The construction business doesn't get any sweeter than this: building a fantasyland from cookies and candy, icing and gingerbread.
Pastry instructor Susan Logozzo stands at a demonstration table at the Cambridge (Mass.) School of Culinary Arts, surrounded by her building materials: bowls of gumdrops, nonpareils, speckled candy eggs, M&Ms, and more. She wields a pastry bag of icing "mortar" to decorate her latest creation.
Ms. Logozzo teaches baking to professional chefs-to-be here. She is well-known not only for her elaborate gingerbread houses, but also for her enthusiastic encouragement of others to make their own. She recently spent 90 hours designing and making an award-winning gingerbread house for a Boston-area competition to benefit charity. But she's also assembled a gingerbread house on TV during a five-minute segment.
"The nice thing about making a gingerbread house is that you can stretch it out over time," Logozzo says as she applies icing to a gingerbread wall to show how easy it is. People can set their own pace.
The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to six weeks. Once the gingerbread is baked, you can leave it on cookie sheets until later. "They are very sturdy once they are baked," Logozzo notes.
You can construct just part of the house and come back to it. Plan on spending six hours to bake, build, and decorate a gingerbread house, she says. But you can do a little each day: Make the dough one day; roll, cut, and bake it another day; then put it together and decorate it over a couple days.
Logozzo got into the gingerbread-house business nearly 20 years ago, when someone asked her to replicate the Emerald City from "The Wizard of Oz." Later, she teamed up with fellow gingerbread artist Martha Mattox to write "The Gingerbread House: Basic Techniques and Easy-to-Follow Directions for Making a Complete House." (The 32-page booklet is $5; write to Logozzo care of the CCI at 2020 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass., 02140.) Their recipes and plans are reproduced here.
Gingerbread has been made in Europe since the 11th century, when ginger brought from Asia became common. The first form of gingerbread was a mixture of honey, breadcrumbs, and spices. It was as hard as a rock. When molasses became available in the 1600s, gingerbread recipes grew more elaborate and palatable. In the 1800s, gingerbread cookies and cakes started to look the way we know them today. That's when gingerbread began to be shaped into horses, men, and houses.
The best part about making gingerbread houses is that people of all ages can participate, Logozzo says. And "even if you think you're not artistic, you can have a beautiful house."
All the different kinds of candy, nuts, cereal, and dried fruits allow for limitless possibilities. Put candy wafers on the roof as shingles, design the grounds with a cobblestone walkway, a doghouse, trees.
LOGOZZO has made elaborate grounds, some with swimming pools and greenhouses. Upside-down ice-cream cones, with decoration, make good trees, she says. Cookies make great fences. Put a marshmallow snowman on the lawn.
Some builders get carried away and use gourmet chocolates, but gingerbread houses don't have to be expensive. It's fun and economical to work in groups: Invite friends or neighbors over to build their houses, and share materials.
When gingerbread is baking in the oven, it makes your real home smell glorious, Logozzo says. And you end up with a holiday centerpiece/dessert that doesn't get stale. It may start to disappear before your eyes, though.
Logozzo says with a wink that gingerbread homeowners may have to report a missing chimney, a broken-off lollipop tree, or a lost animal-cracker pet.
Recipe included in graphic.