09 December 2007

Gingerbread Houses

I used to make a gingerbread house every year.

In the fall of 1982, I spent four months in London. That Christmas, I decided to make the Tower of London in gingerbread. It came out looking rather more like a Moorish cloister, but it was pretty divine, in I may say so myself. It had a square tower at one corner, and a crenellated round tower opposite. The round tower was tricky - right after it came out of the oven, we rolled the still soft piece of dough around a tube made from shirt cardboard.

At some point, I stopped making a house every year - there just wasn't the time, and I wasn't likely to top the Tower of London. But we did one two years ago, with Miss M. and her cousins involved in the construction, and we only didn't do one last year because my brother got married and that party was rather all-consuming. I think it's got to be back in the annual event category - a simple house with lots of help from all the little cousins.

I've always used the gingerbread recipe from the original Times cookbook, but with some extra flour and extra spices. Start by making a template out of shirt cardboard: the front/back, the side, and the roof. You'll need two of each. Roll the dough out on parchment, so that you can slide the parchment onto a baking sheet and bake it right on the parchment. Cut out openings for doors and windows before you put it in the oven. Make sure and bake through - you might want to bake it a little longer and at a lower temperature than the recipe specifies. If you're feeling up to it, you can used crushed sourballs or lifesavers for stained glass windows, with little strips of rolled dough for muntins. You can also do some decorating with dough before baking, like making shutters, or "architectural detail" along the corners. My favorite roofing material is Necco wafers - it makes a roof that looks like Mediterranean tile. And yes, eat the house, don't store it. Or bring it to work and have the office vultures devour it. I remember taking hunks to school in my lunch bag, well into January.

The only thing to use for icing (glue) is royal icing, which is just egg white, lemon juice and powdered sugar. It's pure white, it's easily dyed with food color, and it hardens like cement to hold the house together, and hold all of the decorations in place. You can also use it as decoration on its own - make a bit of green icing and use it for vines, or make yellow shutters.

And about the roof...I always "sew" it together with a couple of loops of dental floss to "hinge" it at the top. A sturdy needle will slide right through. Sewing it together means that the roof pieces won't slide off before the icing sets up. The dental floss is the only part of the house you can't eat.

The other candy I like to use (beyond Neccos for the roof) includes Life Savers (but only white ones), candy canes, miniature marshmallows, dragees (which are apparently illegal in California), gum drops (but only spice flavored ones, because they taste better with the gingerbread), and cinnamon red hots.

If you read all of the comments on my post about Hanukkah last week, you'll have seen one from my best friend from high school. She mentioned, among other things, those gingerbread houses of yore. So, highschoolbff, this one's for you. (And if you commented on that post, thank you - I appreciate the wisdom and heart that came from each one of you.)

27 comments:

thrice said...

I wish that I had the energy to build one. I'm very fond of gingerbread houses.

flutter said...

LOVE gingerbread houses *sigh*

slouching mom said...

i am so impressed! those are absolutely beautiful.

Teryn said...

My daughter would love to build a gingerbread house. I'm a little intimidated by them. Yours are wonderful, though!

BipolarLawyerCook said...

Wow.

Mayberry said...

You're right -- it would be very hard to top that tower! But how fun to start a new tradition with M. and her cousins.

S. said...

Great minds! I saw Necco wafers at the drugstore a couple of weeks ago and bought them to use as roofing tiles. The Joy of Cooking, mid-'90's version, has a recipe for a gingerbread house, including templates for all the pieces, which I cut out of layout bristol (a little lighter weight than shirt cardboard, with graph paper marks already on it.) I am very slow and overbooked right now, so I just finished putting the house together over the weekend and hope to decorate with Z. tomorrow. I've never done one before, but so far I'm pretty pleased with it.

I can see how tricky that round tower would be! I'm impressed!

Emily said...

Are you kidding?! We buy the pre-packaged ones. I have always wanted to make one from scratch, and next year I think we'll have to now.

Life As I Know It said...

I used to make gingerbread houses all the time too. I haven't in yeeeaarrrs, but you may have just inspired me!

Julie Pippert said...

WOW!

I am so impressed. But, what then? Whatever do you do with them next? Shellac and china cabinet? One could not destroy such a work of art!

That's just such a neat thing to do.

A neat tradition.

Julie
Using My Words

Eva said...

AWESOME. I am inspired.

Illegal candy--wow.

LAS said...

Oh my gosh - I have always wanted to try doing this!!

andi said...

Beautiful! Now I feel like a complete slacker for buying the pre-fab ones.

andi from Poot and Cubby

Victoria said...

I'm also a lover of gingerbread houses!! We do ours the week between Christmas and New Years. Can't wait! Thanks for all the tidbits of advice/info!

WorksForMom said...

Wow,color me impressed Magpie. Those are AMAZING! Nice job.

I'm a bit afraid of baking a cake. Tackling a gingerbread? I'd need a therapist. :)

Isabel Kallman said...

non parieles (sp? too lazy to check on google) and frosted mini wheats are my favorite for gingerbread house roofing. neco wafers come in next!

beautiful, beautiful work of art there!

painted maypole said...

wow. do you have pics of the tower of london one?

i bought graham crackers today to make a CHEATERS gingerbread house. ;)

Catherine said...

Wow...now THAT is impressive! :)
catherine

pinknest said...

gorgeous gorgeous!! i want to make a gingerbread house, too. i loved them growing up. very hansel and gretel!

Aliki2006 said...

Those are beautiful!

I love the houses, but I just don't have the patience to make them, I'm afraid. I might try this year--I keep telling myself that!

Julia said...

This sounds a little intimidating, but so so tempting. Maybe I will get to it like next year... I don't think I have it in me this year...

hs bff said...

My sister's friend in LA actually sends a box with the gingerbread baked and all the candy and icing recipe for all his friends. Cute idea...lots of prep tho.

Melanie said...

You are my gingerbread house, nay, gingerbread international landmark, hero.

Did you see December's Living? I want to make those row houses very badly, though I currently lack proper ambition.

thirtysomething said...

that house is amazing, and the patience you must have! I might try it...

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

This is the first year I've ever made one, and I used a kit from Michael's craft store. It was hard to tell the kids they couldn't eat the icing or the gingerbread, but they are slowly devouring all the candy!

niobe said...

oooo...when I was a kid, we once made a gingerbread cathedral (I know, I know), and, as you suggest, made a stained glass window made from melted shards of lollipops. We kept it until we noticed it was being slowly nibbled away by mice.

Christine said...

Very cool!! My mother used to make a gingerbread house every year. I don't have the patience for it, but I really miss having them. Yours brought back good memories.