I grew up in the United States but my family is from Cambodia, which meant the holiday custom of making gingerbread houses was nonexistent in my home. So when my friend Meghan Smith invited me to her gingerbread-house-making party, it took me back to my elementary-school days, the first time I was exposed to the tradition. I remember assuming the houses were made of graham crackers, not gingerbread -- how could "bread" stand up with all that candy plastered to it, right?
Of course, now I know better, so I was fully prepared when Meghan invited me over a day early to help prep. She worked the dough into the requisite stiff-as-bricks mixture (it became so hard, she had to switch utensils because she could hear her wooden spoon splintering). And while it chilled, she showed me the blueprints she'd drawn for the houses, to be used later to help all the parts fit together.
(Photos Mark Finkenstaedt For The Washington Post)
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Guests arrived the next day to find plates piled high with gingerbread roofs and walls, plastic baggies of icing, and candies galore, from marshmallows to gumdrops to Tic-Tacs. Holiday songs played on the stereo as we warmed up with hors d'oeuvres of M&M cookies (only green and red M's, of course) and hot cider.
Meghan showed the newbies in the group how to construct the houses. We started with bases of 3-by-5-inch corrugated cardboard, stacked three high and taped together. The rest was just as easy: Ice corners together, taste icing, wait and hold pieces together, eat candy, ice another corner, taste more icing. And so forth.
After our houses were built, the fun (or, for the perfectionists, agonizing) part began: decorating. Thankfully, there aren't any hard and fast rules -- it's pretty much anything goes, and when in doubt, just slather on more icing.
By the end of the night, sugary debris was not only on the houses, but on our skin and clothes, too. Not that anyone cared -- we could hardly complain about a lighthearted evening spent eating sweets and creating a delicious village. "Each gingerbread house has its own personality and in a way reflects the personality of the person who decorated it," Meghan said. I opted to create a wigwam of sorts, using frosted Shredded Wheat for hay. I wonder what that says about me? Sokphal Tun
Gingerbread & Icing
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup light molasses or dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda