Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gingerbread House

Update 12-20-08:  You must check out the Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition!  My house looks like it belongs in the Child (8 and under) category compared to most of these spectacular creations.  I grew up in the Asheville, NC area and had the privilege of going to the Grove Park Inn to see the competition about ten years ago.  They are even more amazing in person.  Some of the best entries will be taken to New York the week of December 22 and will be on Good Morning America.  Also, if you are visiting the Asheville area, don't miss the Biltmore Estate.  They have beautiful Christmas decorations and a gingerbread replica of the Biltmore house is displayed in the kitchen every year.

Last year I started a new tradition for myself - making a gingerbread house from scratch.  No kit for me!  I had made one when I was in high school, but someone else baked the gingerbread for me and I just put it together.  I found a great book with a recipe and complete instructions for the project, Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited.  This is a great book for a variety of cookie recipes and I highly recommend it.  I forgot to take photos during the process of baking and cutting out the pieces for the house so you may have a hard time figuring out how to lay them out, but I have tried to explain it the best I can.  I hope you'll just have fun with it!  Mine looks completely different this year from last year's house because I tried to find different candies and ways to use them.  The roof is lined with red licorice, gummy bears, and reindeer corn.  If you can find Necco wafers they make great roof tiles also.  The Royal Icing is a wonderful thick "glue" you can stick it all together with.  Use sheet gelatin or cellophane for the window "glass".  I also used an ice cream cone and some green royal icing to make a Christmas tree.  A sandwich sized Ziploc bagwith the corner snipped off is all you need to pipe the icing wherever you want to use it.  The house is perfectly edible if you have a few kids wanting to take a bite out of it!  We got a cute picture of our niece last year (she was 2) trying to bite a gum drop off the roof when she thought nobody was

Gingerbread Dough for Gingerbread Houses
 5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg (I used regular ground nutmeg)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, slightly softened
¾ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water

  • Combine the first 7 ingredients (through salt) in a bowl and whisk to mix well.  Beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until soft and light, about 3 or 4 minutes.  Scrape the bowl and add a third of the dry ingredients.  Beat in half the water, then another third of the dry ingredients.  Finally, beat in the remaining water and the remaining dry ingredients. Note: If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can stir in the flour and water after beating the eggs and sugar with a hand mixer.  It is harder to stir all that dough by hand, but it comes out just as well in the end. 
  •  The dough will be somewhat dry and crumbly.  Scrape it onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it smooth, but don’t overwork it to the point that the butter melts.  I actually had to add a tiny bit of water at this point to get my dough to hold together, but use your judgement. 
  • Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for a few minutes at room temperature.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll each piece to the size of a 10x15-inch jelly roll pan or cookie sheet.  A rolling pin worked best for me to roll out the dough, but you can also use the back of a spoon to help smooth it out.  I used a knife to cut the edges straight and then added the cut pieces back and rolled them in until each piece of dough was square and of even thickness.  I recommend lining your pans with parchment paper.
  • Bake the dough for 15 minutes, until it is firm, but not completely baked through.  Remove the pans of dough from the oven and place them on racks.  Use a sharp knife to cut out your pattern for the pieces of the house.  After cutting out the pattern, return the dough to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, or until firm and baked through.  Repeat the cutting around the patterns with a small sharp knife, then allow the gingerbread to cool completely in the pans on racks. See below for pattern instructions.

House Pattern

I really recommend getting the book to help you with this part – it contains the pattern and how to lay it out on the dough.  I totally forgot to take pictures of this part of the process, so I apologize if it isn’t very clear.  Those of you who are very creative can probably figure this out on your own, and I will give the measurements of the pieces here to help you out.  I measured and traced them onto cardboard when I made the house last year and saved my templates (a large cereal box works well for this).

Side walls (cut 2)- 5.5 x 3.5 inches (windows are 1.25 x 1.5 inches and begin 1.25 inches from the bottom of the wall)

Front and Back Walls (cut 2)- 5.5 inches at the bottom, measure 6 inches from bottom to top of point and the slope up to the point is 3.75 inches.  For the front wall, the door should be 2.5 inches tall and 1.25 inches wide, windows are .75 inches wide and the same distance from the door.  You can pretty much eyeball this and do whatever looks right, although I recommend drawing it out first to check it and then using the template when you actually cut the dough.

Roof (cut 2)- 6.5 x 4 inches.

Shutters(cut 12)- 10 mm x 1.5 inches.  The easiest way to do this is cut a rectangle that is 3.25 inches by 1.5 inches and then after you cut that into the gingerbread, divide the rectangle into 8 equal pieces.  Cut another rectangle that is half that and divide it into four equal pieces to get your last four shutters.  I know it sounds complicated, but it’s really not.  Just use my finished picture as a general guide or go get the book (you might even be able to check it out from the library).

You should be able to get all of the pieces except for one roof piece from half the dough (one 10x15 inch sheet).  Cut one roof piece from the other pan of dough and you should have a 10x11 inch sheet of gingerbread left to use as your base.  There will be a few smaller pieces of extra dough scattered in between some of your cut pieces.

Royal Icing

3 large egg whites or 6 tablespoons pasteurized egg white or use powdered egg whites to make 3 egg whites according to package directions

1 pound (about 4 cups) confectioners sugar

½ teaspoon lemon juice or distilled white vinegar

  • Combine the sugar and egg whites in a bowl, and with an electric stand mixer or hand mixer, mix on the lowest speed until the sugar is evenly moistened.  Add the lemon juice, increase the speed to medium, and beat until the icing is light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.  This is best used the same day it is made.  If you don't use the icing immediately, press plastic wrap against the surface and cover the plastic wrap with wet paper towels to keep it from drying out.
  • If you are tinting the icing, use paste colors instead of liquid because the liquid colors will alter the consistency.  Wilton icing colors have worked well for me.

Happy House Making! 

Gingerbread Men Cookies on Foodista 


Claire said...

Oh fun! I've made houses before but never from the beginning! You did a great job. I tagged you for a meme on my site...check it out.

RightKlik said...

Looks tasty.

Foodista said...

Great post! I remember my first gingerbread house! I couldn't resist licking some of the icing off :) I'm from Foodista and we have a small embeddable widgets that will help you build traffic from related Foodista pages. Do check it out here.