Weekend Project: Make a Gingerbread House

Recipes! Templates! Tips! Oh my!
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The whole family entered the town Gingerbread House contest this year, and our creation took 3rd place in the family category. Everything visible had to be edible and the house could not use interior lighting. Little Girl loved this project! Little Guy also discovered a taste for candy and gingerbread. We made our house based on the story of the Three Little Pigs. A decimated straw house (made of pulled sugar left over from the sugar-glass, see step 5.5) and stick (pretzel) house led up to a “brick” gingerbread house, with a gingerbread wolf lurking outside. The three little pigs of legend peeked through the sugar glass windows.
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Caveat: this project took a long time (5-6 hours). If working with small children, you may want to do some preparations ahead of time. They will lose patience with some parts (waiting for pieces to bake, for example). I would suggest gearing up patience, a sense of humor, and a willingness to accept (way) less than perfection as part of your preparation.

1. Begin with the end in mind. What do you want it to look like? Buy your decorations (suggestions: gumdrops, spearmint leaves, gummies, chocolate candies, pretzels, frosted shredded wheat cereal, candy canes, peppermints…if you can eat it, it is fair game). Have a base – sturdy cardboard or plywood, a baking sheet or plate. Make your own template, or print out this Gingerbread House Template I made. I would suggest cutting it out and then making cardboard templates so they hold up better.

2. Make the gingerbread dough. Here is my recipe. Beware – this stuff is majorly tasty. I may have eaten an entire batch in dough form. Oops.
3/4 c butter
1 c sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
4 tsp ground ginger
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
3/4 c molasses
1/4 c water
3-4 c flour

Melt butter and sugars over low heat and stir until smooth. Add molasses. Pour into stand mixer bowl. Add salt, baking soda, spices and water and mix with dough hook. Add flour one cup at a time until the dough forms a somewhat stiff ball.

3. Roll out your dough to 1/4 inch on parchment paper. If it is sticky, lightly flour it and try again. Cut as many template pieces as you can fit, leaving an inch between. Lift scraps off (roll them out again for the next batch) and transfer the whole sheet of parchment to your baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. (Feel free to burn it a little; you probably won’t want to eat it after it has been sitting around for a month, anyway). Have your templates and a sharp knife ready when you take the pieces out of the oven. Position the template over the puffy monstrosity and cut the warm dough back into shape before it cools and hardens into ginger-rock. Feed the trimmings to your ravenous little helpers. Set pieces aside to cool completely and become solid. When they are assembly ready, you should be able to hold up a piece from one edge and feel as though you are picking up a piece of cardboard or wood- no give at all. If they are not like this after an hour, put them back in the oven and give them a few more minutes.

4. Make Royal Icing. This stuff is the cement of the food world. I think it tastes gross, but Little Girl loves it.
1 1/4 c powdered sugar
2 tsp powdered egg white (Wilton)
2 Tbsp water
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
Beat all ingredients in a metal or glass mixing bowl for about 5 minutes, or until it is glossy and forms stiff peaks. Spoon into a sandwich bag and cut off one corner to apply.

5. Squirt Royal Icing onto bottom and sides of all wall pieces and assemble. You may need a helper or some canned food to hold up the pieces while they set enough to let go. Let the icing dry completely before doing anything else. Unless you are planning step 5.5.

(Optional) 5.5: Make sugar-glass for windows. On stovetop over low heat, mix 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup water for a really long time, stirring constantly. At the very point you are about to give up and figure you did it wrong, it will suddenly thicken and turn a golden color. Pour the mixture onto a Silpat or parchment paper and allow to harden. Put on cutting board and score with a sharp knife, then crack to get the right size pieces. Squirt royal icing around inside of window and hold the piece of “glass” up until it sets. Or rig something to hold it for you until it sets. Or subject your spouse to this task. (Tip: if you used a Silpat, one side will be a little bit rougher than the other. Glue the rougher side to the gingerbread).

6. Put anything you want into the house, because you are about to close it up. (For example, I glued gingerbread pigs inside the windows looking out). Keep in mind that the “glass” is not super-transparent without lighting. If you have a light to put inside, go for it. Just be careful, and don’t come to me if you somehow light something on fire. When ready, squirt royal icing along the tops of the walls and gently position your roof pieces on top. If using my template, the roof will hang over the edges of the house by about 1/2 inch. Hold this forever until it is dry enough to stay in place, then allow it to dry another hour before decorating.

7. Decorate. If you are my daughter, this means plastering a ton of royal icing and helter-skelter pieces of candy on every visible surface. She was as proud as could be, and I thought it was a masterpiece of 3-year-old design.

8. Take pictures, then decide how long you want to keep it before eating it! Enjoy!

Do you have any other gingerbread wisdom to share? Funny stories? Let me know how it works out for you!