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An Indian Head Christmas tradition returned sweeter than ever earlier this month with the 18th annual gingerbread house classes at the Village Green Pavilion.

Its founder and instructor, Marie Knobel of Waldorf, used her own recipe to make the gingerbread walls and roofs that participants would glue together with icing to build their houses. Traditionally, Knobel had baked the gingerbread with an eye toward soundness as a building material, not food, but an experiment this year produced a cookie that blended strength and palatability, Knobel said.

Her previous recipe included vinegar, for strength, but the new formula eschews it, producing something people “absolutely” would want to eat once they were done admiring it, she said.

“They smell good. They taste good. I even made myself a cookie to make sure they taste good. My car smells good, like it has cinnamon and ginger in it,” she said.

Knobel, wearing a green Christmas sweatshirt at the first class on a recent Friday, spent more than nine hours baking the first 27 houses, cutting dough and baking in shifts to work with her small home oven. She needed another 13 before the Sunday class.

She teaches the class year after year, despite the solitary labor required, because “I love it,” Knobel said. “It’s something I look forward to every year. At Thanksgiving, I know it’s time to talk to [Community Activities Director] Karen [Williams] about how many houses to bake.”

This year, the answer was 31, 15 for Friday and 16 for Sunday, Williams said, although Knobel bakes extras to sell to students interested in taking home a spare.

Katie Pendergist, 6, of La Plata participated for the first time Friday, wearing rubber gloves to protect her from the confections because she is allergic to milk, eggs and nuts, she said. Her parents had kept her away from the class to keep her safe, but Katie’s persistence this year persuaded them to take precautions and give it a try.

“Last year, me and Mommy and my brother just made one at home because I couldn’t come last year. This is my first year,” Katie explained, deeming the class “fun.”

To her right sat her sister, Gracie, 8, a gingerbread-class veteran with plans for her newest house.

“I think I’m going to take the icing and drip it off the front to make icicles,” she said.

It was also Craig Meinhardt’s first time building a house, because “the kids talked me into it,” the Bryans Road resident said. He’d taken his children to the class before but never made his own project.

His son Austin, 10, keeps coming back because “It’s just the building it. It’s being creative,” he said, handling the ice cream cones destined to become miniature Christmas trees.

emitrano@somdnews.com