In our home Gingerbread Houses have become a tradition over the last 13 years. The first house was hysterical, it looked like it had suffered some fire damage, the windows were cracked and one gable end had to be propped up by candy canes! Over time the houses grew better, we made a small village with houses that lit up on the inside, we've made trains, bicycles, castles, farmyards.. all sorts of things. The BEST part of Gingerbread House Making though, is doing it with friends. Each year we host a Gingerbread Day where for approximately twelve hours our house is a fog of powdered sugar and resplendent with red hots, candy canes and sugared up children. It's a fantastic, hilariously enjoyable time and I look forward to it all year long.
If you would like to make Gingerbread Houses or host a Gingerbread House party here are a few tips I have picked up to share.
Get a basic Gingerbread Recipe and use pretty cheap ingredients. If you are like us, the house will sit on the piano for the entire season and you won't want to eat it when it's covered in dust and candle soot! ( My recipe to follow )
You will need a board to set your house on. In the past I have used our breadboard and then regretted it a week later when I really needed it for something or other! Make sure you find a board you can do without for a while. You will be "gluing" the house to the board so it will be occupied for some time! Any piece of wood from the garage will work too, you can simply cover it with foil if necessary. It will need to be big enough to accommodate your structure ( and perhaps any "outdoor" decorations you may want to add too..) and strong enough to hold the house when it's complete... it will be surprisingly heavy.
Go to the local grocery store where you can buy bulk candies and pick out tiny candies that will enhance your house. Little colored balls make great Christmas lights, upside down ice cream cones make wonderful Christmas trees. Starlight mints with the red dashes and white middle make fantastic clocks if you add a little licorice for the hands...!! We have made a fireplace with a wafer for the mantle and used a circus peanut and pretzels as a moose head over the top! Frosted shredded wheat are perfect for a thatched roof and sunflower seeds make a great stone wall...the only limit is your imagination!!
Buy bags of powdered sugar and cheap eggs to make your mortar... you will need lots and lots to stick everything together. Better too much than too little. Extra powdered sugar is perfect for dredging the entire project at the end to look like a huge snowfall.
Make your dough at least a week ahead of time if possible. If you can keep it in the fridge for a few days it becomes easier to work with.
Find a template on line or simply make your own. It is important to make your template when you are wide awake and haven't been sampling the hot buttered rum. (Just saying!) You will need to cut out two gable ends ( Pointy bits to support the roof ) two sides, a front and back (.. don't forget to cut out holes for the windows and doors. ) and you will need two roof pieces. It's nice if they are a little bigger so that they can form a peak over the house.. it just looks prettier.
If you want you can make glass panes in your windows. You will need to lay the piece with the window holes onto parchment paper that has been liberally sprayed with cooking spray. (This was a hard lesson to learn! ) Take some jolly rancher hard candies and smash them up. Sprinkle the bits into the window shapes and when it cooks they will melt to form your glass. It's incredibly pretty when it works!
Cook your pieces until they are nice and hard. Don't burn them to a crisp, but they don't want to be soft. Let them cool and then, if possible, let them sit for a few days to get stale. the harder they are, the stronger and easier they are to build with.
When it comes time to assemble your house, mix up some royal icing by whisking an egg white until it is frothy, then gradually adding powdered sugar. You will need much more than you think. The frosting is the right consistency when it is really thick and stiff. Decide where on your wood support you are going to adhere your house and lay down a line of frosting. I have used a ziplock bag with a hole snipped in the corner to squirt my frosting from. It's a bit tidier that way. You will need to hold up your wall until the frosting hardens. You can use a tin can or something to hold it up if you need to.
Once your house form is complete the fun begins!! You can be as fancy as you please or let the children go to town. We came to the conclusion a few years ago that each child really appreciates his or her own house to decorate so that Mommy can work on hers in peace. Yes, Mommy may be particular!! Houses look just as adorable with gum drops all over the roof as they do with faux shingles made from Necco wafers! Go to town, go crazy and remember to enjoy yourself. When the roof caves in from being too soft after you leave your baking to the last minute, just laugh! If the frosting is too thin and the decorations slide to the floor, keep smiling!!
Remember the children. It's so very easy to get carried away with a great artistic masterpiece and find the children are sitting around bored, or worse, climbing the walls on a sugar high! If you are hosting a party suggest parents bring a protein snack for the little ones or set out some cheeses and hard boiled eggs! Maybe put a Christmas movie on in a quiet room so that hyper children can take a moment to cool out if they need to!
Put on some tunes! Christmas music playing makes a lovely atmosphere and helps add to the festive mood. A little wine mulling on the stove doesn't hurt either!
In conclusion each year you learn something and each year you make some fantastic memories. That's really what Gingerbread Houses are all about.
Gingerbread House Recipe
( I have had this recipe for years and it was given to me by a friend, I have no idea where it originally came from so if you recognize it, please let me know and I will give credit where it is due!)
DOUBLE THIS RECIPE!
1 cup of Parkay ( or shortening )
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup molasses
2 tablespoons vinegar
5 cups sifted all purpose flour (cheap cheap cheap!)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 teaspoons of ground ginger
1 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground cloves.
With the oven at 375 degrees F, cream shortening and sugar. Beat in eggs, molasses and vinegar. Sift the dry ingredients together and blend in.
Chill for a couple of days if possible, certainly for at least 3 hours.
Roll dough 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured board. Cut into desired shapes following your templates if you choose. Place 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 5-6 minutes or until hard. Cool for a few days if possible, certainly for at least 8 hours.
Have FUN !