This year’s tercentennial in Lexington has everyone thinking about the town’s history. One needs look no further than the Battle Green, Munroe Tavern or Buckman Tavern to realize that Lexington has a rich sense of history and tradition. It reminds us that tradition starts with a single action.
Why not start your own tradition this holiday season and build a legacy of fun and excitement that can be passed from generation to generation. It doesn’t need to be as historic as the “shot heard ‘round the world,” but it can start with something as simple and family friendly as gingerbread.
Gingerbread has its roots firmly planted in Europe. When ginger first arrived in the eleventh century it was delivered to Europe by trade routes that were developed during the crusades. Ginger found its way into many baked goods, some soft and bread-like, and others hard and crisp such as cookies or crackers. What most of us today think of as gingerbread was first made popular in Germany. The traditional German “pfefferkuchenhaus” is what most of us here in the US think of when we think of gingerbread houses today. It was even immortalized in Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” where a boy and girl stumble upon a witch’s house made of gingerbread.
Starting your own gingerbread tradition is easy. First you’ll want a recipe for a good gingerbread, one with flavor, which can also hold up structurally to the demands of your decoration.
We sat down with Wilson Farm’s Bakery Production Manager Jeff Kneeland who knows his way around gingerbread, and he provided us with lots of gingerbread tips.
“Look for a recipe that is a little lower in sugar or sweetener,” says Kneeland. “Recipes that have a high sugar content are great for making gingerbread men, but aren’t great for (gingerbread) houses because they bend or break when loaded up with decorations.”
Wilson Farm provided an adapted version of its gingerbread below.
Before baking gingerbread, cut out your panels. A basic house will need six panels, including four walls and two rectangles for the roof.
Once you have baked your gingerbread panels, you’ll need to let it dry for about a day. While using hot, fragrant, gingerbread fresh out of the oven, sounds appealing, it is far too soft to use right away. When the gingerbread has cured for a day, it’s time to make icing and assemble the house from your panels.
Kneeland recommends using royal icing (recipe provided below). “While you could use frosting, it won’t hold together well” he says. Using royal icing, join your gingerbread panels together to form your house and let dry for 24 hours to let the royal icing set. Unused icing can be stored in a plastic bag or container, refrigerated, and used later for decoration.
Now the fun begins, with a fully assembled house, it’s time to decorate.
There are thousands of options for decorating including, nuts, dried fruits, candy, and even breakfast cereal. Some favorites at Wilson Farm inlcude: Necco Wafers, gum drops, candy canes, sprinkles, Spree candy, Barbara’s Puffins cereal, M&Ms, almonds, and other treats.
The leftover royal icing can be used to attach the decorations to the house, and can also be used to decorate with as well. For colored icing, simply add a few drops of food coloring to the royal icing and mix thoroughly.
If the process of baking gingerbread from scratch, assembling it, and then decorating sounds laborious, it is. But rest assured that there are many ways to have fun with gingerbread without all the work.
The first option is to purchase a gingerbread house kit from a place that makes gingerbread. While each retailer is different, most kits come with cooked gingerbread and icing. While you’re looking for kits, you might also want to secure enough icing to complete the project.
If a gingerbread kit still seems like too much work, or too much mess to decorate in your home, consider signing up for a local gingerbread decorating workshop, where everything (even the cleanup) is included.
Wilson Farm in Lexington offers a gingerbread kit, as well as undecorated, fully assembled houses. They also have a hands-on Gingerbread Workshop from 3 to 6 p.m. next Thursday, Dec. 13, which includes a fully assembled house and everything you would need to decorate it.
When you’ve completed your work of art, make sure to take a few pictures. Over the years you may collect enough pictures to put together a fun scrapbook or photo album as your gingerbread house skills evolve, and will provide a fun way to remember your holiday traditions from year to year.
And now, the recipes:
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup dark molases
⅓ cup cold water
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. ground allspice
2 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp. salt
Preheat Oven to 350º
Mix the butter, brown sugar, molasses, and water with an electric mixer. Add the rest of the remaining ingredients and mix well by hand. Divide in half and roll flat on a floured surface until a quarter inch thick. Cut panels to create the four walls, and 2 panels for the roof. (Making extra panels is a good idea in case of breakage)
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes and place on a cooking rack until cool.
Wilson Farm’s Royal Icing
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 Tbs. cream of tartar
3 egg whites
Mix together the powdered sugar and cream of tartar. Add 2 of the 3 egg whites and mix with an electric mixer. If icing is too thick, add additional egg white and mix. Optional - add food coloring to make different icing colors.