Of all the people you know, how many prefer winter? I can think of one, a friend who likes to snuggle up to the fire, burrow under a blanket and read all the books she saved up during the summer when she was too busy gardening. I agree that it’s a good way to spend this dark, wet time of year, but so far, she’s the only one I know who looks forward to it. Everyone else would be happier if we could fast forward to June.
But it’s possible that we would miss the long nights. What would holiday celebrations be like if it weren’t dark? There’s magic in running from the car to the warmth and lights of a theater, for instance, in shedding umbrellas and raincoats, and settling in to watch Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker or listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Handel’s Messiah. And I’m willing to bet that the colourful lights reflecting off the water as Christmas boats go by wouldn’t seem as wonderful if the days were long and sunny. Also, I doubt that dinners with friends would be as festive and elaborate. There’s something about gathering together in the darkness that hooks right into our hearts. Although we may come from different cultures and customs, at this time of year especially, we all bond with family and friends around favourite foods and traditions.
One traditional treat at our house is a gingerbread cabin, and on a rainy day, making it amuses kids for hours. Alternatively, you can fashion a similar house from chocolate-covered pretzel rods. Powdered sugar makes great snow, and a bit of shiny aluminum foil becomes an icy pond. Cinnamon sticks or pretzel sticks make a fence, and sprigs of rosemary make shrubs and bushes. If the cabin doesn’t disappear immediately, it will slowly absorb moisture from the air. When the roof starts to sag, it’s time to call the demolition crew.
The gingerbread recipe below is easy to make, but if you prefer chocolate, break pretzel logs into long, medium, and short logs as described and dip them in your favourite melted chocolate. Large chocolate bars make a perfect roof, and thick chocolate squares work perfectly as the pavers. Follow the same instructions for assembly, and glue it all together with melted chocolate, placing it in the refrigerator occasionally to allow it to harden.
Makes one cabin, approximately 15 centimetres square. Double the batch to make snowmen, trees, fence posts, or Santa and his sleigh.
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup unsulfured molasses
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 1/4 teaspoon ginger (dried, ground)
1/4–1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 cups flour (unsifted)
only if needed, 1–2 tablespoons cold water
Optional: 1/3 cup finely chopped candied ginger
Amounts are for a single batch of dough.
Cream together the sugar and butter, then beat in the molasses.
Sift dry ingredients together, or stir them with a whisk, then add them a little at a time, stirring to blend well. Knead it with your hands if it gets too hard to stir.
The dough should be stiff and not wet. Add one or two tablespoons cold water only if needed to incorporate all the flour mixture.
Chill at least one hour.
On a floured board, use approximately 1/3 of the dough to roll out a piece big enough to cut two rectangles approx. 10 x 15 centimetres for the roof.
Combine the leftover pieces with the rest of the dough.
Hand roll 17 long logs a little less than one centimetre in diameter and 15 centimetres long.
Use some of the remaining dough to make two medium logs eight centimetres long and eight short logs five centimetres (two inches) long.
Make 30 round pavers about one centimetre high and 1.5 centimetres in diameter.
Use leftover dough to shape pine trees, snowmen, or a Santa for the roof.
Bake approximately 10 minutes at 180° Celsius or 350° Fahrenheit, until done. The logs should feel firm when you touch them. (Bake the roof separately, as it will take longer than the rest.)
Let cool completely before assembling the house.
Ingredients and Method
Beat together until it’s smooth and stiff peaks form when you lift the beater:
1 egg white (Be careful not to get any yolk.)
Pinch of salt and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1 3/4 cups sifted powdered (icing) sugar
OR substitute for the egg white:
1 1/4 tablespoons meringue powder
Approximately two tablespoons warm water (or follow directions on the package)
Note: Keep royal icing covered with a damp cloth when not actively using it. Wait between layers for it to harden.
Place two long logs, one for the front and one for the back, then two more for the sides, letting the ends overlap slightly, and gluing them together with icing (or melted chocolate, if using chocolate logs.)
To make a door, at the front of the cabin, place a paver near each corner, then a short log from each corner to the paver.
Add a long log to each of the other three sides.
Build two more layers this way.
Build one layer with long logs on all four sides.
To start making a peak, at the front and back, place two pavers close to the middle.
Place a medium log on top.
Place two pavers on top of each medium log.
Place a short log on top.
Place a paver in the middle of each of the short logs.
Wait until the icing dries, then glue the roof on. You may need other pavers to make it fit.
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