No matter the season, Lydia Houck knows how to create a fabulous home and entertain with ease. Every year, for the holidays, the interior designer turned full-time mom sets up a construction site. But the structures that family and friends create at their fete are not made of bricks and mortar, but gingerbread.
Lydia and husband Bob began the tradition six years ago. They wanted a hands-on project for their sons that would allow them to “touch and feel” Christmas while enjoying quality time with their peers. Over the years, the boys – Bryce, now 11, and Reese, now 9 – and their friends have become much more adept at their craftsmanship. Their buildings are now quite elaborate. (Project manager Lydia has also learned to borrow a few tricks of the trade. She now uses pre-baked Wilton kits for framing.)
On party day, children arrive to find a wonderland work zone of sweet “lumber and bricks.” Festive carols echo around the room, while the aroma of Christmas trees and warm apple cider wafts through the air. Each child, armed with a massive plastic bag “caulk gun” of royal icing and oodles of gumdrop moldings, peppermint stick columns and candy ribbon chimneys, creates his or her own magical, sugary little cottage.
Every year, Lydia preserves each of her boys’ designs, which is why chocolate is a house decorating material no-no. However, a 3-foot-tall candy Santa provides the chocolate fix. The massive Kris Kringle is always a crowd-pleaser and a sweet reminder that even more goodies are still to come on Dec. 25.
ABOVE LEFT Lydia always creates handmade Victorian-style candy cone favors. The cones are then filled with popcorn and hang on the backs of the children's chairs. ABOVE RIGHT Ann Lyles Tapscott pipes dollops of royal icing atop her gingerbread house at the Houcks' annual party.
Grammy’s Apple Blossom Cake
Lydia serves this cake each year at the boys’ gingerbread party.
1 1/4 cup Wesson oil
3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon nutmeg
3 cups Winesap apples,
cut into small cubes, divided
1 cup chopped pecans (sprinkled with a little flour), divided
1 tablespoon good vanilla
1 jigger bourbon
Glaze (see recipe below) extra pecan halves, for garnish powdered sugar, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, mix together oil, sugar and eggs. In a separate bowl, sift together next 5 ingredients together.
3. Mix 1/4 of the dry ingredients with the wet. Begin to add 1 cup apples and 1/3 cup of the pecans. Continue this process until all ingredients are incorporated. Add the vanilla and bourbon. Stir together gently.
4. Pour batter into a greased, floured Bundt pan. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
5. Pour half of Glaze onto warm cake. Let stand for a few minutes, then pour remaining Glaze on cake, if needed.
6. Once cake is completely cooled, garnish with extra pecans and sifted powdered sugar (for decoration if desired).
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons white Karo syrup
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1. Mix all ingredients together. Bring to a boil. Boil for 4 minutes, stir constantly.
text by lawren largue • photos by summer ennis