I’ve been a pastry chef for over twenty years, and each season reminds me how cyclical life is. The setting and people may be different, but the rhythm is steady and predictable. The flavor of pumpkin for the autumn is quickly replaced by more decadent ingredients like chocolate. Cookies become miniatures for holiday trays or tins. There’s a heightened buzz in the air, both at work and at home, in anticipation of this month of festivities.
My family is blended. I am Jewish, my ex-husband is Christian, Eddie is Catholic and our children are raised as Jews who also celebrate the traditions of Christmas and Easter. We have a Christmas tree and wreathes, and soon our menorahs and dreidels will add to the decor. Our family traditions have morphed over the years, but one tradition remains the same…gingerbread houses.
We started making gingerbread houses with the kids when they were little. I’ve gone back & forth between making the houses from scratch to buying the pre-fab houses at the supermarket. The reality is that it’s all about decorating the house with candy, so the actual construction of the house seems to matter more to the adults and less to the children. It’s an activity that we all love, and nothing makes me happier than seeing these masterpieces develop, year after year.
I do have two very funny gingerbread house stories to tell.
Back in the day of Babycakes when things were a bit more slow and we were doing custom orders, we used to donate a gingerbread house to a local real estate agency. It was always a big deal, and we did our best to make it as special as possible. Because Eddie is a designer, I relied on him to make the template for this custom house. Template made, I would roll out the gingerbread dough, cut out the template, bake it, and assemble the house the next day. One year, his template was pretty intense and included cut-out windows so that I could use gelatin sheets for the ‘glass’. I went into work in the middle of the night to assemble the house. As I glued each part together, I started to snicker. Why? Because my husband ‘Mr. Designer’ had screwed up, or so I thought. The ‘windows’ were actually sky lights on the roof panels. I could not wait for daylight to arrive so I could call him to tell him about his mistake. When it was finally light outside, I made the call and sent him a picture of the house with skylights.
And, that’s when I ate humble pie.
My husband, Mr. Designer, had actually designed it correctly. I, the pastry chef loser, assembled it incorrectly. I used the roof panels as side walls and used the side panels for the roof. It was a total clusterf*ck. I had no clue how to decorate the house, and it needed to get finished before the customer came to pick it up. Thankfully, my co-workers came to the rescue and came up with the idea of covering those really fancy skylights with snickerdoodles cut in half. In the end, it was the most whimsical gingerbread house I ever collectively made, and remains one of my favorite houses.
My second story is one of my more random pastry moments, and took my feelings about gingerbread houses down a detour I did not anticipate.
I received a phone call from a man in NYC, asking if I could make a custom gingerbread house. He needed it asap, and it needed to look like a picture he sent me online. He was going to send a driver to pick it up. It was all pretty sketchy, but I went with it. When the house was done, I called the man to let him know I was all set.
‘Great – thanks so much. Sooooooo…what else do you make?’
Um, well, cookies, cakes, brownies, pies. The usual.
‘Oh. So you make cakes? Ever consider making sex cakes?’
I’m sorry. Wh-wh-what? Sex Cakes? Is that what you just said?
‘Yeah. Penises. Tits. You know…sex cakes. Your company is called babycakes, isn’t it?
Mmmmmm. Mmmmmmhmmmmmmmmm. Yup. It is.
Needless to say, that was our last phone call. When I shared this latest twist to the story with the girls in the kitchen, we quickly decided that the fancy colonial gingerbread house I just constructed should be renamed the Sex Mansion, and I literally had to remove all gingerbread men & women AND the royal icing from the kitchen until the house was delivered.
No pictures to share. Sorry. They’re on a different website – Adults only.
This is the craziest time of the year at the bakery, so please indulge me for a minute… What are your special, unique, or simply crazy family traditions? I’d love to hear them, and will post some of my favorites next week.