Every November as Thanksgiving approaches, the emails and texts start rolling in, all asking the same question—“When is Gingerbread this year?!” A tradition a couple decades in the making, this kiddo-like party has become THE hot Holiday ticket for all of my grown-up friends, who clear their calendars each year to make sure they can be in attendance. What could possibly be so amazing about sticking a candy house together with some edible goop, you ask? EVERYTHING.
My mom started this tradition with my older brother and I when we were just kids growing up here in LA. Of course, at eight years old being given permission to make a house made entirely out of candy and then EAT IT is the most amazing thing that could ever happen. Especially for kids raised on tofu dogs and no-sugar cereal. As teenagers, the Huntington Gingerbread House Making Party really just became an excuse to mix our friend groups of guys and girls. Space was limited around the table and my girlfriends clamored for a chance to sit next to the older boys who frequented our house and practiced with their high school rock bands in our garage. Young teenage love blossomed over those shared candy bowls year after year. But we thought it might stop there. Once everyone goes away to college and becomes adults, who really wants to make candy houses still?
Apparently everyone. Each year as people returned home for the Holidays, they wanted to come sit in our Christmastown-decorated living room—fireplace blazing, carols playing, hot cider mulling—and build a gingerbread house. What started off as a fun distraction for children became everyone’s favorite annual adult Christmas party, steeped in a deep sense of tradition, festive coziness and Holiday cheer. Now when we sit down at the table, we get that chance to be kids again for a moment—playing, creating and celebrating friendships old and new.
This year, we decided to throw the Annual Gingerbread House Making Party in Siren Sarah’s backyard on a long farm table surrounded by Christmas trees, wreaths and firefly lights. We asked everyone to bring:
1) a piece of cardboard to build their house on
2) a couple bags of colorful candy to donate to the table for decorating
3) a box of graham crackers
WAIT A SEC—this was supposed to be a story about gingerbread houses, right? Well…the actual gingerbread got ditched back in the 90’s, when we quickly realized that having to pre-bake everything and then deal with those bulky pieces that would constantly collapse wasn’t really that fun creatively. Making the switch to graham crackers gives you ultimate design flexibility. Light and easy to cut into different shapes and sizes, if you can dream it, you can build it with graham crackers.
[HOT TIP: Make sure you buy the long rectangular graham crackers. Nabisco usually sells these. You don’t want the ones that just come as individual squares because you won’t be able to build larger structures with those.]
As the host, you want to provide:
1) aluminum foil to cover people’s cardboard bases with
2) the edible “glue” for people to build & decorate with [SEE RECIPE BELOW]
3) food, drinks & merriment
We recommend throwing some mulled apple cider and mulled wine on the stove. If you don’t have mulling spices on hand, just throw in some cloves and cinnamon sticks. Bring the drinks to a boil, simmering gently to stay warm so guests can help themselves throughout the party. As for food, think three words: warm, yummy and comfort. But heads up—savory treats are the best way to go, so that people don’t go into sugar overload.
You want your guests to feel Christmas Cozy in every way, so be sure to create a warm atmosphere—fire in the fireplace, carols, candles. Feel free to make it your own and leave room for the unexpected. This year, our Scoundrels Ross and Doug made a sneaky Santa visit to the 99 Cent store and came back with a sack full of treasures that they threw out to our guests—sending earflap animal hats, mini puzzles and horse calendars a-flyin’. Those animal hats got people back in touch with their inner kid and actually came in real handy to keep our ears warm as a legit winter frost descended upon LA. A lighthearted touch for a festive occasion.
To prep your table for building your houses, place a colorful tablecloth that you don’t mind getting a little dirty (the glue and candy will wash out). Distribute the candy down the center in plates or bowls. Put a bowl filled with “glue” and two dinner knives between each of your two guests to share. Wrap your pieces of cardboard in aluminum foil. Start by building the “base” of your house—making sure you put structural support inside if you plan to “build up” levels. Build the base of your house with thicker glue, then let your structure dry for a bit. You can add a tiny bit of water to your glue to soften it when it comes time for decorating. Adding food coloring to your paste also gives you color options to play with. Then just let your imaginations run wild. Over the years, we’ve had people build everything from a teepee campground to the Titanic to the Hollywood Bowl. Just give yourself and your guests permission to have fun and be creative.
When you are done building, take a photo of each guest with their brilliant work of art, then give the houses a little time to dry. Circle up and gather around the fire with your hot toddies, celebrating being together for the most wonderful time of the year, as it begins to feel a lot like Christmas…
EDIBLE GLUE FOR GINGERBREAD HOUSES RECIPE ~
Serves 12 people
2 dozen eggs
6 bags of powdered sugar
1 bottle of cream of tartar (found in the spice section of your market)
*MEASUREMENTS FOR BATCHING ~
3 egg whites
5 cups of powdered sugar
¾ tsp of cream of tartar
When making your glue, it is best to work in small batches that you put aside into one large bowl. In a mixer, put in 3 egg whites (separate the yolks and put them aside in a tupperware in your fridge so you can bake something with them later if you wish). Add in 5 cups of powdered sugar and ¾ tsp cream of tartar. Mix on low speed so that the sugar doesn’t go flying everywhere. Beat it together until the paste looks smooth and shiny, with soft peaks starting to form. Use a spatula to scoop out the batch into a large bowl, then repeat the process until you have gone through all your eggs. You can make your bowl of glue a day in advance, just cover the top with a damp paper towel and put saran wrap over it. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!
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