Saturday, December 17, 2011

How to Make a Gingerbread House-with a Pattern and Video!

My first attempt at from scratch gingerbread house making resulted in me throwing the house across my kitchen in frustration and vowing that kits were the way to go. As a result, I bought kits for 9 years and declared I would never build one from scratch again because they were just IMPOSSIBLE. Only crazy people built them from scratch.

Thing is, when you work in schools you can't get away from gingerbread in December. Enterprising teachers love to torture provide their kids with a wonderful experience, and often ask the staff/parents to help. A few years ago I was forced kicking and screaming volunteered to help teach some of the kids in my charge how to make these cute little houses. Fortunately, the brilliant woman that I work with gave me some invaluable tips and taught me that gingerbread really isn't that scary. Since then, I've made these houses with total success.

Pay very close attention to the tips in bold print. They make the difference between a successful house and one that flies across your kitchen. Trust me on this one. And before you even start, please remember that building these things is not a one day affair. I'd recommend doing it in stages-dough and baking, then a day or so later constructing, and even a day after that decorating. These things take time to make and you just can't rush it.

These houses are small-which for a novice like me, or small children, is perfect!)

First up, you need to make the dough.

Mini Gingerbread House (makes one small house and some cookies...if doubled, makes three small houses and a few small cookies)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves or allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup margarine
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1 tsp water

1. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.

2. In another bowl with an electric mixer, cream the margarine and the brown sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, molasses, and water and continue to beat until smooth.

3. Beat half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended, and then stir in the remaining flour mixture. If the dough is really sticky, stir in a bit more flour until a little more manageable but be careful, you don't want it dry. The dough should be soft and easy to work with, but not so sticky it's all over the place.

4. Turn out onto a counter and knead 2 or 3 times for it to all come together. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for about 2 hours. (or can even freeze it at this point if you want and just thaw it before you roll and bake)

Now, just to make things easier for you, I've made a video about rolling and cutting! You can go to my dropbox to grab my gingerbread house pattern. Trace it onto another piece of paper after you have printed it out and cut out the pieces. Now watch the video for tips on rolling and shaping your gingerbread:

Baking the pieces.....

Pre heat oven to 350 F

The baking time varies on the size of the pieces, but I guessed about 8-10 minutes. More for larger, a bit less for smaller. You will need to watch them closely. You want them to be golden and set in the middle when you touch them, and not squishy.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before you peel off the parchment paper.

Constructing the House

*Only do this part when the pieces have completely cooled and hardened up. Better yet, do it the day after you've baked them.

Get a piece of sturdy cardboard and cover it with foil. This will be your base.

Make some icing. Using the right icing is important. In my first, and totally unsuccessful, gingerbread attempt I just mixed icing sugar and water. It doesn't work. Royal icing really is the best. It's like glue and dries really hard. If you are worried about the use of raw eggs like in traditional recipes, this recipe works well....

Royal icing:

1 1/2 Tbsps meringue powder
1/6 cup water
1 1/4 cups of icing sugar

Whisk the meringue powder and the water together until foamy. Gradually add the icing sugar and continue to stir until thick. You may add some more icing sugar if it's too runny, and if it becomes to dry, a touch of lemon juice will loosen it up. You don't want to make too much icing, or it will just go hard. You can't really save it for later use.

No icing bag? No problem. Use a zip lock bag instead. Make sure to get the air out and seal the top after the icing is in it, and snip a tiny hole in one corner. These work really well for kids, who tend to squish bags in the middle and have icing squirting out the top.

***Tomorrow I'll add a video to show you how to do this****

First, put a line of icing on the base for the front of the house. Stick the gingerbread piece on and hold it. Count to 10, sing your ABCs, whatever. Continuing to hold the front, put a line of icing along the side piece that will attach to the front and on the base where the side piece will sit. Place the gingerbread piece in place. Again-hold it for a few minutes....repeat with other side and the back of the house-all the while holding, waiting, and taking your time.

When you have the sides, front, and back all together and standing, allow them to then dry for about 1/2 hour. More if they were stubborn.

For the roof, you want to put a layer of icing along the seams of the front/back and sides where the roof will sit. Place the roof pieces on gently and hold. Put more icing right along the roof line. Hold. Your icing should, theoretically, dry fairly fast and cause the pieces to stick together quite nicely.

Let the whole thing sit for at least an hour. More, if it was stubborn. Resist temptation to eat all the candy.

If you really have issues with this part, and have no plans to actually eat the gingerbread, I have known people who have literally used a hot glue gun to construct their house. No joke. If you choose to do so, I certainly won't tell. However, the Royal icing does work so I don't think you'll have to resort to that.


This is the easy part. If you got the house to stick together, you're home free. Make the icing (one batch is enough to decorate one house, double for two) and have a great time sticking on the candy-well, mostly-the kids usually just eat them. For three houses and 3 gingerbread trees we used:

-fuzzy peach slices-1 pkg (50 g?)
-Swedish berries-1 pkg (50 g?)
-M&M minis-1 tube
-dragees (those silver ball things for cookies)
-mini candy canes-6
-smarties (Canadian candy-like plain M&Ms)-lots...we love smarties!
-skittles (1 large-ish package...100g?)
-jelly beans (Easter leftovers)

Gingerbread houses are a particularly great way to use up leftover Halloween candy. You don't need to buy a lot of candy for these houses because they are small. I hit the bulk section and bought tiny amounts, then just got some bags from the candy selection by the check out at the grocery store.

Total cost for 3 houses...$5 for the candy, and $1.25 for the meringue powder.
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