Build a gingerbread house as sturdy as tradition itself

Philip Bobo, 3, shows off his finished gingerbread house recently at the Carolina Foothills Artisan Center in Chesnee.

Darryl Montgomery/For the Herald-Journal
Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 3:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 9:06 p.m.

Laura Ballenger, executive director of the Carolina Foothills Artisan Center for the past four months, hosted the Children's Holiday Workshop on Saturday to teach kids ages 6-11 to build gingerbread houses for Christmas.

For those who didn't attend, she has a few suggestions for holiday baking and building at home.

Ballenger has a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, and she has a great concern for the arts in young people's lives.

“With budget cuts,” she says, “arts are the first things to go in public schools.” Making gingerbread houses, therefore, is not just fun for the building and the eating but for the creative aspect.

Ballenger's grandson, Philip Bobo, a 3-year-old First Presbyterian Preschooler, was her assistant Saturday.

Ballenger says she's “beginning a new tradition with the next generation,” since she missed the last one. She was never a fan of cooking before, but now that her kids are grown, she's learning something new. She actually got the idea for the workshop, however, from her oldest daughter, who saw gingerbread houses at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

On making the gingerbread houses, her suggestion is to “keep it simple.” Graham crackers for the walls and roof don't work, as they break too easily. The egg in gingerbread makes them heavier and more formidable.

The rest of the ingredients are “old Southern staples,” Ballenger says, “and the kinds of things you might already have in the cabinet.”

The decorations, meanwhile, involve a little thinking outside the box. Red licorice can be cut up into inch-long segments and used for bricks. Chocolate wafers are the stepping stones leading up to the houses. Bran cereal and Frosted Mini Wheats make up the dirt and snow. M&Ms, marshmallows, Life Savers and gumdrops are for detail work, such as door knobs and shingles.

Christmas trees in the front yard are ice cream cones. Ballenger also likes using peppermint sticks because “children like them because they smell good and clean.” Unlike the Biltmore displays that use glue and more permanent materials, everything on Saturday was edible.

Next year, Ballenger has even more ambitious plans, including a contest for children to build gingerbread houses based on the historic buildings in downtown Chesnee, such as Cash & Henderson Drugs or Harley's Dress Shoppe. Mostly, she wants to keep building a relationship with the community and encouraging children to be artistic.

Located in Chesnee, the Carolina Foothills Artisan Center opened in 2000. The facility houses a 2,000-square-foot gallery space for exhibiting new works by emerging and established artists and craftspeople of all disciplines.

Although the focus is on the Upstate, the Artisan Center has attracted artists from around the country and the world. Now, Ballenger wants to focus on Chesnee.

For more information about the Carolina Foothills Artisan Center, go to or call 864-461-3050. It's at 124 W. Cherokee St., Chesnee.

Construction Gingerbread from Scratch

cup (6 ounces) buttermilk

6 tablespoons (3 ounces, stick) butter or margarine

1 cup (8 ounces) brown sugar

cup (6 ounces) molasses

1 large egg

5 cups (21 ounces) King Arthur unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

teaspoon salt

Bake the cookies in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes; they'll be slightly soft when you remove the pan from the oven. Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

The mix will yield enough dough for an 8-inch-by-5-inch-tall house, with about a quarter of the dough left over for people, trees and other decorations.

Royal Icing

3 egg whites*

teaspoon cream of tartar

4 cups (1 pound) unsifted confectioners' sugar

Food coloring (optional)

Vanilla, lemon, peppermint or other extract (optional)

Mix all ingredients well.

*Meringue powder works just as well; use cup meringue powder combined with cup of cold water in place of fresh egg whites.

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