mardi 29 décembre 2009

Gingerbread House

In the spirit of the holidays, belly set to accommodate three or four times the normal sugar rate, with hours (in fact, days) of spare time on my hands, and two small children in the house, I decided to combine these elements to my advantage and construct a gingerbread house.

Architectural experience is not necessary, but useful. Which is to say, do not take the house pattern lightly. You want the house to stand solidly, to avoid gaping holes between walls (I failed at this), to aim for straight even lines and symmetry. Create or find a pattern, cut out the shapes, and make sure that they fit together correctly.

Recruit the children to make the dough. You’ll need to roll out a flat sheet of gingerbread, as large as your oven rack. Plan out how you’ll lay out the pattern pieces, to minimize scrap dough. I’m not providing the recipe I used for my gingerbread house, because it was a French recipe for pain d’épices, the French version of gingerbread, which is a dense bread, not a cookie. The resulting pieces were too thick and not flat, as you can tell from my photos. Try this recipe for gingerbread cookie:

Gingerbread Recipe


1 cup butter, margarine or shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses
5 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup water

  1. In a large mixing bowl beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until fluffy - at least three minutes. Add molasses and beat well. Combine dry ingredients and add to the batter a little at a time, mixing in each addition. You will have to use your hands to work in the last additions.

  2. Divide dough into thirds and shape into balls. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours, preferably overnight.

  3. Roll out one ball to approximately 3/16 inch thick on a piece of aluminum foil. Dough must be sufficiently chilled before rolling to prevent stickiness. Lightly flour the foil, your hands, and the rolling pin, before rolling to prevent pulling. Or roll between a sheet of foil on the bottom and a sheet of wax paper on top.

  4. Position the pattern templates on top of the dough at least 1 inch apart to allow for a little spreading of dough during baking. Carefully cut out the pieces, using a pastry wheel or paring knife, and gingerly lift the scraps away from the cutout shapes, and return them to the refrigerator. If your house calls for texturized wood grain, panels, brick, etc., score these effects into the gingerbread before baking.

  5. Carefully slide the foil (with the cutouts on it) onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 9 to 11 minutes. Bake until just firm, never browned. Once all of the dough as been used, form the scraps into another ball and roll out again. Avoid rolling the dough out more than twice if you plan to eat your gingerbread as it makes the dough tough.

  6. When all pieces have finished baking, remove from the oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheets. As soon as the pieces come out of the oven, check the edges and, if necessary, trim with a sharp knife so that the pieces will fit together. Lay the paper template over each piece to be sure the sides are square with those of the template. The dough will have spread somewhat, but the basic shape should be the same. The dough hardens as it cools, making it more difficult to trim later.
  7. Allow the gingerbread plenty of time to cool on racks before you begin construction. If you can't start right away, slide the fully cooled pieces onto foil-covered cardboard or back onto the cookie sheets, wrap with foil or plastic wrap, and store flat. Gingerbread will stay reasonably fresh for several days.

    When the cut out pieces are completely cool, the construction work begins. The pieces are bound together using an icing glue. This is not regular icing—it sticks immediately and dries rapidly, finishing like cement.

    Icing Glue

    1 egg white
    1 cup powdered sugar
    1 teaspoon cream of tartar (I used baking powder; cream of tartar is one component of baking powder)
Beat eggs and cream of tartar together until foamy, then add the sugar gradually.

The children have probably wandered off by now, so call over another adult to help you hold the pieces in place while you glue. Think of building on top of wax paper or a tray that you won’t have to move the house from afterwards.

Leave the house to dry for a couple hours. Now the fun part beings—decorating! Call the kids back into the kitchen to help. You have prepared a candy assortment and spare icing, haven’t you? Big candies like gumdrops and chocolate look pretty, but make sure you have mostly lightweight candies and thin shapes; they will be easier to glue on.

Candy ideas
*A variety of colors, sizes, and shapes is important

red hots
licorice rope
mini peanut butter cups
junior mints
starburst mints
candy canes

…and leave the house on display a sufficient amount of time for picture-taking and impressing guests. The gingerbread and the candies will dry out over the course of several days so you probably won’t want to eat the house if you leave it out too long. No matter—the gingerbread house is for admiring, not for eating!

Some impressive gingerbread accomplishments!

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