The Perfect Holiday Gingerbread

Three Tiered Baking Rack

If you have bunches of batches to bake, you’ll want the Three Tiered Backing Rack from or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am not a fan of the big HURRAH!!! I think the wonder and magic of the holidays, especially the Christmas holiday, has been hijacked by consumerism and the wish to outdo friends, neighbors and even family with the biggest splash. Simple Christmas candles are put aside in favor of garish displays. A few lovingly chosen gifts are dwarfed by the drama of electronics and brightly colored plastic junk. The quiet evening at home is hard to find. As hard as I try, I too have fallen prey to some of this. Still, I make a real effort to keep the small traditions that make the season warm and cozy rather than rushed and harried. One of those traditions is the Christmas cookie.

We are gingerbread fans around here. We love to make it, we love to decorate it and we love to eat it. My dear husband is a particular fan of gingerbread houses. Each year we put together a village of gingerbread. Now, as my children and grandchildren all help with this project, our village usually ends up looking like something out of Better Homes and Kindergartens. It’s great fun and the kids all love to show the house off, in spite of crooked windows and sagging roof lines. I’m guessing they eat more frosting than they spread but that’s part of the fun.

Our gingerbread houses for Christmas 2013.

Our gingerbread houses for Christmas 2013.

I have searched for years for the perfect gingerbread. It has to taste good (that’s the most important part) and it has to roll out nice and thin without breaking apart. As is so often the case, I keep coming back to an old reliable recipe in my old copy of Joy of Cooking.

The binding is cracked and the pages splattered with the remnants of many a cooking experiment. I have used this book for more than 30 years and it says something that, should you lay it down, it will naturally flop open to page 712, the gingerbread recipe.

Here the pages are really dirty. How many children have hunched over this page, enveloped in oversized aprons, tiny faces smudged with flour? How many little noses have poked deep in the mixing bowl to take in the heady scent of cinnamon and cloves? I long ago lost count of the number of children, birth, foster, adopted, grand, and neighborhood who have spent an afternoon at my scarred old kitchen table, mixing and rolling and frosting and eating. To me, an activity like this is what makes the holidays.

Pick up a copy of the 1980s era Joy of Cooking at the library, or a used bookseller. The gingerbread recipe is perfect for making gingerbread men or houses. Don’t forget the dark molasses and use fresh spices!

  • Adjustable Rolling Pin

    Adjustable Rolling Pin lets you roll out dough in 1/8″, 1/4″ or 3/8″ thicknesses. In stock now at or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

    Roll out gingerbread in thinner sheets if you are cutting out the pieces for a house.

  • Make sure to cool them well before decorating.
  • You can make a simple paste of confectioner’s sugar and water for the frosting but you’ll need to make a royal icing if you want to do any building.
  • I forgot to add the most important ingredients: Christmas music and laughter. Happy baking!
Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.