Timing is everything when it comes to making a gingerbread house. Start too early and it won’t last until December. Wait too long and it won’t be done in time. If you rush, it can collapse. Most people think of gingerbread houses only in December, but serious bakers are thinking of them all year long and making them a month before.
The Wood Memorial Library & Museum’s annual Gingerbread House Festival, running Nov. 29 through Dec. 21 in South Windsor, is one of the largest of its kind in New England. Organizers set this year’s theme, “Winter Birds and Holiday Traditions,” to conclude their year-long celebration of nature and the 110th anniversary of the Hartford Audubon Society. Now in its ninth year, the festival draws some 10,000 visitors annually to see about 150 houses on display throughout the library, ranging from simple to highly elaborate sugary creations. Some even have working parts and lights.
“From the beginning, we made a commitment to keep the festival a free event, a way to give back to the community who supported us throughout the year. We have been rewarded with the event turning into our biggest fundraiser and a regional must-see holiday attraction,” says the library’s communication director, Jessica Vogelgesang. “We have hundreds of volunteers who make the festival an unforgettable event; crafters who start months in advance making things for Ye Olde Gingerbread Shoppe, decorators, greeters, bakers and our set-up and tear-down crews.”
Many community organizations, Scout troops, artists and bakers from the area make it a yearly tradition to enter a gingerbread creation. One is baker Kristine Hastreiter of Coventry, who started making her house for this year’s festival in October. “Gingerbreads can take a lot of time,” she says. The first house she made for the Wood five years ago took 120 hours. Subsequent structures took 300-400 hours each.
Gingerbread houses can’t be started more than a few months in advance, as they just won’t hold together. “You have to gear up and clear your schedule because it’s kind of a marathon,” Hastreiter says. “It’s cram-for-the-exams work where three weeks before it’s due that is all you are doing.”
Noting technical aspects go hand in hand with creativity, Hastreiter says novice builders should pay heed to how the structure will balance and how components attach. She advises bakers to measure the doorway in their home and also the inside clearance of their car (including the car door) to make sure the gingerbread house will fit through. “I have twice made gingerbread houses that I had to turn vertical to get them out of my house, which is not good,” Hastreiter says. She also says bakers should make sure to have a solid wooden base underneath their house, let the royal icing on the walls and roof dry at least 24 hours before decorating with candy, and not to spread royal frosting on a damp or rainy day if possible.
Although there is a yearly theme, the museum encourages all entrants to let their imagination and creativity guide them to ensure a wide variety of displays, Vogelgesang says. “One artist always includes her husband, made out of fondant, somewhere in her display. So I look forward to seeing what setting she creates for him each year.”
Go to woodmemoriallibrary.org for a schedule of festival events.
Gingerbread House Festival
Nov. 29-Dec. 21
Wood Memorial Library & Museum
783 Main St., South Windsor