It was early in the afternoon on the 17th of December when the tingling of Christmas cheer had lashed hold of me while I slept. I woke with a severe desire to make a gingerbread house. Quickly awakening my partner who still lay asleep beside me, we decided to research recipes and designs. To my luck, he seemed just as intrigued by the idea as I was. After an hour of ruthless research, as I’m what some would call a perfectionist in planning, we had our recipe and our design. I’d decided to use a simple gingerbread recipe, which I had found would be fine for a small house. In bigger houses, ‘industrial grade’ gingerbread had to be used to hold up under the pressure of the house. This type of gingerbread usually was just good for decoration and not consumption as it was hard and bitter. I definitely wanted my gingerbread house to look cute and taste like Christmas, which is always indulgently sugared and delicious.
“It sounds easy enough. They say decorating takes a few hours but I’m sure if we do it really fast we can have it done before dinner.” I suggested encouragingly to my partner. He agreed and we drove down to the shops to get everything we needed to cook the gingerbread. The time was already 2pm at this point, we were careless to think we’d get it done before dinner.
One thing to mention about Gingerbread houses is, decorating time is the most time consuming part of the whole process. The gingerbread itself is made in less than 20 minutes. That’s only if you’ve been more prepared than we were with pre-cut stencils for the house. We had to make ours out of cardboard, a pencil and a ruler. They weren’t unbelievably accurate. That process took a good extra 30 minutes.
The next issue we found was that to cook gingerbread consistently, only one pan could go in the oven at a time. As each batch took only 8 minutes before being cooked thoroughly, this didn’t make too much of an issue. However, we did singe a wall and burnt a couple of trees to a crisp. I had no intention of anyone eating the whole house, so we built it with the singed wall and covered it with frosting.
During the making of the house, we were asked by people who came and went why we were building the gingerbread house so far from Christmas. I almost didn’t want to respond as those were the same people who were happily eating the finished gingerbread cookies. Almost feeling like they were the Grinch asking a Who why they loved Christmas so much. I didn’t feel it was necessary to explain myself further than, “It is almost Christmas”.
The saviour of the day was definitely the frosting. I made in total four batches of royal icing for the construction and decoration of the house. It was a lot of whisking, and in turn we ran out of icing sugar near the end. But on a high note, runny frosting makes great looking icicles!
We took a break around 7.30pm for dinner. We ordered Chinese so that no one had to use the kitchen that was looking like a frosting covered war zone. We’d only just put the roof on at that point and so needed the extra time to let it dry before we could decorate. Decorating turned out to be the easy part as we layered everything with icing. It gave it a very snowy façade, but made the roof practically inedible.
To finish, we decorated gingerbread trees and people to stick outside the house. I added a gingerbread girl in a bikini as it was after all, Christmas in Australia. The first of which I ate, soon after taking a photo to send to my family.
“That looks far too good to eat! We should save it till Christmas!” my partners mother cooed.
“It’s half burnt! It’s covered in way too much icing! I can’t take that to Christmas lunch” I said back worriedly. That had not been the plan at all. It was just supposed to be a fun activity, something to tick off my bucket list. Not something to take to a huge family gathering. Especially my first Christmas with their family, I wanted to make a good impression. Not a burnt, half-arsed impression.
“But it’s so pretty! I don’t want everyone else to miss out!” she kept on saying while taking photos to send to her friends. I found it all very sweet and motherly, as my own mother was living in Japan, I appreciated the over the top approach. In an attempt to make everyone happy, and not waste all the leftover decoration lollies, I was conned into making a second gingerbread house.
The next gingerbread house was bigger, be better and overall more extravagant. Set to be about twice the size of the original, it only took half the time to make. I decided on a more relaxed approached to the icing to make the house less sickly sweet. This house had baked in tree shaped windows and a door. I had researched more designs by the time I made it on the 23rd of December. This one was decorated before being constructed for more accurate decorations. I even put little gingerbread men on the inside of the house so that they peered out of the windows. All in all, it was much better than the last.
When the gingerbread house came out with the other desserts at Christmas, there was an even bigger dilemma. No one wanted to break it. My partner was given the duty of gingerbread house destroyer, to which he tore off the front of the house. It was followed by an uproar of booing. Soon after, the entire front of the house had disappeared along with all the gingerbread men inside. By the time I’d made both of the houses, I was well and truly sick of gingerbread. Overall, both of the houses would’ve taken two entire days to create. A Christmas activity that I hopefully one day I won’t be so careless and create perfection in under 5 hours. After all, practice makes perfect.