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Construction Zone

Hard hats not required for the Blakes’ gingerbread house building tradition

Winter is not usually the season for new house construction, but for years Chris and Sue Blake have made a tradition of constructing gingerbread houses for the holidays.

The couple said they have been making the sweet little houses on and off since they first married, but over the last five years, it has become an annual tradition.

Over the last few years, it has also become a group activity. The Blakes will invite over friends and family to assist with the delicious home-build.

The first step of building a gingerbread house is to create the structure. Sue always makes the gingerbread from scratch. The dough for gingerbread can be made a year in advance and kept in the freezer until needed, but she said the fresh dough is easier to shape.

The trick to the gingerbread house is to cut the outer walls and roof shape before baking, and then trimming the walls after baking to obtain the necessary shape.

David Mason and Dr. Kayla Blake create a pretzel log cabin with mint shingles.

Sue said the first time they made gingerbread houses they used instructions. These instructions were helpful, but they had to learn the trick about trimming the cookies after baking from experience.

Once the walls are baked, joining the gingerbread together is the next challenge. The Blakes uses special icing to stick the walls together.

Sue Royal Icing is the best for sticking the gingerbread walls together. It is a firm icing that will hold. You can find this at hobby stores like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby.

This year the Blakes and their friends focused on A-frame style houses, but they have tried all kinds of homes. The New England salt-box style house was tried one year. Chris made a windmill one year and a lighthouse.

The gingerbread castle was the greatest challenge because the turrets needed to be round. Creating rounded structures from gingerbread is difficult. The cookie starts to crumble and soon the battlements are in disrepair. For this reason, Chris has decided to avoid round structures in the future.

This year the Blakes had a merry group of gingerbread house architects work with them to build a whole neighborhood worth of gingerbread houses. The group included (L to R) Carol Weber, Steve Weber, Dr. Kaleb Blake, David Mason, Chris Blake and Sue Blake.

After getting the basic structure in place, the next step is decorating the exterior of the house.

“The rule is it must be completely edible,” Chris said. “We have three tubs full of candy items.”

With a large stockpile of candy, they can go off in several different house design tangents.

“The great thing about New Ulm is there are more traditional German candies,” Sue said. It is a great way to celebrate the community.”

Even the gingerbread houses in New Ulm have German architecture. The homes use candy stars acquired from Domeier’s Store. These candies are imported from Germany and would not otherwise be available in the United States.

This year the gingerbread homes created at the Blakes were all A-frames, but more complex designs are possible.

Decorating the gingerbread houses is a long process, but the Blakes make it a fun experience. Sue makes wassail or mulled wine for friends to drink while decorating.

The decoration process can take hours. Sue said they have worked on houses from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. before.

The gingerbread homes usually stay out for a few months. While perfectly edible, the Blakes usually never get around to eating the gingerbread homes.

It can be a challenge to keep the homes around long term, especially if kids or animals are around.

The sight of a gingerbread house does bring the spirit of the holidays to the house. This year, Chris decided to create a working chimney in his gingerbread house. A candle in the chimney mimics the function of the chimney. In addition to being a fun detail, the fire inside a gingerbread house creates a wonderful smell of baked cookies.

The holiday season might be nearing the end, but gingerbread house construction is permitted year-round.

Chris said it is a great activity where the whole family can contribute and it is fun to do when cooped up in a real house all winter.

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