Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Holidays 2018 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
There’s probably never a bad time to catch wonderful scents at Moomers Homemade Ice Cream in Traverse City.
But there’s one time of year when the sweet aroma gets even better, and that’s at the holidays.
Starting the day after Thanksgiving, the staff regularly bakes up sheets upon sheets of fresh gingerbread to supply seasonal workshops — by reservation — that offer kids and families a chance to make gingerbread houses, boys, girls or sleighs.
“We roll a big sheet of dough and cut it and bake the houses in two side pieces, two end pieces and two roof pieces,” said Becky Mead, one of Moomers’ owners. “The houses are all put together, so they’re dry when they start working on them, but we leave them blank.
“We give them the glue (frosting) and muffin tins with candy in the little holes, and they get to decorate. Kids love it.”
Families come back year after year to participate in the workshops — for some, it’s an annual tradition. Among them are the Rangers of Traverse City. Heather and Ryan Ranger have been bringing their two children, Maggie, 11, and Max, 10, for about six years. They’re joined by other family members including cousins and grandparents.
“It’s a family event where we’re able to get together, sit together, decorate, they get a little commemorative Christmas tree decoration every year with their picture on it and the gingerbread house,” said Heather, who puts up a separate children’s tree featuring the decorations each year.
“They make it so much fun and it’s so easy and convenient and there’s no cleanup (for participants). And you get ice cream at the end, so it’s a pretty good deal.”
Area churches also get in on the gingerbread act, from Traverse City’s Central United Methodist and its Advent Night gingerbread house-making and -decorating activity — think 50 house kits and lots of licorice strands, miniature candy canes, and lifesavers and candy corn in red and green — to Trinity Lutheran and its annual Christmas Cookie Sale, which offers decorated gingerbread men and women among other varieties.
“It’s an intergenerational opportunity, but kind of the way we kick off the season of Advent here at Central,” said Kim Burch, communications coordinator at the church.
More than 540 pounds of gingerbread — including 107 gingerbread bricks, 400 gingerbread roof tiles, 48 gingerbread panels and 20 gingerbread men — goes into creating the giant holiday gingerbread house at the Grand Traverse Resort in Acme. The fairytale house even features a gingerbread resort logo.
At the Great Wolf Lodge, culinary staff spend weeks cooking up and creating a life-size gingerbread house families can even dine in. Each delectable masterpiece features detailed gingerbread walls, candy trim and heaps of white icing snow. Dining reservations are available Nov. 24-Jan. 1, 2019, with the fee going to the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
For 26 years, Mary Gruler ran the Gingerbread House B&B in Petoskey’s Bayview. While the home was named for the gingerbread trim so prevalent in the neighborhood, Gruler also liked to provide her guests with gingerbread and gingerbread-flavored recipes. Among them: gingerbread muffins she adapted by switching out spices in a base muffin recipe.
And her gingerbread pancakes were a customer favorite all year long. For kids, she’d make the pancakes into gingerbread men shapes using raisins for eyes.
“People would give me gingerbread men ornaments, and it just kind of fell into place for having gingerbread also,” Gruler said.
Avid cook and baker Tricia Bowden of Traverse City likes to bake gingerbread men using a gingersnap cookie recipe. She also has a new — and favorite — gingerbread cake recipe that she shares here.
“I made it last year, once, and thought it was really good,” she says. “This is actually like a true gingerbread, like a cake.”
2 c. minus 2 T. unbleached all-purpose flour, organic preferred (measured by dipping and leveling)
1 generous t. baking soda
Generous 1/2 t. salt
1 T. ground ginger
3/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
6 T. butter
3/4 c. mild or dark molasses
3/4 c. very hot water (190°F)
1/3 tightly packed cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
Whipped cream for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour an 8-inch square light-colored metal baking pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, molasses, hot water and brown sugar. When the mixture is almost frothy, beat in the egg, and gradually add the flour blend. Stir until thoroughly blended, but no more.
Pour batter into the pan. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. The cake may need another few minutes in the oven.
For a moist gingerbread, cool it in the pan on a wire rack. For a drier consistency, cool the gingerbread in the pan for 10 minutes; then turn it out of the pan and set it on the rack to cool.
Serve warm if possible, with whipped cream. Don't forget to eat this for breakfast; it's even better the day after it's baked.
— Adapted from The Splendid Table (shared by Tricia Bowden)
3/4 c. butter
2 c. sugar
2 well-beaten eggs
1/2 c. molasses
2 t. vinegar
3 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking soda
2 to 3 t. ginger
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. cloves
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Stir in well-beaten eggs, molasses and vinegar. Sift and add flour, soda, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Mix ingredients until blended. Form dough into 3/4-inch balls. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for about 12 minutes. (To make gingerbread people, roll out with flour and rolling pin and use cookie cutters to carve out the shapes.)
— The Joy of Cooking, 1964 edition (shared by Tricia Bowden)
2 1/2 c. sifted flour
3 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/4 c. molasses
2 c. milk
2 eggs, beaten
6 T. canola oil
Combine dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Set aside. Mix eggs, oil and molasses, blending well. Add milk, stirring until combined. Note: Because mixture thickens as it stands, add small amounts of milk until thin batter forms. This may take a little practice, but thinner pancakes are better. Brown lightly on both sides. Serve with maple syrup and toasted pecans as desired.
— Mary Gruler