28 December 2013

The Gingerbread House, part 1

For years, starting when I was about 12, and annually until sometime in my 20s, I made a gingerbread house at Christmas time. It was a major production, and got to be a thing - people expected it, so you did it, so people expected it. I think I've been asked about it every year ever since.

This year, what with the girl having turned 10, I thought it was time to resuscitate the tradition, and so we did. We laid in candy. I located the templates - which had surfaced as we were cleaning out my mother's house. [Have I mentioned that she kept everything? She did.] I made a batch of dough. I dug out the frosting syringe; I got out all the cookie sheets. I convinced my husband to wire an extension switch onto a little battery powered light, and several days later, we were done.

You want to make one too, right?

Here goes. [And if Christmas is twelve days, this post isn't too late!]

Necco WafersYou'll need candy. I'm very particular - no chocolate allowed, fruit flavors only under duress. It's a gingerbread house; the flavors need to be complementary. Or something. So:


  • spice drops (spice flavored gum drops)
  • Necco wafers (7-8 rolls - for roof tiles)
  • cinnamon red hots
  • wintergreen Lifesavers (or another solid white flavor)
  • green & white starlights
  • candy canes
  • red Mike and Ikes (chimney bricks)
  • sour balls or five flavor Lifesavers - or other multi-colored hard candy (for the stained glass windows)
  • mini marshmallows

You'll need dough. Make it today, bake it tomorrow.

GINGERBREAD DOUGH (adapted from the New York Times cookbook)
2/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 T. ground ginger
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 1/2 t. salt
1 egg
3/4 cup molasses
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Cream together the shortening, brown sugar, spices and salt. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Add the molasses and blend. Stir the baking soda and baking powder into the flour; add flour to wet ingredients and stir well until blended. Chill overnight. [Note: this will make enough for the house - if you want to make gingerbread trees or people or stars, bump it up by 50%, or double the recipe.]

You'll need glue, to glue all of the pieces together and to attach all the candy. Make it last, though, right before you want to assemble the house.

ROYAL ICING (a/k/a glue)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg white
1 t. lemon juice
pinch of salt

Put it all in a standing mixer and beat the hell out of it - it wants to be smooth and white and it will look almost like meringue. Seriously, 5-7 minutes in the standing mixer. Sure, you can do it with a hand mixer, but you'll get bored and tired. Use the stand mixer. After you've loaded up your frosting syringe, keep the bowl covered with a damp towel while you're working on the house. Otherwise the icing gets crusty. [If you're squeamish about the raw egg white, it is possible to make royal icing with powdered egg whites, but you're on your own for the recipe.]

You'll need templates. Use mine - print out the pdf onto card stock, or trace it onto shirt cardboard. Make sure you note which pieces you need two of - nothing worse than having all of the dough baked and realizing that you've forgotten one of the four sides of the house. Or be adventurous and design your own house. You might should make it simple the first time out, though.

Lay in some parchment - it's essential for transferring the dough onto the cookie sheets. Lots of cookie sheets help, as does a Silpat.

Okay - you have everything in hand?

The instructions continue here: Gingerbread House, part 2


Lollipop Goldstein said...

Uh... I sort of do. I've never made a real gingerbread house before. I once made a vanilla sukkah (Jewish building that you sleep in during the holiday of Succot in the fall), but never a gingerbread house. Don't know if I can go the Christmas route in our house, but I'm thinking that the kids and I need to make a gingerbread barn to celebrate our Hay Day farms or something like that. Bookmarked this and looking forward to the second installment.

susan said...

Very cool! And impressive construction technique in the next post.

For the past few years, we've hosted a huge decorate-your-gingerbread-house party, where I make all the houses (using Martha Stewart's gingerbread house recipe) and we supply all kinds of random candy. This year, I was just too overwhelmed to pull off all the baking (but we did decorate a house ourselves).

For royal icing w/o raw egg, you can use:

3 oz pasteurized egg whites (which equals 3T DebEl brand powdered egg whites + 1/2 cup warm water); 1 tsp vanilla extract; 4 cups confectioners' sugar. Beat egg whites and vanilla until frothy and then add sugar gradually and beat until mix is shiny (once everything is all mixed together, turn beater to high. Takes 5-7 min for peaks to form).