For years, I’ve wanted to learn how to make a gingerbread house from scratch, and luckily I recently stumbled upon a six week course on the subject, but what would I make?
If you ask me, the worst day of my life, by far is the day I told my father that Ford would stop making Broncos. Nearly 20 years ago, I read a magazine article that started with the sentence, “The Bronco is a dinosaur.” My father was livid when I broke the bad news. I explained that something called an Expedition would take its place instead.
Nineteen years later I think I finally helped heal that irking wound. Not only did Ford (kind of) announce that it would supposedly start production on a new version of its Bronco (fingers crossed), but I also created my father’s beloved 1974 yellow Ford in gingerbread.
The first thing I learned during the class – and this is important – ‘house’ is an arbitrary word. Like, very arbitrary.
I was quickly relieved when my instructor said, “You can make anything you want.” But then I also realized I could make *anything I want.
Fellow students threw out options like the Nightmare Before Christmas and Dr. Seuss’ Whoville. I wanted to focus on something that required a light, and some sugar work, for windows. I considered a church, the Elizabethan Theater in Ashland, Oregon and the Oscar I’ve been praying for since I was a little girl.
After much shallow soul-searching from friends’ Facebook comments, I decided on my father’s SUV.
It’s boxy, with some windows and tires. How hard could it be? By the third class my teacher said, “You’ve actually chosen one of the harder designs in class.” Oh good. Another student conferred, “Yeah, I was like ‘Wow, ok. She’s really going for it, ok.’”
I learned very quickly that I would be slowest – in all the various steps.
Fellow students busily created barns, and houses with cute little animals – and then there was me, meticulously sketching a box with wheels. It took me two classes alone to sketch it out! Fortunately, my father still had the original brochure (!) on hand, and made copies for me.
Right away I made the decision to use the bottom of a coffee mug for the tires. And for the first time, I got a glimpse of its real-life dimensions. What have I done?! Oh, and did I mention math?! I never thought that algebra and fractions would haunt me decades later, but guess what?!
I kept going.
Next up, making the dough and freezing it for later. Then, cutting out the various pieces and rolling out the dough. Need to burn off some extra holiday calories? Roll out gingerbread dough. As my mother would say, “it’s harder than the hubs of hell.” No joke, I huffed and puffed. And puffed. Many times I had to sip water. It was ridiculous, letting others see how out of breath I was. But by God, I built some guns that night! I will show you! Why hasn’t anyone tapped into this exercise program? Million dollar idea!
Depending on the size, I cut out pieces with either a normal knife, an X Acto knife, or my fat finger!
While I thought that was nerve-wracking, my nerves took another serious blow while I watched my beloved shapes bake in the convection oven. You know when you watch baking shows, and the contestants peer through the glass biting their nails? Guilty. I’m one of those people now. I get it. You have no control over what happens. Like a moron, I assumed my tires would come out as cute little round tires. Nope! They baked upwards into warped Whoville-like biscuits. Awesome.
Some ‘mistakes’ can be remedied with a knife with concise shaving. But not too hard, or your heart will break into a million pieces as you hear a very audible crack.
I made the decision beforehand to light my ‘house,’ so the wooden board it sat on was cut open. Yes, woodworking is also involved! Get out your drills and bandsaws people!
Drying is a very important component. I was lucky in that since I was in a weekly class, by the time I returned the next week, roofs, tires, windows, and my grille were already to go.
Royal icing was made beforehand, so all I had to do was some adult assembly required. But, now physics took hold, along with careful balancing and patience. Lots of patience. See that royal icing sliding down that side paneling?! No amount of yelling – or cursing, in my case – will fix it. Either you stand there with your hand covering the affected area, or you luck out and place a canned good, preferably something big like green beans, to alleviate your growing annoyance.
Yes, it becomes a real-life gingerbread smackdown. Spoiler: the gingerbread will tease you and win every time.
But with perseverance and patience (!), I built a 1974 Ford Bronco.
I knew I was on the right track when one of the culinary instructors came by and said, “You know what that looks like? It looks like my ’72 Ford Bronco. It was also yellow.” I raised up my arms and yelled a celebratory “Yes!” “Oh, that’ll make her happy,” said the student across from me. He then told me how he replaced engine parts multiple times, but “it could still go up a hill.” Yep, those are also some of my childhood memories.
I will not lie. It really is gratifying seeing something you created with your hands, albeit, food. But I said along I wanted to learn everything from scratch. And boy did I ever.
Photos do not show its real proportions. It is pretty big in real life. Co-workers were surprised to see how large it was, like 8×12 inches large. Yep, damn those coffee mug bottoms!
Before I finished the class, I was urged to enter the 9th annual Wilbur D. May Museum Gingerbread House Competition. Only 100 entries would be allowed. Plus, it was a $10 entry fee. If I didn’t finish in time, who cares, at least it was only $10 I lost out on.
The next week my very yellow Bronco aired on Channel 2 News This Morning. It doubled as a preview for the weekend’s competition. No turning back, now, it had to appear!
When my father and I arrived at Wilbur D. May Center, my creation was placed next to a mansion of candy canes, white frosting and gummy drops. I almost had a heart attack.
“What did you think would happen,” my dad asked.
“I know. Some entries are better than mine, and some could be worse, but it’s different now that I actually see it with my own eyes!”
I was crushed. I knew food professionals were allowed to enter, so my anxiety overwhelmed me at times.
But, I used the opportunity as a learning experience. One entry in particular had straight lines, smooth icing, and clean cuts. It showed me how I could improve, you know, for next year.
Before we left, we were asked on the way out if we wanted to vote for our favorite. “Why, yes I would!”
Apparently lots of other people did too. I won SECOND PLACE in People’s Choice! I was shocked! Shocked!
While I don’t know who won first or third place, it really doesn’t matter to me. I now own a giant red ribbon that says SECOND PLACE. I couldn’t be happier!
And as for my father, he’s very proud of his only child making him a touching gift. But he’s stressed over where to put it. Not my problem! I just bake ‘em.