It’s that time of year again, non-stop Christmas music and commercials. Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays and celebrations as much as anyone. What I prefer to do is make things. Since I’m not good at making very many things, I come to my favorite thing: Cooking. I used to think gingerbread houses were just too much, all the work. Once I realized just how much I enjoyed making them, it was all over. I’ve got it down to a science so maybe you will, too.
To pique your interest, I am going to show you how I work. For me, the creative part does not seem like work, and I get very focused and enjoy putting all the pieces together. So, I separate it out. Right now, at this very moment, I am starting the baking part. I have mixed dough, cut out the house and various other little things that will be used to put the house together, and add what I love so very much: detail.
I need to let you know at this point why I call my gingerbread houses artisan. This is because, everything on them is made by me. I do not use candies or – ugh just the thought – premade store-bought crap to decorate my gingerbread houses. I make all the details myself out of small pieces of gingerbread, royal icing and meringue, and food coloring or petal dust to get the effect I want. They are made from all edible ingredients, however, I do not recommend eating them. After the holidays, simply take it to a shooting range and take a shot. Or something else on the creative, destructive – yet safe – side.
To get your creative heart pumping, I recommend making your pieces on one day and taking a break. Get all your shit together first so it will be fun in the end. I do all pieces and details and put them in a safe place and then put the thing together, then the fun stuff happens.
Butter 8 oz. (use margarine to save $)
Brown Sugar 7 1/2 oz.
Molasses 8 oz.
All-Purpose Flour 2 1b. 3 oz.
Baking Soda 2 tsp.
Cinnamon 2 tsp.
Ginger 2 tsp.
Clove 1/2 tsp.
Salt 1 tsp.
Water 8 oz.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Mix all ingredients together, except water. Add water, a little at a time, at the end to get a stiff yet pliable dough. You may or may not need the whole cup. The dough will come together when rolling. Use plenty of flour for rolling. Dough may also be refrigerated to get it pliable or to keep some for later. Depending on the size of your house, you may want to double this recipe. If you do double the recipe, do it in 2 separate batches as it will not all fit into one mixing bowl – my Kitchen-Aid will only hold one batch and its 5qt.
With this amount of dough, I am making a mini-house. With plenty left, I will make lots of details or possibly another house.
The templates are:
Roof: 4″ x 5.25″
Side: 4″ x 2.5″
Ends: bottom 3.5″, side 3″, steeple 3.25″
You will need a template, you can easily make this one or surf around and find one on the internet, there are many of them. Take these hints, though:
-Make the sides and the ends slightly thicker than the roof for sturdiness.
-Leave space in between on the baking sheet, they puff up slightly.
-Use the leftover pieces to make bricks and logs, etc for details.
Baking time is until, they are pretty stiff and hard, I have had mine in for over an hour now and still waiting, as they should not feel too cakey in the middle. Don’t get them too dark, either, as that will make them brittle. The pieces for the house have to be sturdy. The smaller pieces will have to be watched more carefully for darkness around the edges.
Do not be too concerned if the sides are slightly uneven or something is rough around the edges. Later, when putting together and decorating you will be using royal icing and if needed a little sandpaper. Icing, as my grandmother used to say, covers a multitude of sins. The flamboyant act of covering these sins is also fun and artistic.
Also, when buying the ingredients buy the cheapest stuff you can find. My original recipe called for butter. Now, I cannot imagine using butter, literally wasting it on a gingerbread house. I used Imperial margarine, stuff I despise but for this, perfectly fine. And for the spices, go the ethnic aisle and buy the ones in the bags, this is much, much cheaper.
You will, also, need a board or a very thick cardboard piece large enough to hold the house and the details around the yard. This can be covered tightly in foil or brown paper or whatever you like. Most of it may not be seen, due to the icing and details around. Just make sure its sturdy.
I’ll provide recipes for meringue and royal icing later, just getting this part done is half the battle. Fun Stuff is coming!!!