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HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN #12: Gingerbread house delights

By Ann Tatko-Peterson
Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008 at 7:30 am in Christmas.

Staff Photojournalist
It seems fitting to end our 12 Days of Christmas (and Other Holidays) with a little gingerbread. Nothing quite says holiday season like the smell of gingerbread and the look of these delightful houses. My sister-in-law, Lisa, convinced me to let my stepdaughter, Dana, make one with her older cousin four years ago. It’s become an annual tradition ever since. And with each year, Lisa and I get a little more creative. Sure, the kids do the decorating but the base of operations begins with us moms.

We thought it would look great (and smell good) if we could find a way to stick a small light into the back of the house. Naturally, this meant cutting out a window — then several windows, and this year skylights in the roofs. Our first year with windows, we melted Imperial hearts to give them a red sheen that lit up thanks to the inserted light. This year, we got more creative, making our own poured sugar and adding food color for a stained glass effect. Having got the knack of that, we also poured blue sugar to create a river over which Dana add a Tootsie Roll bridge. Creativity has no limits.

Which is one of the reasons why I love the newspaper’s annual Gingerbread House Contest. (See the winners and runners-up online. Pictured is the third-place house, created by a teenager from Foster City) In addition to creative adults, we had quite a few imaginative kid entries this year, too. What I really love about looking at all the pictures is picking up clever ideas for next year. To learn more and find recipes for your creations, continue reading…

Check out fellow blogger Jackie Burrell’s recent column filled with ideas about parent-kid cookie decorating and gingerbread workshops.

Longtime Oakland Tribune food writer Jolene Thym also gives high marks to Kuhn-Rikon Cookie & Cupcake Decorating Set as an ideal tool for helping young kids get into the decorating spirit.

ecct1223gingerhm04For great recipes and blueprints for cutting out an “original” gingerbread house, check out

You’ll find a ton of recipes online for creating hard candy windows in your gingerbread houses, but this is the one I swear by. It’s simple and fast. A few suggestions: 1) If you have enough metal cookie cutters, cut out the shape before cooking and leave the metal cookie cutter inserted into the dough. This helps the windows to keep their shape during cooking. For gingerbread house kits, you will need a saw or very sharp knife to cut out windows. 2) The poured sugar will be very hot. Tape a small section of foil to the back of each window. Then add a second larger sheet of foil behind the entire house. 3) Keep a wet paper towel on hand to catch any drips. 4) Add a drop of food color while the sugar is still hot and liquid-like. We prefer light colors, such as red and yellow because blue and green can overwhelm the sugar.

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