When I was 10 years old, we moved from New England to North Carolina. As a way of finding the Christmas Spirit in that Winter-less Wonderland, my mother took a class at the YMCA on making gingerbread houses, and we've been making them every year since then (I'm 26 now). Since I'm horribly lazy, and not very creative, we've been using the same pattern pieces since 1990, and they make a very neat and basic house. I've made a slight variation this year, and so you'll be seeing what I brought to my Fire Department's Christmas Party.
- 5 1/2 cups flour (sifted)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 3 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 egg
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 cup sugar
- cream together the shortening and sugar, until light and fluffy
- add the molasses and egg (eeew... that's kind of gross looking)
- beat until smooth (whew... much better)
- sift the flour into the vessel of your choosing. I don't have a sifter, so I had to make due
- measure out the spices, salt and baking soda and mix into flour
- if you have difficulty either measuring or mixing, Mora is more than willing to help
- add flour to dough slowly, 1 cup at a time, mixing at low speed
- you may not need to add all of the flour. In fact, when your dough looks like this, you can probably stop. Save the remaining flour, you'll need it later (tomorrow).
- knead your dough for a few minutes, folding it over on itself, and making senseless mounds
- divide into 3 equalish parts, roll them into balls, and put in plastic ziploc bags. flatten into pancakes and refrigerate overnight
- Preheat your oven to 300F
- Take your dough out of the fridge and work it on a clean, dry surface just to get it pliable.
- Bust out your cookie sheets. FLAT!! No "Air-Bake" or jelly roll pans accepted, it just won't work right. The insulated sheets make the baking weird, and the jelly roll pans are just a pain in the neck to roll stuff on. Once you've located the appropriate cookie sheets, wrap them in Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil.
- Lightly flour the cookie sheet with some of the spiced up flour left over from yesterday
- Place the dough in the center of the cookie sheet and begin rolling it out. Dough should be no thicker than 1/8 inch when you're done.
- Once you've rolled it out, it's time to start cutting pieces. Arrange the piece patterns on the dough so that you can get as many pieces baked at once as possible, without risking them baking together (leave at least 1/2 in between pieces), and cut around them with a sharp knife.
- If you want to add windows/doors, cut them now. A 1.5"x1.5" (or whatever) square cut in half vertically for the window, and a larger rectangle for the door. Leave the dough there so it can bake, and you have instant shutters and door as soon as it comes out of the oven.
- bake for 20min, remove from oven and re-cut any doors and windows you had. let pieces cool ~2min on sheets, and then remove to wire racks.
- If you're feeling particularly saucy, you can add "stained glass" windows to your house. just remove the dough, and bake the piece for 10 minutes, remove from oven, place hard candy in the void, and cook for another 10 minutes
- Ta-Da! pretty and delicious. Let these cool on the sheet for about 10 minutes before trying to remove to wire racks (the candy takes a while to properly harden.)
Wilton's Royal Icing, it's on their website, in their cans of meringue powder, and now it's here.
- 1 lb confectioner's sugar
- 3 Tbsp meringue powder
- 6 Tbsp warm water (use 1 less Tbsp for stiffer icing)
- Whip meringue powder and water until all frothy and neat looking
- Gradually add sugar, and mix for about 7-10 minutes on medium speed
It looks all nice and innocent, but this stuff is so saturated with sugar, it could kill someone. Speaking of saturated with sugar, i have ABSOLUTELY no idea where the corn pops came from.
- large piece of cardboard for base
- more heavy duty tin foil
- 2 cans Campbell's condensed soup
- house pieces
- frosting, with decorator's bag and tips. I use a 22 for construction and an 18 for decorating, when I remember.
- wrap your cardboard in foil, shiny side down. Try to keep it as flat as possible, because really, who likes a wrinkly front yard??
- arrange your pieces on the board so you can get an idea of where the house will sit, and how everything fits together. The front and back pieces should be positions slightly inside the pointy end pieces, as shown. The rough sides should be facing up so that as you move everything into position, they become the inside of the house.
- run a bead of frosting along the bottom of one of the long pieces,and stand upright on board
- support with your can of soup while raising the opposite wall in the same manner.
- for your end pieces, run a bead of frosting along the bottom, and then on the inside of the vertical edges where it will meet the side pieces. stupid me forgot to take a picture, on all of the houses i built.
- your end pieces should now hold up your side pieces through the combined power of physics and frosting
- let the frosting have a few minutes to harden before putting the roof on
- to add the roof, run a bead of frosting down the slanted sides of the end pieces, and across the top of the front/back piece. place the roof piece on so that its top edge is even with the point of the end piece
- at each join in the house, squish the frosting with your finger so that it gets all the way into the corner, like some sort of very sugary caulk. If you're just building a simple house, you can now add the second roof piece, just like the first, then hold them in place for a minute while the frosting hardens. Doors and shutters come next
I however, am journeying into the unknown to create a two-floor gingerbread firehouse, so you're getting dragged along for the ride.
- adding the engine bays
- giving them roofs
- the second floor, note the cardboard load bearing wall inside the first floor ambulance bay. just in case.
This is really more of a personal thing, highly dependent on what you, or the recipient of this diabetic house of horrors prefers. So, I'll just show you what you need, and then show how I chose to decorate my monstrosities.
- I like to do the roof(s) first so that I'm not reaching around and potentially knocking over other decorations. you can run straight lines of frosting across the roof, or run diagonals, or lay out a pattern of your own choosing.
- then add the shutters and doors. followed by a walkway/driveway to the edge of the board (if that's your deal). I try to work from the top down, again so that I'm not reaching over other decorations. I'm a bit of a klutz sometimes. If you have stained glass windows, you can set them off a little by piping stars of frosting around them, see the Maltese Cross window.
- if your adding any decorations to the corners of the house (twizzlers or candy canes) make sure to measure before you try to cut them and slap them on. an ill measured candy cane can dislodge the roof of the house, and that's a huge pain to fix.
- once you've finished decorating the house, decorate the yard. I usually have a couple cars, some people, little bushes, a Christmas tree, a pond, and a pretzel fence.
- the finished product: the Firehouse: model of my fire department, and the Christmas Village I brought into work. Not pictured is the second part of the firehouse set; a gingerbread "working structure fire" complete with firetruck, ambulance and Santa doing his part to save Christmas (sorry, i only have spectacularly shitty camera phone pictures).
- try to get a mix of candy flavors, so everything isn't just chocolate and mint. Skittles are great for both tree lights, and headlights on cars, and they make fruit flavored "starlights" to use instead of regular peppermints
- chocolate oranges make a nice scalloped edge on a roof
- Wilton has these neat stamps for cake decorating that are great for making stained glass windows, or decorative impressions in the gingerbread
- it makes the house more interesting if there's some sort of "plot." i usually have gingerbread people engaged in an all out snowball fight, ambushing each other from behind corners, trees or cars. It sounds stupid, but people generally get a kick out knowing the story behind the dessert
- if you can't find a cookie cutter for something, make a piece yourself. my father once sketched out a gingerbread Dodge Power Wagon, and when i needed firetrucks and an ambulance i GIS'd until i found something suitable
You'd think that you could just put an ENTIRELY EDIBLE HOUSE smack dab in the middle of people and they would just dig in. You would be wrong. The good thing is, this house can keep for at least a week, and still be edible. In case you find yourself surrounded by claims of "it's too pretty to eat" be prepared with a ravenous child of no more than 10 years of age... even better if you can wrangle up a pack of them. They'll have your hours of work razed to the ground in under 5min.