For families who want to create together without the mess, contact The Wilton School in Darien, (630) 810-2888, www.school.wilton.com. They are holding family gingerbread house workshops this month.
Every family has holiday traditions. Making graham cracker gingerbread houses is my personal favorite. This break in the hustle and bustle of the season is a perfect time to relax and visit with my family.
This project is fun for all ages. Our family ranges in age from toddlers to grandparents. Everyone enjoys getting involved, whether it’s building their own gingerbread house or helping the younger kids.
If you want to start this tradition with your family, below is a list of what you will need:
Graham crackers. This keeps it simple, with no baking involved. The graham crackers still give an authentic gingerbread look to the walls and roof of the houses. It’s a good idea to have a few extra graham cracker boxes on hand to allow for breaks, mistakes and even eating.
Cardboard. Everyone needs a sturdy piece of cardboard or cake board to use as the base for their house. Cover the boards in shiny aluminum foil to add a festive look.
Icing. Buy Wilton Meringue Powder at your local craft store and use the "Royal Icing" recipe that comes with the package. Filling pastry bags with the mixture keeps the mess to a minimum and makes it easier to "glue" the houses together. One batch makes about three houses.
Candy and other goodies. Have lots of treats available to decorate the houses. Try using red and green M&Ms, sprinkles, spice drops, candy canes, chocolate chips, marshmallows, cereal, shredded coconut (for snow), Hershey Kisses and pretzels. Just walk down the grocery store candy aisle during the holidays and you’ll get great ideas.
Imagination. Although everyone starts with the same supplies, each house always turns out to be unique. My family has created pretzel rod log cabins, marshmallow igloos, houses with shredded wheat thatched roofs and animal cracker petting zoos. The possibilities are endless—let your imagination be your architect and have fun.
Follow these simple steps to build your house:
• Start with the walls. Take two graham crackers and put the ends together to form an "L" shape. Use the icing to glue the corner where the graham crackers meet. Don’t forget to build on the cardboard base. Add another graham cracker to form a "U" shape and glue this new corner. Add a fourth graham cracker to make a square and glue the corners with icing.
• Make the foundation. Use icing to secure the square to the cardboard base.
• Add the roof. Take two graham crackers and lay them flat across the top of the square. Use icing as necessary. Take two more graham crackers and make a long triangle across the middle of the roof and glue with icing. Although you can design your house any way you desire, this basic plan is a good start with kids. Don’t get discouraged if your house falls apart. You may have to use more icing or gently hold the pieces together for about 30 seconds to let the icing dry a little.
• Personalize your house with treats and icing. Add decorations to the cardboard base such as gumdrop walkways, pretzel stick fences and marshmallow snowmen.
Let your house dry for at least 15-20 minutes before moving. I use our houses as a holiday centerpiece on the dining room table.
Jenny Du Brock is a writer living in Rosemont with her husband, three daughters and their Greyhound.