Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gingerbread House

Making gingerbread houses has been a tradition in my family for many years. Here is my basic recipe/instructions for a delicious and sturdy gingerbread house. This dough can also be used for gingerbread cookies, just reduce the cooking time to 6-8 minutes. This is a laborious process but well worth the effort.

Gingerbread Dough
This is not my creation but it sure is awesome
Whisk together thoroughly:
     6 cupls all-purpose flour
     ½ tsp baking powder
     4 tsp ground ginger
     4 tsp ground cinnamon
     ½ tsp ground cloves or allspice
     ½ tsp salt
Beat on medium speed until very fluffy and well blended:
     12 TBSP (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
     1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
Beat in until well combined:
     2 large eggs
     1 cup dark molasses
     1 TBSP water
Beat half of the flour mixture into the molasses mixture until well blended and smooth. Stir in the remaining flour, then knead the mixture until well blended. If the dough is soft, stir in more flour until it is firmer and more manageable but not at all dry.
Place the dough in a sealable plastic bag or airtight plastic container. Set aside in a cool place, but not he refrigerator, for at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours. Or refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days; bring to room temp before using.

Meanwhile, cut out pattern pieces to your desired layout using either graph paper or smooth, manila-folder-weight paper. Save the pattern for use immediately after pulling the pieces from the oven.

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350ยบ. Have ready several cookie sheets. Divide the dough in half. Working with 1 portion at a time (leave the other covered to prevent drying), roll out the dough to a scant ¼ inch thick directly on a large sheet of wax or parchment paper; keep the layer as uniform as possible. If necessary, dust the rolling pin with flour to prevent sticking.

Before placing pattern pieces on the dough, lightly rub the surface of the dough with a small amount of flour. Gently lay as many pattern pieces as will fit on the dough. Using a sharp knife, wiping blade clean as you work, cut out the pieces of your pattern. Cut the parchment paper around the pattern pieces and transfer pieces one at a time gently to the baking sheets taking care to keep the shape of the pattern.

Bake the pieces until they are tinged with brown and beginning to darken at the edges, 11-15 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven and let stand about 15 minutes to set. At this point I like to take the pattern pieces out and put them on top of the cooked pieces to ensure they are still the right size. It is very easy to cut a little cookie off when they are still hot to maintain the correct size and shape. You won’t be able to cut the cookies after they are cooled without breaking them so I highly recommend this step.

Frosting for Construction:
This frosting is not edible since it uses raw egg whites. I use commercial frosting to decorate so I don’t worry if my kids pull off candy to eat later.

2 egg whites
3 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, taking care not to get even a speck of egg yolk in the mixture. Beat the mixture on high speed for approximately 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Keep the bowl covered with plastic wrap until you're ready to use the icing.

Construct the Basic House

This is where it really helps to have more than two hands working on a house, and why making a gingerbread house is so much more fun with company than alone. If you are working on this alone, it may help to grab some canned goods from the pantry and use the cans to help prop up the pieces while the icing mortar is drying.
1 Pick a solid base for your gingerbread house - either a flat cookie sheet, or a thick, sturdy piece of cardboard. If you want, line the base with aluminum foil or wax paper.
2 Pipe a thick line of icing along a short end of one of the side pieces. Press the iced side piece against the edge of either the front or back pieces. Hold in place for a few minutes until the icing is partially set. Repeat with the other side piece. Prop up with cans if necessary. Repeat with the other short edges of the side pieces and the remaining front/back piece. Pipe icing along the seams, inside and outside of the house, to fill in any gaps and to add extra stability. Pipe icing along the edges of the house where it meets the base. Let set for at least an hour before attempting to add the roof pieces.
If any of the gingerbread house pattern pieces breaks, as can happen easily when working with what are essentially cookies, most likely you can repair them. On my house I forgot to cut out the door and window until the front piece had almost completely cooled. When I went to make the cuts, the piece broke. Fortunately, it was easy to mortar back together with royal icing. We even created a "splint" out of cardboard and used royal icing to hold the splint to the piece. Let harden completely before using the piece for the house construction. When it comes time to decorate, you can pipe icing right over the broken seam and no one will be the wiser.
3 Once the royal icing has dried enough so that the base structure is solid, you can go to work on the roof. Pipe icing all along the top edges of the structure, front and back and two sides. The roof pieces are a rectangular shaped. Place the roof pieces so that the long ends of the rectangle are running along the top of the house. It helps if you have two people working together to place the roof pieces on the house at the same time so that they meet easily at the top center, and extend out a little bit, forming an overhang at each end. Gently hold the roof pieces in place for a few minutes until they are set enough so they don't slide off when you remove your hands. Pipe the top seam of the house with extra icing. Let the house stand for at least an hour, and preferably 8 hours before decorating.

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