Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gingerbread House

When I was a kid, I remember my Auntie Ebeng brought us a gingerbread house for Christmas. It was stuck together with marshmallow fluff and had spice drops on the peaks of the roof. I stared at it in awe, just imagining what lucky little magical people could live in such a house. Then the staring turned into hunger and my sister and I devoured the thing. Ever since then, I wanted to build a gingerbread house from scratch.

This year, I so happened to pick up the Christmas issue of Martha Stewart living and on the cover was a cake lined with gingerbread building facades. It re-inspired me to take another stab at the gingerbread house. I tried the recipe in the magazine and sadly, the dough was way too sticky to handle. (Martha, I love ya but I can't deal with your dough.) So I modified it a bit and came up with a recipe that has wonderful flavor and is easier to use.

By all means, I'm no expert in making gingerbread houses. This is my first one and I've learned a lot in the process. But I followed a few logical steps.

Here are the steps:
1. Create a template
2. Make the dough and bake the cookies
3. Trim as needed
4. Prepare the board
5. Assemble and decorate

STEP 1: Create a Template
Since I'm a graphic designer I used Illustrator to create my design since it's pretty darn accurate with measurements. I just print out the shapes and cut them. But you can draw your shapes out on poster board and assemble them. If they stand in poster board, it will stand as a cookie.

My template had windows on each of the walls so that it could be used with lights inside. I found this to be interesting as I baked... you'll read more about it below.

Step 2: Make the Dough and Bake the Cookies

Molasses Gingerbread Cookie
(adapted from Martha Stewart's Molasses Gingerbread Cookie Recipe)


5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup unsulfured molasses

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a separate bowl.

Beat butter and sugar with a mixer with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and beating well after each egg is added. Beat in molasses. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture. Beat until just combined. Divide dough into three portions, and wrap each in plastic, flattening each portion out to a disk. Refrigerate for 2 hours or freeze for 30 minutes. The longer you let the dough sit, the more flavorful it gets.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously flour a piece of parchment and roll out the dough to 1/4" thick. Using parchment is very important as the dough is slightly sticky and parchment will reduce the sticking. I usually use 1/4" wooden dowels positioned next to the dough as a guide for my rolling pin. Slide the parchment onto a baking sheet and freeze for 15 minutes.

Cut out to desired shapes and bake for 6-8 minutes. Remove them from the oven and firmly tap them on the counter to flatten the cookies. Bake for 6-8 minutes more until crisp (not darkened).

Step 3: Trim as Needed
Like I said above, I had windows in my template. It turns out that my window cutouts expanded towards the inside as the dough baked. Since the dough is still pliable straight out of the oven, I re-cut the windows using a sharp knife.

When the cookies come out of the oven, it will not be the exact shape as when you first put them in there. So trimming will be required. Allow the cookies to completely cool. Using a serrated knife, trim all the edges that meet together so that they attach properly. Trim the bottoms so that the walls are even when they sit on the board.

Step 4: Prepare the Board
The house needs something to sit on, right? I found a piece of cardboard and cut out a hole at one end so that some Christmas lights or an electric tea light can be put inside. But you can skip this step if your house doesn't have windows like mine.

Cover the whole thing in aluminum foil and hot glue it onto the board.

Step 5: Assemble and Decorate
Royal Icing is the glue for this house. So make it a good one! Here is my recipe:

Royal Icing
2 lbs of confectioner's sugar
6 tablespoons of meringue powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 - 1/3 cup of warm water

Fit a mixer with a whisk attachment. On low speed, whisk together the confectioner's sugar and the meringue powder. Slowly add the warm water, a little bit at a time until it's the consistency of peanut butter. Add the vanilla. Add a little more water, about a teaspoon at a time until it is smooth. You want it to be thick initially then thin it out with a little more water as needed.

While using, cover the bowl with a wet towel so the icing doesn't dry out.

Assembling the house:
If you have a lot of detail in your house decorate each wall before assembling.

Roof - My roof was made of Necco wafers (which was hard to come by around Christmastime). But you can easily pipe some decorations.

Windows - I made "glass" for the windows by crushing leftover dum-dum pops from Mya's birthday and melting them in a 350°F oven for 8 minutes. I attached these with royal icing.

Cover the top of the board with royal icing. Decide how you want to attach the walls - either the side walls attach to the front and back or vice versa.

Fill a piping bag with the thick royal icing and use a star or round tip to generously pipe icing to the edge of the piece that attaches to the wall. For example, if you want the side wall to attach to the front and back, you will pipe icing on the edge of the side wall. Position them on the board and attach the pieces. Continue with the rest of the pieces in the same manner. Re-pipe icing on the inside seams of the house to stabilize.

Decorate as you like and have fun!!

My house had a detachable roof so that a gingerbread family could reside inside. I assembled the roof separately and held them in the right position using cans.

The gingerbread family at home
Detail of light shining through the window

Roof-less house
The whole shebang

So what did I do with the house? As much as I (and my husband) would have loved to have kept it, or at least kept it in the family, it was my intention to give it to my Secret Santa, Annie.

Annie, I hope you're enjoying it!

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