Make a Gingerbread House!

Bond with friends and family with this holiday tradition

What better way to spend a blustery winter evening than indoors with your loved ones making gingerbread houses?  I’ve included below a recipe, compliments of Gingerbreadlane.com.  And for those who would rather use a kit, we’ve got something for you too!

Ingredients:

6 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
2/3 cups shortening
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 eight-ounce container sour cream
2 eggs


To prepare dough:
Into large bowl, ,measure 3 1/2 cups flour and remaining ingredients. With mixer at low speed, beat until well mixed, constantly scraping bowl with rubber spatula. With hand, knead in remaining 2 1/2 cups flour to make a soft dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours or until dough is not sticky and is of easy kneading consistency.

To roll dough: Keep refrigerated until ready to use. Working with half of a batch at a time on a lightly floured work surface with lightly floured hands, knead dough until smooth. Then on a greased and floured 17″ x 14″ cookie sheet, with lightly floured rolling pin roll dough to 3/16″ or 1/8″ thickness. You can use dowels ofthe same size at either side of the dough on the cookie sheet to help create a uniform thickness. (For easy rolling, place cookie sheet on a damp cloth to prevent it from slipping.)

To cut and bake dough: Make your pattern pieces of heavy cardboard. Lay them on the dough and using a sharp knife use as many pieces as you can from the rolled dough on your cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/2″ inch between the pieces. Remove scraps and reserve for re rolling. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (Place cookie sheet in the refrigerator if there is room while the oven preheats. Bake until golden brown and very firm when lightly touched with your finger. Remove cookie sheet from oven and cool on wire rack 5 minutes. Carefully remove the baked pieces from cookie sheet and place on wire rack to cool completely.

Note: If you need to do some trimming do it while the cookie dough is warm out of the oven. You may need to make several batches of dough to complete your project, but don’t multiply and try to do it all at once…the process just doesn’t work that way.

Construction Tips: To assure proper fit, check gingerbread pieces before assembling; if necessary shave edges with a rasp (sold in hardware stores) or a sharp knife. When assembling gingerbread pieces with icing, work with pastry bag with medium tip. Check vertical angles of major pieces with a right triangle or carpenter’s square.

To attach right angle pieces: Pipe a line along the edge of one piece; press it against the adjoining piece and hold it in place for several minutes until the icing sets. Let dry thoroughly propping attached pieces with a sturdy small object. When dry, smooth seams with a damp cloth; fill in any spaces with more icing. For extra stability, pipe icing along the inside seams as well. Allow to stand for an hour until the icing has completely dried before decorating.

Icing
(makes 2 cups, you’ll probably have to make several batches)

Egg White Icing

3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 (16 oz box) confectioners powdered sugar
In a large bowl combine all ingredients. Beat 7 minutes with an electric mixer until smooth and thick.. A good test is when a knife blade drawn through the icing leave a clean cut. Store in a tightly sealed container if you are not using it right away.

Second Method – Meringue Powder Royal Icing

3 Tablespoons Meringue Powder (available where cake decorating supplies are sold)
1 1 LB box (3 3/4 cups) confectioner’s sugar
4-6 Tablespoons cold water

Put dry ingredients together, add half the water, then add more water as needed. The consistency of the icing should be thick, where a knife can be drawn through it leaving a clean path…but not so thick it won’t go through an icing tip. Takes about 2-3 minutes with this method.

Icing Tips: You will need a basic knowledge of decorating with icing tips and bags to make gingerbread structures.

If you have never done this before, practice first. Go to a cake decorating store and buy a Wilton book. It will show you techniques and give you lots of ideas.

Buy some disposable plastic pastry bags, and some tips. You can use tips you like some of the ones I use over and over are:

Round tip 1
Round tip 2
Round tip 3

You will also need what are called “couplers” . Buy several, you will want to have one for each color of icing you plan to use…buy at least 5.

These are two piece sets, half goes inside the pastry bag, the other piece holds the tip on the pastry bag. If you are not familiar with this ask at the cake decorating store…it’s really easy, but like anything else, if you have not done it before, it’s a little hard to explain.

Mixing icing is a double edged sword. It’s much easier to mix it all ahead, but you need to use it in a timely fashion or it hardens. I usually mix it up, and try to fold the pastry bags over to keep the top from drying out. If I need to keep icing overnight I put it in a Tupperware container right in the bags. They sell “covers” for the tips to be used for storage, but in my opinion they don’t make that much difference. You are going to have to unclog the tips anyway if you leave them sit for any period of time.

Keep toothpicks handy for cleaning out tips, and a paint brush works well too for getting into the points of the tips.

Toothpicks work well for helping correct errors, keep some handy.

Coloring icing
: Color small batches of this icing as needed with Wilton decorating pastes, which are much more intense and not watery like liquid food colors.

Using the pastry bags: This is a simple matter of practice. Practice on wax paper before you try and decorate on the house.

You might also want to decorate the house pieces flat before putting them together. It can be much easier to do intricate decorations flat rather than trying to work vertically.

Painting
: Another technique I use a lot is “painting”. I put a little icing into a small container or bowl and then add just the smallest amount of water. In fact sometimes I just wet the paintbrush and then stir the paint with it and that is enough water. You then paint the gingerbread pieces. The result when the icing dries is a smooth coating with no visible brush lines.

Decorating Techniques:
Sometimes it is better to decorate elaborate pieces flat, then assemble the pieces.

Premade Kits: Inexpensive gingerbread kits are available at Target and Costco, and for those who would rather purchase a pre-made house, visit WilliamSonoma.com!

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