In this house, we’ve been trying to merge German and English Christmas traditions so the kids get the best of both. Today, 6 December, is the German Nikolaustag, our Santa Claus day. Thanks to Martin Luther, the Christchild delivers presents on Christmas Eve but Santa Claus, the Catholic saint, survived as the bringer of small things at the beginning of December, a bit like a teaser before the big day. When I was a child, Nikolaus always dropped his bag off in the evening – there would be an almighty knock on the front door and when we opened, a potato sack with oranges, nuts and little presents (stocking fillers…) would be lying there.
Master Meike’s Kitchen was given a fabric stocking with his name on by an English friend a couple and I got one for Miss in a well-known German discount chain in England – so we now hang up stocking by the front door the night before. And Nikolaus does what he has to do during the night. It works well.
Another cherished childhood memory of mine for Nikolaustag is my Grandma’s gingerbread houses. She used to make one each for me and my brother and they were ginormous. My mum told me today that my Grandad was the one doing the construction work and my Grandma probably never made them again after he passed away 30 years ago. In my memories, we had them every year until I was a teenager… But maybe not. Anyway, last year I decided to continue this tradition and make one gingerbread house for my kids (and the rest of the family). It took me three evenings to make and I was kind of happy with it but there was lots of room for improvement. This is last year’s house:
It was a bit wonky and the bits I had designated as roofs were too short. I used my Grandma’s recipe and for some reason decided that I needed triple the amount, made it all in one go but, of course, couldn’t bake it all at the same time. The first batch rose beautifully and was perfect and the other two stayed flat and were a bit dry. I think if I’d put the dough in the fridge while I didn’t need it, the baking powder may have stayed active. We didn’t actually eat it all in the end. The last, dry bits I ground to a powder and used up for desserts.
So this year I decided to try a different approach. I was going to make dough for one batch at a time but in the end I needed only one. I also thought rolling the dough out and cutting it to shape before baking might be an idea. And I think that is the way forward but I will make proper cardboard shapes for next time. After baking:
Unfortunately I made one of the side walls too thin and it collapsed before I even started putting the house together… But what is thick icing for? I had also cut out windows because I wanted to try melting hard sugar sweets to get “glass”. That didn’t work. Either my oven wasn’t hot enough or there wasn’t enough time or I didn’t bash up my sweets into small enough pieces. I’ll have to look into that again. For roof tiles, I used filled wafers. That wasn’t my brightest idea as, of course, they go soggy. But at least they stayed on. Note to self: use biscuits again next year…
I found a website with very useful tips on how to build the house and I actually sat and watched the video… Well, how else am I supposed to learn? I never asked my Grandma because making gingerbread houses wasn’t really on my to-do-list in my late teens and early twenties so I missed that opportunity. But I think I’m getting there. The construction process (no toothpicks!):
And the finished Gingerbread House:
The kids loved it:
The demolition process has begun!