Sunday, December 15, 2013

Royal Pain in the Icing

I  am only here writing on the blog because I had to sit down.

When I was a kid, my mother made a gingerbread house every year at Christmas time.  For mortar, she used sugar, heated to one of those crack stages (soft? hard? I’m not sure).  It was very difficult to work with, as it hardened quickly.  It made gossamer strings of sugar all over the kitchen as my mother transferred it from the pan to the construction site. If the hot sugar got on your skin, you could not rub it off, so it burn-burn-burned.

This memory puts my current love-hate relationship with Royal Icing into perspective.  Royal Icing is the gooey, sickly-sweet stuff you should use to glue together a gingerbread house.  It is easier and safer to work with than hard crack sugar (sounds like a drug!), but it is not the best tasting icing, since it contains only egg whites and sugar, but no butter.

After my mother went back to working full-time I took over making a gingerbread house each Christmas.  This makes it sound like I was contributing to the family welfare, as if I were milking the cows and bringing in the hay while my mother worked in a munitions factory, but that wasn’t quite the case.  She returned to teaching, and I had time on my hands. 

My last recorded gingerbread house was made 31 years ago.  Land sakes alive, after that, I graduated college and didn’t have time for such frivolities.
My last known gingerbread house, 1982.
Santa must have been having hot flashes,
because he is not wearing a shirt.
(Click to embiggen to see shirtless Santa.)
Two weeks ago, after the thrill and agony of Thanksgiving had worn off, Younger Daughter and I were looking at photos together, and she saw the one I had made in 1982.  She said plaintively, “Oooh!  Can we make a gingerbread house together, Mommy?  I have always wanted to make one.”

How could I refuse her?  We started on Friday, and have been at it all weekend. That is why my kitchen is coated in a fine dusting of confectioner’s sugar, my dining room table is covered with random-looking gingerbread shapes, and my back is killing me.  I also have a pain that shoots up my right arm occasionally.  YD is on sugar overload from licking Royal Icing off her fingers, but otherwise greatly enjoying our project.  That makes it all worth it (but I’m not saying I will do it again next year).

Time to get back to the construction site.  In the meantime, here are some photos of what we did Friday and Saturday.
Assemblage of ingredients

The recipe called for 6 cups of flour, which makes enough
 dough to make the Taj Mahal in gingerbread.

The dough had the consistency of clay.

Time was, I had to make my own templates.  Nowadays, you
just download them from the internet.

YD opted to make bears in place of Santa Claus.

Cutting out a piece of the sleigh


Angie said...

Very cool! The closest my family ever came to making gingerbread houses were the ones we made out of graham crackers at Hiland's Advent Festival. Do they still do that?

smalltownme said...

We've made houses from kits. And my older son usually makes homemade gingerbread cookies at christmas (one year he made little star trek redshirts). But we've never made a house from scratch.

You are awesome.

Anonymous said...

I admire you so much for doing this! It's something that would make me nutso, even though I always like the IDEA Of making those houses.
Can you eat the whole works?

Sarah said...

One day I'll do gingerbread houses from scratch. One day. Probably when I have grandchildren. My mom NEVER did ANYTHING like this when we were growing up. Holiday traditions consisted of setting everything up on the 15th and taking it all down again on January 6th. Das Ende. I like finding the happy medium with my own munchkins. Like making fluffy cake gingerbread with my kids that we devour for breakfast. Way easier and less mess. Hope your right arm recovers soon ;)

Cassi said...

Wow! I have never known anyone who actually made a gingerbread house from scratch! That one from 1982 is VERY impressive. I can't wait to see pictures of the one you and YD are putting together.

Emma has done the kits (and I got kits for her and a friend to do together this year), but that is as far as I'm willing to travel down the gingerbread lane.

That is very impressive!

The Crislers said...

Your 1982 house was impressive! While I love the shirtless Santa, my favorite part is the chimney. It's also cool that you still have that picture; it seems like the kind of photo that would get lost in the shuffle.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I'm impressed by 1982 and I'm impressed with the making of everything that weekend in December of 2013. (Will you be sharing more pictures?)
My MIL brought a village kit to our house and my youngest son worked at it this morning. The gingerbread was stale and the best tasting part was the frosting. They couldn't get the houses to stay together and now it is in the trash.