The concept of making and decorating a gingerbread house is appealing in so many ways. You can expressive yourself in a creative, artistic manner through baking. And you do it during the holiday season with family and friends. Win, Win, Win, Win! I am a late bloomer to the gingerbread house game, as last Christmas was the first time that I EVER constructed or decorated one (I never even did the milk carton/graham cracker thing in school). Last year gave me a glimpse into the planning and dedication that is needed to construct and decorate a gingerbread house. The entire project can be completed in one day, but it's much easier if you plan in advance and construct/decorate over a couple of days.
<!--more-->Over Thanksgiving, my mom, sisters, and I decorated gingerbread houses. It was so therapeutic to post up in the dining room with Christmas music playing, making shingles from non-pareils and walls from sugar cubes. I decided to switch things up this year and not make a "traditional" gingerbread house, but instead a gingerbread igloo.. or a gInger-GLOO. It took me multiple attempts to bake the dome and tunnel, but it worked out! The most difficult part of making a gingerbread house for me is the actual home construction--making the walls, and roof pieces all line up, and stay together with only royal icing!
Gingerbread House Recipe, adapted from Making Gingerbread Houses
Gingerbread Dough (Enough for 1 house or an army of gingerbread men)
1 c. butter, softened (2 sticks) 3/4 c. (100g) firmly packed brown sugar 3/c. (250g) molasses 5 1/4 c. (630g) all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking soda 2 teaspoons cinnamon 2 teaspoons ground ginger 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves 1 teaspoon salt 3/4 c. (6 oz.) cold water
1. Cream first two ingredients until light and fluffy. Add molasses and blend on low speed.
2. Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground cloves into a large bowl. Stir in salt. Add flour mixture and water to butter/sugar/molasses mixture, and blend until all of the flour is absorbed.
3. Spread the dough out on a sheet pan, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it until you're ready to roll it out (at least 3 hours, ideally overnight). It will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or the freezer for up to one month.
Gingerbread House Assembly
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out the dough on a clean, flat, floured surface. Roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin. The dough should be 1/2 inch thick so that the structure can support the weight of itself and the decorations. Using a template, cut the dough with a pizza cutter or a very sharp knife, and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake until deep brown, but not black (about 20 minutes). **Be sure to bake it until crisp and completely dry--this is building material--not a cookie!
2. Transfer the pieces to a cooling rack, and allow to cool completely (at least 25 minutes).
3. Using a 12 or 14 inch cake board, commence assembly. Using a pencil, lightly mark where you want the house to sit on the base (cake board). Place royal icing in piping bag, and use the icing like glue to assemble the house. Let the pieces dry completely before beginning to decorate.
Royal Icing Recipe
5 1/4 c. (630g) powdered sugar 1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar 1/2 c. egg whites
1. Sift the powdered sugar after measuring it. Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the sugar.
2. Combine the ingredients with a mixer on low speed, then beat them on high for two to five minutes (until snow-white and fluffy). **Keep the icing bowl covered with a damp towel to retain moisture. The mixture hardens and crusts quickly when exposed to air.
We even invited some youngsters over and helped them to each construct and decorate a gingerbread house. The kids--ages 7-14--were all entirely engrossed in the project. It was really great to see them so focused on being creative little decorators.