Visions of sugar plums and dreams about nutcrackers are all well and good, but nothing confers sheer holiday magic like a gingerbread house.
Covered with colorful frosting and assorted candies, these edible houses create a sense of wonder in children while at the same time stirring nostalgic memories for adults.
Originated in medieval Germany, gingerbread and the practice of shaping it into different forms began with Franconian monks. The creation and molding of edible works were soon considered such an art form that master bakers joined professional baking guilds to be able to create complicated works of art from gingerbread.
Sold at specialty shops and seasonal markets, gingerbread creations were soon being purchased for religious events like Christmas and Easter. The decorated treats, embellished with colorful, iced patterns or gilded with gold leaf, were also given as gifts to loved ones, especially for weddings.
Some researchers believe the inspiration for the original gingerbread house is linked to the 1812 publishing of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel”, in which two children, lost in the woods, discover an edible house made of bread and sweets.
Whichever came first, the story or the treat, the tradition eventually came to America via German immigrants, who baked their gingerbread houses at Christmas time.
Here on the East End, there are a number of places where you can pick up your very own work of holiday magic.
At Gingerbread University in Riverhead, gingerbread houses are the specialty of the house. Created by restauranteur Fred Terry, owner of The Lobster Roll Restaurant in Amagansett, known as Lunch, Gingerbread U. hosts weekly workshops where kids can decorate their own gingerbread houses to take home. The atmosphere is fun, festive, and family-oriented.
“This is one of the few things left where grandpa, grandma, and grandchild can sit and interact in a warm and caring way,” Mr. Terry said. “It’s a defining experience for most kids, that’s why I chose to pursue this.”
Open 10 months of the year, G.U. offers gingerbread house workshops for children and adults. Once Christmas is over, customers make Easter/Passover houses in the spring, beach cottages in the summer and Halloween houses in the fall. G.U. also offers gingerbread cookie decorating workshops, as well as flavored gingerbreads like gingerbread-fudge.
Reservations are recommended to book a workshop. Ready-made gingerbread houses are also available for purchase, as are kits allowing you to make your gingerbread house at home.
Gingerbread University • 3225 Sound Ave, Riverhead • 631.727.7309
Blue Duck Bakery
As soon as Thanksgiving is over, Blue Duck Bakery, the North Fork’s premier bakery, dives headfirst into holiday baking that includes cookies, cakes and, of course, gingerbread houses.
With shops in Greenport, Riverhead, and Southold, that’s a lot of baking, but owners Keith and Nancy Kouris love the holidays.
“We make them because they’re fun and it kicks off my holiday spirit,” explained baker Keith Kouris. “Besides, I think they’re a ‘must’ for all neighborhood bake shops and customers really appreciate our houses.”
Always aiming to be different, Blue Duck Bakery bake their gingerbread with honey instead of molasses for a lighter color, then bake them longer for a more stable structure.
Blue Duck Bakery Cafe • 130 Front Street, Greenport • 631.333.2060
Blue Duck Bakery Cafe • 309 E Main Street, Riverhead • 631.591.2710
Blue Duck Bakery • 56275 Main Road, Southold • 631.629.4123
Harbor Market and Kitchen
Gingerbread houses are in abundance on the South Fork as well. At the Harbor Market and Kitchen in Sag Harbor, their houses come in traditional size as well as a miniature version.
“They’re like individual mini houses,” explained owner Susana Del Favero. “They’re all handmade and they’re beautiful.”
According to Ms. Del Favero, they’ve also begun making Hanukkah houses, after a customer’s request, which have been selling well. Ready-made houses are available in the store, but custom orders are also accepted for that one of a kind gingerbread house.
Harbor Market and Kitchen • 184 Division Street, Sag Harbor • 631.725.4433
Simon’s Beach Bakery Cafe
Of course, the big daddy of the Hanukkah house on the South Fork has to be Simon’s Beach Bakery Cafe in Westhampton Beach.
“We’ve been making them for 15 years,” said owner Simon Jorna. “We get a lot of requests for those and of course, they’re kosher, the whole bakery’s kosher.”
Simon’s Hanukkah houses are a delicious spin on the traditional holiday gingerbread house, which he also bakes and sells. Instead of red and green, blue and white are the dominant colors, plus lots of shiny gelt. Gelt being those golden foil-wrapped chocolate coins given as gifts during the festival of lights.
Mr. Jorna recommends calling ahead to place an order for one of their gingerbread or Hanukkah houses as now is a very busy time.
Simon’s Beach Bakery Cafe • 112 Main Street, Westhampton Beach • 631.288.6552