Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

For Jesse and his Dad who didn't get to make their own...

Neil Heslin, 50, father of six-year old Jesse Lewis, told the New York Post that he had been planning to visit his son's class Friday afternoon to make gingerbread houses. "I dropped him off at school at 9am. He went happily," Heslin said. "That was the last I saw of him."

and in New York,

One of my favorite holiday traditions is making gingerbread people and a gingerbread house with my kids.  It's a great way to spend time together, and it uses up the last of the Halloween candy.

Give yourself several days to complete this project. We usually make the dough on Friday night, bake on Saturday morning, decorate the people and assemble the house on Saturday afternoon, and decorate the house on Sunday afternoon.  We generally do this the weekend before Christmas, and amazingly, the children in my life tell me it still tastes great when we eat it on the 24th.  I'll have to take their word for it.

The gingerbread cookie dough is my Aunt Mary's.  I've been making and eating gingerbread boys and girls since before I can remember.  Their one of the required cookies at our house.  They make it feel like Christmas, and they return me to my own childhood.

If you don't have a gingerbread dough that you love, use this one.  I've given it to several friends over the years and they always say that it makes the best gingerbread cookies they've ever eaten.

Making and decorating the gingerbread house does create quiet a mess in your kitchen.  Luckily, my children now know how to use a broom, and I sort of give up on house cleaning the week and a half before Christmas.  One of my favorite gifts from the Woodsman is a full house cleaning - which he does on Christmas Eve afternoon, right before guests arrive for dinner.  This means the house is clean, clutter free and relaxing for Christmas Day, so I don't sweat the baking mess.  Time with my giggly children is so worth the crunch of sugar underfoot.

Make the dough the night before you plan to bake.  It needs to chill for at least 12 hours. 

Aunt Mary's Gingerbread Cookies

1/3 c. Crisco
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups dark molasses

cream together using an electric mixer

In another bowl, sift together
2 3/4 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ginger (fresh works best - but powdered is OK too)
2 t. cinnamon

Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix.
Chill overnight.
Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick.

Bake at 350 for about 8-10 minutes.  They should be firm and bouncy when they are done. 

Roll the dough out 1/8 inch thick (I put a bit of flour and sugar down on the counter first).  Farmer Dan made these rolling boards for me years ago.  They ensure that my dough doesn't get too thin.

Cut out and bake.  They're done when you press down on the gingerbread and the cookie springs back (no finger impression left).  Bake house pieces longer.  You want these to be a bit crispy so your house will be structurally sound when you put it together.

I used to use my own icing, but this is one time where I buy the commercial stuff.  It just sticks together better.  You need good mortar.  Ice the edges thickly, then have a helper hold the pieces together while you stick them together. Ice the bottoms too.  You want your house to stick onto the board (here I used a cutting board covered in freezer paper).
Be careful when placing the roof.  This is the trickiest part.  Some years we need to use a small can to hold the roof in place while the icing dries.

Let it dry overnight.  This ensures that you don't shift the house pieces apart when you decorate.

When you have the house assembled, it's time to ice the people.  I make a simple sugar icing (just powdered sugar thinned with a bit of milk) and add food coloring until it's the desired color.  We then paint on outfits.  The little cookies just get dipped in the icing. Let these sit out on the counter until they're fully dry.

The next day cover the whole house in icing and then let the kids decorate away.  My two use leftover Halloween candy.  It's a great way to empty out the candy jars before Christmas.

We always take our house to church on Christmas Eve for our congregational cookie share.  It's great - other kids help eat all that sugar (sorry church friend moms).

One year my kiddos are going to be too old to do this, but for now I'll savor this afternoon.

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