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!


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