If you want a creative and impressive centerpiece during the holidays, nothing is better than a homemade gingerbread house, and they are not as difficult to make as you might think. It's also a great way to get your children involved. Just be sure to buy extra candy, because for every piece that goes on the house, invariably one goes in their mouth as well.
The first thing to decide is what type of house you want to build. You can always use the traditional square house, but don't limit yourself. Pretty much any type of house could be built out of gingerbread. I've seen farmhouses, victorian, and even an igloo. You could even build something other than a house. One year, we built a gingerbread train. It was darling and a fun change of pace.
I found some ready-made templates you could use, or design your own. These are from Bob Vila, the home improvement guru: A-Frame, Colonial, Saltbox, and Side Gable houses. Or here is a simple, traditional square house from AllRecipes.com.
Next, prepare a base for your house. The size of the final structure will determine how sturdy the base needs to be. Keep in mind that you may want to move the house from place to place and pick accordingly. You can use plywood, a cookie sheet, or a sturdy piece of cardboard. Layer several sheets of tinfoil over the base.
There are many recipes for gingerbread available on the internet. I've included one here, but feel free to try a different one:
CLASSIC GINGERBREAD HOUSE RECIPE
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1-1/3 cups molasses
8 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 pounds confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 egg whites
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the molasses and eggs. Combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, baking soda, salt, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger; beat into the molasses mixture. Gradually stir in the remaining flour by hand to form a stiff dough. Divide dough into 2 pieces.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Place pieces 1 inch apart onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
In a medium bowl, sift together confectioners' sugar and cream of tartar. Blend in egg whites. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat for about 5 minutes, or until mixture is thick and stiff. Keep covered with a moist cloth and plastic wrap until ready to decorate.
While assembling, keep in mind the following tips:
- Roll dough to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out windows, doors, etc. before baking.
- Allow the gingerbread to cool thoroughly before assembling.
- Adjust the consistency of the icing by adding more egg whites if the icing is too dry or more powdered sugar if it is too wet. It should be thick and stiff.
- Use canned goods from the pantry to stabilize the walls during assembly; remove them before adding the roof.
- Apply icing-glue to the bottom of your pieces for more stability; adhere them to the foil/plywood base.
- Allow 30 minutes for the front, side walls and back of house to dry and firmly set before adding the roof.
- Allow house to dry completely before decorating: a minimum of 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- Apply candy decorations by putting a small dab of icing to the underside of the candy and hold it in place until set.
- If you do not have time to do the baking, you can use cardboard or graham crackers and still show off your decorating skills.
Don't worry if you make a mistake. You can cover gaps and even cracks in the gingerbread with icing and candy. There are tons of fun ideas for decorating. You can use coconut for snow, upside down ice cream cones for trees, pretzel squares for shutters, tootsie rolls for logs, zebra stripes gum for shingles, marshmallows for snowmen, you get the idea. Check out the candy aisle at the grocery store and you'll come up with all sorts of ideas. Don't forget the bulk food bins, so you can buy just a few pieces of many different candies for more variety.
Most of all, have fun! Building a gingerbread house can be a family tradition your children will look forward to and always remember.
Return to the Neighborhood!
Now for a self-indulgent side note:
My daughter went on a blind date on Friday. It was fun watching her get ready and wonder about if her date would be cute and what he was like. When she came home, she said he was kind of shy, but she had fun. They built gingerbread houses and drove around to see Christmas lights. I thought that was a pretty creative date idea for boys to come up with. Here's the house she and her date made. Isn't it cute?
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