft walls were sagging.  Here is Evelyn blow drying the icing and gingerbread walls.  Also, we assembled hers wrong and had to take of a couple walls and put them in the right place.

Clementine's completed cozy Adirondack cabin!  I wish I had a photo of the marzipan deer's head with chocolate pretzel antlers mounted on a gingerbread trophy board that she made to decorate the cabin.

My mom arrived and released me from round the clock gingerbread house construction and freed me to do some shopping and menu planning.  Evelyn turned to making gifts along with constructing her house.  Our homemade icing was gooier than the mix we'd bought and used up.  When she tried to dry it with the hair dryer it turned liquid and her roof slid off and cracked.

She had to patch it and let it dry before completing her house with grandma's help.  She built her porch and I helped her cut and nibble the mint stick porch supports to the right length.  Oh the sacrifices we mothers make.

On the left you can see the chimney bricked with cinnamon gum.

And she began tiling the roof with slabs of chocolate.

But here her work ended.  She says she'll finish it, but we may just eat it first.  We've hardly made a dent in the pile of candy, by the way.  Most of it was supposed to decorate the site surrounding the houses with rice crispy treat Christmas trees and wood piles and fences and lamp posts.

We've resolved to make just one collaborative house next year.  The girls have settled on the modern house with a green shredded coconut lawn and sugar sand zen garden complete with candy rake.

Anyone need a big pile of candy?


Kristin said...

I just had to take a break and peak at your post and what a treat, literally. The girls' homes have such character.

I haven't been following your blog for a year, but almost. I started reading your blog in Feb. '09. I always enjoy your posts, especially those that take place in the kitchen or deal with something historical and you have more patience than any Mom I know.

Happy New Year!

maria said...

this is hilarious and I really miss you.
started landscaping this week--can't leave the cats.

gina said...

WOW! Amazing. The girls probably absorbed so much much information about architecture- all in the name of holiday fun! I think we'll stick to our graham cracker ones for one more year- but that book may find it's way under our tree next year- to leave plenty of planning for Christmas '11. :)

Susan said...

Kristin, I should have thanked all my readers, new and old. Thanks for the feedback on the kinds of posts you like...I have been thinking about being in the kitchen more again, or writing about it again. I am thinking about a project for the New Year: having the kids make dinner one night/week. We'll work up to it.

Maria, I cant wait to see the results of the landscaping! We'll have to make plans to invade after park day one Friday.

Gina, they did learn a lot about architecture! Evelyn's Victorian Farmhouse instructions are prefaced by this: "Victorian" describes not really a decorative style, but the period of...Victoria's reign.... The era encompasses a variety of styles, including Gothic revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Shingle, that became popular in the United States. Builders of the time often incorporated elements from several styles and the quirky results became known as Victorian.

As we drive through areas with Victorian houses Evelyn will point out turrets, wraparound porches and other elements of the Victorian hodgepodge.

Rachel said...

Great work on the houses! I sure wish my Dawson City house was make of pink sparkes!

Susan said...

Rachel, thanks for stopping by! Do you live in Dawson City? Or do you have a Dawson City Gingerbread house?

Amy said...

Great looking houses - you know I know how involved these are. I'm impressed with your stamina at doing three!

P.S. Did you notice the book said the modern (your plan for next year) is the hardest house? :p

Susan said...

Amy, thanks for popping over and leaving a comment! I'm so impressed that you even did the trees! I am such a sucker--I should have guessed that if they agreed to one house it would be the hardest in the book. I just took a look at the plans and had to lie down. Thank goodness I have 11 months to prepare.

For those you of you who don't have the book, here, for instance, is Step 15: Glue the 4 roof supports to the second story floor and to the side pieces, 2 on each side. Glue piece D to the board and the second-story floor, grating the notch edge with a handheld grater or rasp so the piece will fit, if necessary.

Hannah said...

Wow... I am so impressed with your post. I've never know anyone who made a gingerbread house. So to see the variations your girls came up with is amazing. I'm sure they will remember them forever. Submit CUTE or FUNNY photos and tell friends to vote for them. No entry fee.

laurata said...

Susan, those are awesome. My girls and I made a gingerbread house this year. I need to put up some pictures. We are definitely going to get that book and spend a few weeks on it next year. We loved making our little one, and the kids wanted to do more, but I ran out of supplies. And I was mean: I made them decorate with cereal and raisins, and only 1 serving of skittles.

Barbara said...

Susan, thanks for sharing all of this. I am amazed that you were brave enough to take on this big project! I have actually made elaborate gingerbread houses in my pre-kid days, but since then, it's been the prefab Wilton kits or nothing! I've been thinking that I'd like to do the real deal with the girls (but just ONE, thank you very much) and this makes me think that maybe I can do it.

(Oh, and yes, I did put that book on hold at the library. I couldn't resist!)

Laura said...

That's crazy! Holy ambition, Batman! I cannot believe you got through an entire week without "accidentally" smashing the dang things and being done with it all. It all sounds verrry frustrating. :) The girls all did a great job, though!

patricia said...

Oh my word. Your project makes applying to colleges look like a--excuse the pun--cake walk.

Seems to me that the hardest thing about this sort of project is that the kids think they want to do it, but lose interest once they realize the enormity of the task. Kudos to you and your girls for making it so far!

Moira Kenney said...

Susan, So I've never commented, but read every post. This one, as they say, takes the gingerbread cake! 5 days of cooking and constructing? I'm assuming (hoping) that you were eating takeout the entire time...

The Stone Age Techie said...

I'm so speechless that I'm going to use this term, for the first time ever: OMG!
I love the humor that you bring to this project, heck I just love that you started it at all despite the daunting-ness of the task.
And, they are SO beautiful even in their almost-finished condition!
Your girls are extremely lucky to have you for their Mom - and I feel extremely lucky that you blog about your life together :-)
Happy New Year!

maya said...

you guys win the prize! the prize being the gingerbread houses, of course. i cannot believe how far you guys went with these, & they are so very beautiful...i do wish i could see that deer's head, but i know they boys will go nuts when they see these tomorrow. they did one with their lola this year, & i have been such a butt about it- it's in the laundry room waiting for the compost, & i'm only this second realizing how sad that is. i'll put it out tomorrow under a glass bell jar or something to showcase it...

sarah in the woods said...

You are so incredibly brave! Looks like lots of lovely fun.

Kat said...

You rock! In the hard rock candy way. I'm tired just reading it, but I have no doubt it was a great learning experience for all involved.

Susan said...

Thank you everyone for all your comments! Greta smashed her house today and we ate some of the pink roof. Yum. I'm working on resolutions and packing for camping. Hoping to post before we leave. Happy New Year!

Stefaneener said...

Oh dear goodness. I'm so glad I didn't read this before. Makes me feel simultaneously like a slacker and like I dodged a bullet.

I was thinking that one house would be a good idea. I have plans and recipes for Notre Dame in gingerbread, if you'd like to make a grand house next year.

Susan said...

stefaneener, you dodged a bullet. I looked at your lovely houses with envy. We had fun, and it was great to spend a lot of time with the girls working on these, but it was a lot of work and it didn't have the fun part where you just put candy every which where (except for 3 sides of Greta's house--her house was actually quite easy and fun). Ev and Clem's didn't allow them to use their own creativity. I'm hoping we start a new tradition next year, but if it is gingerbread houses again, I hope they design their own.