Gingerbread Houses – Maisons en Pain d’Epices

The "atelier"
The “atelier”

Every year, we get together with our friends Lena, Camille, and Johanna to build a gingerbread Christmas house.  They are Swedish/French, and building a gingerbread house is a Swedish tradition.

When the kids were smaller, we actually baked the dough for the house, carefully cutting it, adapting the pieces for oven-shrinkage, struggling over making houses that actually stood up and looked something like a real house.  It was great.

Attention spans began to change, and we discovered the pre-fab houses at Ikea.  For the past three years we’ve used these.  I miss our old ones of course, which looked a bit like my house  – “biscornue” as the French would say, all tippy and winding.  Our new houses are the modern, suburbian style.

But we love them anyway.  And they smell good.  And the kids can put them together more quickly.

Lena and I gather candies to decorate the houses, collecting bits and pieces all year if we think of it, sometimes doing panic buying when we realize our only afternoon or morning together before Christmas is upon us, like this year.

Caramel construction
Caramel construction

We make a big pot of caramel, and the mom’s do the heavy lifting with it because even though we’re now dealing with adolescents (who drop their coolness and dive into the joy of making gingerbread houses), caramel is still an adult affair.

Once the houses are stuck together with the caramel, the chimneys safely on top of the roof, Lena and I sit down with tea and watch.

House decor including Virgin's breasts
House decor including Virgin’s breasts

The kids each have a bag of frosting and they squeeze it into patterns and drizzle it everywhere. They work with a host of colorful candies, eating a fair amount along the way. The scenario is usually the same – Johanna’s house is geometrically perfect; Fiona’s is freely creative, Camille’s is assembled.

Girl house
Girl house

This year Fiona took her time with each line of gluey frosting, each little bon-bon, each cloud of sparkly dust, while Johanna was looser, less disciplined than usual. Our girls are changing and growing up.

Camille, hipper than hip and in the flush of his sixteen years, got caught by the camera, tongue slightly stuck out of his mouth, as he helped apply the funny pink Swedish candies called “virgin’s breasts” to the roof of a house.

Boy house
Boy house

This year we had new kids join in.  Tom and Simon sort of threw the candy at their house, while Chloe and Anais were careful but inexperienced.  The results? Four houses of indubitable character.

As our kids’ lives become increasingly busy with sports and various other pursuits, we struggle to find the time to do the Christmas house.  But since Lena and I are so attached to the tradition, we make it happen.  What’s most fun about the whole thing is to see that it’s important to the kids too.  And besides, Christmas would not be Christmas without that little house scenting up the living room.

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