When we moved to Iowa from Pennsylvania we were the only ones from our extended family leaving the East Coast. So when it came to holidays like, Thanksgiving, Easter, really anything that only warranted one weekend we stayed in Iowa and did something with our neighbors or went on a fun little weekend trip somewhere. But then one magical year my cousin, her husband and twin girls moved to Ohio—the perfect halfway spot between Iowa and New Jersey. She started taking over Thanksgiving and we would all meet up at her house for a big, delicious, gluten-free Thanksgiving celebration. It’s the best.
This cousin of mine loves Christmas more than most people, like she’s possibly the most Christmas-crazed human I know, and she definitely passed in on to her girls. So every year the day after Thanksgiving all the Christmas decorations come out and we switch holiday gears. One of the first years of this Thanksgiving routine, my mom brought a gingerbread house for the girls to decorate and they loved it. Well, I think they loved it, they decorated for a couple minutes and then ran off, leaving us adults behind to finish making the icing icicles and cereal walkways. But my mom continued to bring a gingerbread kit (we advanced to a village with several smaller houses after that first year because sharing is hard, you guys) and the girls continued to love decorating it (for a little while—I think we are up to a solid 20 minutes now at age 8).
After my mom passed away last year, we decided we needed to keep the tradition going. I think originally the idea was more to make us adults feel a little more normal and do this thing we were so used to doing even though the main character and light of the whole experience wouldn’t be there, we wanted to do it for her. But then this happened: My cousin’s daughter Katie had to write about her favorite holiday tradition at school and what did she choose (all on her own!) to write about? Our little gingerbread houses. Seriously. I’m tearing up just typing this. I had no idea how special that little tradition was to the girls and it just makes my heart ache with happiness that I could keep this going in the absence of my momma bear.
Okay, grab the tissues. Or maybe don’t, because you guys probably don’t have tears streaming down your face like I do right now. But you will laugh, and that might make you cry? Whatever, just read:
Disclaimer: Cousin Lauren, or “Auntie,” also takes part in this tradition.
As you read there in the greatest story of all time (Am I right? This girl definitely got the O’Brien writer’s gene and I can’t wait to see where she goes with this talent!), these gingerbread houses are NOT EDIBLE. And that’s not just because those box kits contain brick-like gingerbread walls and cement-style icing, it’s also because half of us half celiac. Every year I see Sammie trying to like the icing of her hands after touching all that gingerbread and that’s probably where Katie hears the yelling, “SAMMIE, NOOOO!” Celiac problems, guys. Anyway, because we can’t actually eat the gingerbread I wanted to make a gingerbread recipe that we can all enjoy and celebrate our little tradition with.
Ever since I’ve been diagnosed, my dining out go-to dessert has been creme brulee. It’s just the best thing ever with its crunchy top that cracks with the slap of a spoon to reveal a creamy vanilla-bean-spotted custard underneath. Oh. My. Goodness. Well this version of creme has all those great textures with all the delicious flavors of gingerbread—cinnamon, ginger and pure maple syrup for added caramelly flavor and reduced refined sugar. In the words of my cousin Katie, “Yum!”
- 2 cups heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 3 egg yolks
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- ¼ cup white granulated sugar
- Bring the cream, cinnamon and ginger to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat (give this a good whisking throughout to get those spices incorporated) Once boiling, remove from heat and set aside for about 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Beat the egg yolks with the syrup until combined and just a bit frothy. Slowly add the cream, whisking continuously.
- Pour the mixture into 4 8-ounce ramekins, or if you are like me, go big or go home and just put it into large ramekins until just almost full.
- Place the ramekins in a water bath (place the ramekins in a pan and fill the pan with hot water so the water level reaches halfway up the ramekins). Bake for 45–60 minutes, until mostly set but still a little jiggly.
- Remove the ramekins from the water bath and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
- Just before serving, add about a teaspoon of white granulated sugar to the top of each creme and shake it around or spread evenly. Then using a culinary torch (read the instructions and warnings on your torch first) on high, burn the sugar into a crisp crust. Serve immediately.
For a dairy free version, replace the cream with almond milk, add one extra egg yolk and bake for 60–75 minutes. I had fairly good success with this route, though the consistency wasn’t as thick or creamy, it was still delicious!
NOTE: As mentioned in the recipe, this is really good for about 3–4 normal sized creme brulees, which strays from my usual 1–2 serving recipes, but honestly you guys, these stay in the fridge really well for a few days. Then when you’re ready to eat one just sprinkle and torch, ta-da! Instant dessert. Plus, these are great for the holidays, so just double, triple or quadruple down on this make-ahead recipe to serve to guests!