Sunday, November 17, 2013

Instructions To Build A Gingerbread House

    Have you ever wanted to built your own gingerbread house from scratch but felt too overwhelmed by just the thought of it? My goal today is to break the process down into (semi) simple steps that anyone can follow.  Whether you want to make something elaborate or just keep it simple, you can have the outcome you want and start a new holiday tradition with your family. 

(To get some ideas and see the houses I have made you can check out this post.)

    The first Step is to decide how you want your gingerbread house to look. I like to look up classic styles of houses online to get ideas.
Second, it is a good idea to sketch a picture of the house so you can decide exactly what you want to build.

    You will now need to create templates from cardboard for your gingerbread house walls and roof. Don’t forget smaller details such as doors, front steps, etc. You can assemble the cardboard pieces with scotch tape to make sure everything is the correct size. If you are making a particularly large house it is a good idea to make an additional side wall or two to be placed in the center of the house to help carry the weight of the roof.

Gingerbread Recipe

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup cold water
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp powdered ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice

Cream margarine and sugar well. Blend in molasses and water.
Sift together remaining ingredients and blend together until dough forms.
Knead for a couple of minutes, adding a little more flour if it is too sticky.
Chill 2 to 3 hours. Depending on the size of your house you will need several batches of this dough. I have used as many as 15 in my largest house.

Roll dough out about 1/4 inch thickness directly onto parchment paper or a baking sheet. You should not roll out and then transfer the pieces to a cookie sheet as they tend to lose their shapes in the transfer.
Use your templates as a guide to cut the dough into the desired shapes. The best way I have found to get straight edges is to use a pizza cutter.
Windows and doors can be cut out at this stage as well if you plan to
make candy windows for an internally lit house. The back of the house
should be plain with a hole large enough to insert a set of mini lights.
The number of lights depends on the size of your house. A set of 100 is usually enough for quite a large house.

Bake at 350 degrees F. These pieces should be baked as long as possible without burning as the drier they are, the stronger the pieces will be (upto 25 min for very large pieces). Aluminum baking sheets are best for this, preferably the ones without rims.

Trim edges and windows as necessary while the gingerbread is still hot. Straight edges are a must. The gingerbread can change shape slightly while baking. I like to set my template on top of the gingerbread piece as soon as it comes out of the oven and run the pizza cutter along the edges making sure everything is exactly the right size.
Cool on the baking sheet or another completely flat surface. Prepare the pieces for making the candy windows by placing them on cardboard covered in a few layers of plastic wrap, or better yet, silicone baking mats.

Candy Windows:

3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white corn syrup
1 cup water

*Combine sugar, syrup and water in a large saucepan with a candy thermometer. Cook over medium high heat until the temperature reaches at least 260 degrees. The mixture will come to a boil quickly, but then it will need to simmer for a while in order to get hot enough. The temperature is critical because the hotter the sugar gets, the harder the candy will set up later.
*Pour into the window spaces of your baked gingerbread. Re-heat gently if the mixture becomes too thick to pour easily. Be very careful while pouring hot candy, you can sustain a very serious burn if you spill it on your skin. It’s best to keep the kids out of the kitchen for this part.

Royal Icing

It is very important to use grease free utensils and glass or metal bowl when making this icing. This icing dries very hard and acts as the glue to hold your house together.  To cover your roof in "snow", the consistency will be somewhere in the middle where soft peaks form but it does not run.

Royal Icing Recipe

4 cups (440 grams) confectioners' (powdered or icing) sugar

3 large egg whites, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Whip all ingredients together until very stiff and fluffy, preferably with the whisk attachment if your mixer has one.

If you wish to "paint" your house, you can do so by outlining all the edges of your pieces in Royal Icing using a number 4 piping tip. This includes the entire perimeter of the piece plus around any windows and doors. Trace the outline twice with Royal Icing to double the height of your outline. Next, color more royal icing with food coloring and add enough water ( or even better spoonfuls of egg white), a TBSP at a time, to the royal icing so that it will pour into your outline easily but not so thin that it will be too runny  (I "painted" the back of my house first to be sure my icing was the right consistency). Leave this to dry for a couple of days to a week.

At this stage you may want to decorate your windows with icing. You can create molding or shutters or any other details you would like! This in another part where looking at pictures of real houses can really help. I like to add wreaths (using a star tip) to some of the windows at this point too.

You are now ready to assemble your house! An extra set of hands may be helpful but it is not essential (I have always done it on my own). A batch of very stiff Royal Icing is needed for "glue". Using a #12 tip, pipe royal icing onto both edges to be joined and on the bottom where it will adhere to the base, and push them together. Run your finger along the inside corners to spread the icing tightly into the corners. This will greatly help the stability of the structure. You can even pipe extra Royal icing into these inside corners to add extra “glue”. This is very necessary in larger houses. Continue until the outside walls (and internal supports, if any) are in place.

Let these pieces dry for several hours or overnight before attaching the roof sections in the same way. Don’t rush to get the roof on, the whole thing can collapse if the "glued" walls are not completely dry.

Finally! This is when the real fun begins! Decorate your house however you want.  I usually like to try for a realistic house as opposed to a more traditional candy covered one.
You can get creative with what you use to decorate your house. I like to walk through the candy, cookie, snack, and cereal isles and just browse looking for anything that could work.

Some things I have found that work particularly well are;
     Malt-o-Meal brand golden grams for roof shingles
    Licorice Nibs (cut in half) for bricks
           Pretzel sticks for fences

Marzipan is wonderful for other little details like snowmen or anything else you can think up!

If you like, you can landscape your house with Royal icing trees. You can do this by using a star tip to pipe green royal icing onto sugar ice cream cones. I usually cheat a little with my trees. I make cone shapes in different sizes out of paper and apply the icing right over the paper.  I have read that you can use a foil covered cone and when the icing has hardened you can remove the foil so you are left with an icing only tree, but that has never worked for me. The icing dries so hard and sticks to everything it touches like cement! This is my one and only "cheat", if you know of a way to make 100% edible trees I'd love to hear it!

When you need colored icing (for trees, wreaths, etc.), I prefer to make them with white icing. Then when completely dried, I paint them with food coloring using a small paint brush. Mixing the food coloring directly into the icing makes it runnier which results in everything looking kind of melted. Dipping your brush in water from time to time adds more depth to the color and just makes it look prettier. This same technique can be used with anything you make out of marzipan.

 I hope you can now feel ready to attempt a gingerbread house of your own!
If you have any advise that I did not mention here I'd love to hear it!


Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Love Affair with Gingerbread

I have a little secret I have yet to share with the blogging world.  It may be a little strange and make me seem like an old lady but here I go, I am going to confess..... I have an obsession with gingerbread. To be more specific, gingerbread pieces glued together with icing to form a house. Wow, what a load of my mind to finally have that out in the open! Now we can get down to business.
Tonight as I was searching online for pictures of cute houses that I could replicate for my gingerbread house this year it dawned on me, I want to share what I have learned about gingerbread houses the past few years with all of you! It is November 16th and I feel I am running a little behind schedule to get this gingerbread house done in time for the beginning of the Christmas season. I first attempted a gingerbread house 5 years ago and I immediately fell in love with every aspect of building one. I have made one each year since and I learn so much with each one.

In this post I will share a little about each of the gingerbread houses I have made.  For detailed instructions and recipes go to this post.

Year One:

 I started with a very basic shape. It only took a couple of days from start to finish but I was so excited to make another, more complex house...

Year Two:

 So excited in fact that I couldn't wait until the next christmas so I made this haunted halloween house. This house was a ton of fun but after spending so much energy on it I was completely burnt out and didn't make a Christmas one that year! Which is the reason I have only made Christmas houses since.

This was my first attempt at "sugar glass" windows. I didn't get the outcome I wanted until just last year. Hopefully my instructions will help you make it work more easily.

 The pumpkins, tombstone, and noose are marzipan and the grass is coconut dyed with food coloring.

I places a flickering light inside the house to turn on at night. Spooky!

Year Three:

 This house was a monster! I think all of the houses photograph a little small but you really cannot tell how huge this one really was.  At about 40 inches it was taking up half of our dining table!

The windows are a little better but still not totally transparent.

It is lit with a string of white Christmas lights places inside.

Year 4:

This is my most recent house. It was the first time I "painted" the house with icing and I absolutely loved it!
The "glass" windows turned out perfectly so you are able to see the Christmas tree in the front window.

You may have noticed that I have a thing for pretzel fences, licorice nib bricks, and cereal roof shingles. What can I say, I know what I like. Unless I find something I think works better you will most likely see all of those things on my gingerbread house this year.

Those are the 4 house I have completed and I can't wait to get working on a 5th!

I hope I have gotten some of you excited to try making your own gingerbread house this year! I am happy to answer any questions.



Christmas at The von Trapp's

For my 5th house I decided to replicate the home of the von Trapps in the movie The Sound of Music.  This was the first time I made a replica of a real house and it proved to be lots of fun getting all the details right.

Everything (except the interior lights) is edible.  The structure is gingerbread that has been "painted" with royal icing. The front door and surround are marzipan, the white trim is fondant, the roof tiles are made out of Bid Red gum, and the wreath and garland are made out of royal icing.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

House for Five feature!

I want to send a huge THANK YOU over to Deme at House for Five for featuring our playroom makeover today! If you haven't already, pop on over and check out her fabulous blog. It is one of my favorites, you won't be disappointed!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Taking on the Laundry Room

I recently tried to spruce up our laundry room.  It is a place we see often and use constantly.  In addition to doing laundry, we also use the space for storage and as a mudroom.  Yes, this tiny space is pulling triple duty! Which is why I felt something had to be done to save my sanity.

Here is our laundry room when we first moved into our new house...


And here is our laundry room today....



One of my very first blog posts was on organizing our hall closet at our old house. Most of these bins (along with the junk inside them) were from that closet makeover.  Since I already had containers, organizing was easy.  

I made new labels for the bins, hung some vintage hooks on the wall that I already had,  and installed the new key hooks. 


 The other side of the room is the laundry space 

Since we don't own our house painting wasn't really an option but the walls desperately needed some color.  I found some cute contact paper for a good price and I think it gives the room just the look I was going for. 

 I used four galvanized buckets on the shelf.  One for Oxy clean, one for detergent, one for trash, and the last one for extra supplies I buy in bulk, such as dryer sheets and spray 'n wash. 

You may recognize the chalkboard labels from my playroom makeover.  When I bought them they came in a package of 12, and at the time I thought that was way too many, but they were cheap so I bought them anyway. Well I have used almost all the chalkboard labels now, I love them so much I may need to order more!

Above the dryer are these small buckets I found in the dollar section at Target. I think they are so cute. They keep clothes pins, mesh wash bags, and dryer sheets handy

Over the washer I hung three knobs that hold a measuring cup I use for bleach, Spray 'n Wash, and a jar of flowers because this space just needed some pink!

This pretty white metal basket is also from Target. It holds our bleach and fabric softener. 

I think my favorite part of the room is the quote I typed up and pinned to the basket. It helps me smile when doing laundry, which is a miracle in itself!

Probably the most helpful part of the room is this little "Guide to the Laundry Room". Seriously, I can't be the only one who is dumbfounded by the care symbols on clothes, right? Well, confusion be gone! I now know that a triangle means I can use bleach and that a circle means dry clean only!

Let's take one last look at the before and after....

Laundry Space "Before"
Laundry Space "After"

Storage Space/Mudroom "Before"

Storage Space/Mudroom "After"

Thanks for stopping by today!