Tuesday, December 02, 2014

How to Make a Gingerbread House Without Losing Your Mind (part 1)

Gingerbread

For years, gingerbread houses were my nemesis. After the trauma of the gingerbread incident, I decided that kits were the way to go and that anyone who made gingerbread creations from scratch was crazy. What I neglected to tell you is that the very next day after gingerbread went airborne in my house, I went to work and was asked to help a class construct a village from gingerbread.

For a week straight, I surrounded by children and gingerbread and went home covered in icing sugar. I was in gingerbread hell.

A few years after that, I worked in a high school Foods class where I finally got over my fear of gingerbread house building when we built mini gingerbread houses from scratch. Finally, I learned a bunch of tips and tricks that made gingerbread house building easy, which I want to share with you!

Before we get started, I want you to let go of expectations that you are going to end up with something that looks like it belongs on Pinterest. Forget perfection and embrace the process of doing this project with your kids for maximum fun factor; THAT is the secret to successful gingerbread house constructing, and exactly what I had forgotten one Christmas when Kevin was little.

This recipe makes one small gingerbread house that goes with this pattern. (that link should take you to Google Docs, where my pattern is in a shared folder. You should be able to download and print it!)  If doubled, the recipe will make 3-4 houses depending on how thick you roll the dough. Don't make them too thin, they'll break easily! These houses are small, but I find small is the key to manageable. Make a bunch and the kids can each decorate their own for a village! Don't get stressed out over this project, you can do it over a period of days so it's not so daunting. The dough can be mixed and then frozen or left in the fridge overnight, and you can bake it one day and construct another. Or, put the houses together one day and let the kids decorate another.

Mini Gingerbread House (pattern here!)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves or allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup margarine or butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
1 tsp water

Directions: 

1. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.

2. In another bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and the brown sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, molasses, and water and continue to beat until smooth.

3. Beat half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended, and then stir in the remaining flour mixture. If the dough is really sticky, stir in a bit more flour until a little more manageable but be careful, you don't want it dry. The dough should be soft and easy to work with, but not so sticky it's all over the place.

4. Turn out onto a counter and knead 2 or 3 times for it to all come together. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for about 2 hours. You can also freeze the dough at this point for another day. Thaw the dough before you are going to use it.

5. When you are ready to bake, pre heat oven to 350 F. Take your dough out of the fridge and allow to warm slightly. Then divide the disc in half.

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6. Roll out 1/2 disc on parchment paper (important!) until it's about 1/4 of an inch thick. Brush lightly with flour to keep the pattern pieces from sticking. Lay your pattern pieces on the dough and cut them out using a sharp knife. Do not put the pieces flush with each other, they need at least 1/2 inch between them. (also important!)

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7. When you have cut as many pieces as you can, remove the excess dough. Then, using scissors, cut the wax paper around the gingerbread pieces, leaving a slight border around each one. Do NOT remove the gingerbread pieces from the parchment paper. This ensures that your pieces will remain perfectly straight, and not warp, which means the house will be easier to construct. (and you will preserve your sanity)

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8. Put pieces on a cookie sheet. Continue until you've used all your dough. If you have leftovers, you can make some gingerbread cookies, or ginger snaps by rolling the dough into walnut sized balls, rolling them again in granulated sugar, set them on a cookie sheet and press them down slightly.

9. Bake your gingerbread pieces about 10-12 minutes, until they are set and slightly browned.

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10. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the cookie pieces to cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes before removing to the counter or a cooling rack to cool completely. Once they are cooled, set the pieces aside in a sealed container until you are ready to build!

Need to watch me do this? I have a handy dandy video for you, even!



In my next post, we'll move on to different kinds of icing, construction, and decorating tips!



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