The kind-of-annual Christmas taffy pull

Most years we make vinegar taffy at Christmastime. Here’s a time lapse we did in 2015 and a few photos of pulls from the past.

A few Christmas carols

Today I was reminiscing on these Christmas songs we’ve done as a family over the past few years.

2010 – a rhythmically-challenged version of We Wish You A Merry Christmas

2011 – Must Be Santa, inspired by Bob Dylan

2011 – Joy to the World by the Hill cousins

2011 (I guess this was a particularly festive year) – Jingle Bells through the years

2012 – Angels We Have Heard on High, clarinet and guitar

2013 – Still, Still, Still, oboe and violin and guitar

2014 – Little Drummer Boy, featuring the Oregon cousins

2015 – The Friendly Beasts

How to Make a Gingerbread House

As a little girl, the two Christmas traditions I remember the most were making a gingerbread house every year with my one grandma, and attending Festival of Trees at the Salt Palace to watch my other grandma’s clogging group perform. Fast forward to 2010 when we moved back to Utah and I started taking my own kids to experience Festival of Trees. I was still just as mesmerized with the gingerbread creations in the Gingerbread Village, so I merged my two favorite Christmas traditions, and a new tradition of making a gingerbread house for the Festival of Trees was born! Here are the houses I’ve made for Festival of Trees over the years (you can click on any photo to enlarge it).

2016: A Charlotte’s Web Christmas

2011: A Charlie Brown Christmas

2012: {Had a newborn, so no house that year}

2013: Rise and Shout!—a BYU-themed gingerbread house

2014: A Very Mickey Christmas

2015: Coca-Cola Wonderland—inspired by my love of Diet Coke

Every penny raised from Festival of Trees supports the children and families at Primary Children’s Medical Center, and so far my houses have raised over $1,700. (The houses are purchased by the highest bidder). Making my gingerbread houses each year is a labor of love, and raising money for Primary Children’s Hospital is extra motivation to try my best on it.

I want to share my tips and tricks for creating gingerbread houses that I’ve learned along the way. When I started, I had no experience making gingerbread houses from scratch—only from kits or graham crackers (which is still fun). So I scoured library books and the internet for gingerbread house ideas and recipes and found the best recipes and tips from the book The Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chattman. This is my gingerbread BIBLE. Before you start your gingerbread creation, read this book! My dear visiting teacher bought it for me after I kept checking it out from the library year after year. (It’s out of print, but you can still buy it used or get it from the library. See below for their recipes, but you’ll still want to consult their book for all the best tips and tricks).  I got the pattern for my last three houses from this book—just enlarged it at a copy store  to 400%.

A few other gingerbread making tips:

  • You need a hefty dose of patience to make a gingerbread house, along with a love of baking (my patience is just seasonal!).
  • If you want to enjoy the gingerbread making process, give yourself two weeks to make it. My best decorating ideas come as I’ve stared at the beast sitting on my counter for several days.
  • Add a little cocoa in frosting to build the gingerbread house. The brown frosting blends in better at the seams (and hides mistakes).
  • Pick your theme early so you can look for supplies throughout the year.
  • I get scrap wood for my base each year from Home Depot, and have them cut it to a 24”x30” piece, which is a good size for a house with landscaping.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist or your gingerbread project will drive you insane! Remember that royal icing and candy can easily hide imperfections.
  • Stock up on parchment paper to bake your gingerbread on, especially when you’re melting crushed Jolly Ranchers or butterscotch candies into the dough.
  • Zurchers or other party supply stores are a good source for color-coordinated candies, especially Sixlets, M&Ms, and gummies. Harmon’s Grocery has an excellent assortment of hard-to-find candies.

I found the following household tools helpful in making gingerbread creations:

  • Q-tips to wipe frosting
  • Tweezers to place Sixlets and other small candy
  • Cheese grater to “trim” gingerbread pieces to fit together
  • Straight pins to hold pieces together while the royal icing dries
  • Canned food to support the pieces while the royal icing dries
  • Pizza cutter to make straight cuts in the dough
  • Toothpicks to unclog frosting tips

Gingerbread Dough Recipe
(from The Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chattman)

1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
2 tsps baking powder
2 tsps ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
1 cup dark (not light or blackstrap) molasses
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons white vinegar
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine shortening and sugar until well combined. Add the baking powder, ginger, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves and beat until well incorporated. Add the molasses, eggs, and vinegar, and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary.  Add the flour, one cup at a time, and mix on low until smooth. Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press into a rough square. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least three hours or up to three days. Bake at 375 for 12-14 minutes.

Royal Icing
(from The Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chattman)

3 tablespoons meringue powder
1/2 cup warm water
1 package (16 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Combine the meringue powder and water in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form.

2. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Beat until shiny, smooth and increased in volume, 6 to 8 minutes. If too stiff to pipe or spread, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water; beat until the proper consistency is achieved. Use immediately or cover surface of icing with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

This royal icing is the best cement for your gingerbread house. Leftover icing should be refrigerated, the surface covered with plastic wrap. Meringue powder is available at Zurchers, Hobby Lobby, and WalMart.

Happy baking! I’d love to hear your tips for gingerbread houses.