Some traditions are meant to be broken—quite literally in this case. When we moved back home, I’ve instituted the gingerbread house tradition, and soon after I tacked on a ritual for its demise, too: every year on New Year’s Eve, the kids get to tear it apart and eat it.
For me, homemade pieces make the house come alive. I realize, in this age of gingerbread house kits, that making your own gingerbread walls and doors and roof pieces feels hopelessly retrograde—but let me tell you, chomping the house is a lot more fun when the gingerbread and the frosting both actually taste good. And like my husband, Aaron, said as he carefully moved the house from perch to perch, real gingerbread houses smell so incredible.
I used to cast about for any holiday baking recipes, but now I just keep it simple, and turn to my very favorite Christmas baking book: Visions of Sugarplums, by the former New York Times critic and food writer Mimi Sheraton.
It’s a slim book packed with recipes that sound amazing and work even better: delicate Swedish gingersnap dough that begins with 1 1/2 cups of whipped cream and yields brittle, spicy cookies that actually snap; unusual Finnish rye cookies; Island-spiced eggnog from the Caribbean; and a recipe for a gingerbread house which includes an indestructible, yet truly delicious, citrus-laced molasses dough.
A single recipe makes enough for one house plus a bunch of rolled cookies. Hank and I went to town.
I think I love this guy best. He reflects Hank’s interest in the body, and has a heart (albeit a little low) and a single “nerve.”
And then we have Aaron’s glam warrior. And my pom pom man.
But the best part of a gingerbread house remains the story spun around it—the idea of entering the house, living in it, and nibbling on its trim. As we were making it, I told Hank the Hansel and Gretel story in all its dramatic, gory detail. His eyes widened, and it made me want to fill the insides with candy couches and chairs and reading lamps.
Hank didn’t want to let it go, but so sad, we couldn’t keep it around forever, gathering dust. He relented to its New Years Eve destruction, and he and his friend enjoyed the take-down, even though the gum drops were a bit hard and chewy. Hank had had his eye on the chimney for weeks. Was it as good as he imagined, I asked? Did it taste smoky?
He thought it did.