Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gingerbread Houses

I have been wanting to make gingerbread houses for a couple weeks now. I thought it would be kind of a fun tradition to start with my kids.  Since it was something I wanted to start doing every year, I thought I would invest in a cookie cutter set (Jonas House and Castle Cookie Cutters) to cut the shapes and make it a bit easier every year.  Little did I know, the cookie cutter set was going to be quite flimsy.  I had to reinforce it with popcicle sticks because I was afraid it would bend and every shape I cut would be different.  I also didn't really want to buy the kits with everything included since we are on a pretty fixed budget and plan to be for the next few years.  Even though I was a little disappointed in the cutters, we made them work.  I found a recipe on Epicurious that I changed a little and we used a royal icing recipe (Annie's Eats via Good Things Catered)  that worked really well.  All in all, I think the project was fun and pretty catastrophe-free.  It took some
time, practically all day on Saturday, but we didn't really have anything else going on so it worked out fine.  The houses came together pretty well, it was nice we had a practice round of putting the kid's houses together before we had to do our own, but it wasn't as hard as I was expecting.  Next year, I might have them try to put their own together instead of  doing that part for them.  I, of course, didn't like my house as much as I liked the one I was picturing in my head but that could be said about pretty much everything I attempt.  The picture in my head is always way better.

I had to use my cutters before baking and after because once the dough was baked it changed shape slightly.  I don't know if it would be better to just bake a sheet of the gingerbread and then cut the shapes out or not.  I didn't want to waste any more of my dough than necessary, so that's the method I used.  We made 4 houses with this recipe but it really was stretching it.  If want to make more decorative pieces, like trees or more gingerbread men with your house, you might want to assume this recipe will make 3 houses.  I am going to include a template in case you don't want to buy cutters, you could print it out and cut cardboard (or something similar) into the right shapes and use that as a guide to cut the shapes.  I also wondered if the gingerbread needed to have baking soda in it.  I think that is what makes it puff up and change shape a little.  I wonder if they would still have to be cut after baking if there wasn't soda in the recipe.  Has anyone ever made gingerbread and not used soda before?  They also have these Gingerbread Mold Pans, has anyone used these?  I might try that for next year unless I decide I want to do the cutters again.

If you don't want to deal with making your own gingerbread, my friend Jesse posted the other day about using graham crackers and Dunkin Donut boxes, check it out.

Gingerbread Houses (Printable Recipes)
1 recipe Gingerbread
1 recipe Royal Icing
We used some 8 inch round cake boards that were barely big enough
Candy of your choice
Parchment paper (LOTS)
Decorator bags and tips if desired.

Gingerbread Dough
6 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 T ground ginger
1 T ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups solid vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup robust (dark) molasses
Parchment paper. (a lot)

For the Royal Icing:

6 cups powdered sugar
3 T meringue powder
7 ½ T water

Combine dry ingredients for the gingerbread except sugar.  Beat Shortening and sugar until fluffy (1-2 minutes)  Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.  Add molasses and beat on high until well blended.  Add dry ingredients and mix until combined.  You can do this in 4 additions or all at once and mix on low.  Divide into 4 pieces, wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Until firm, about 2 hours.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Flatten each piece with your hands and place between two pieces of parchment paper.  Roll out to ¼ inch thick, make sure parchment paper is smooth and not wrinkled, flip over so the smooth side is on the bottom.  
Cut into shapes with cutter or template and knife, 
Here's a tip! What I wish I had realized at the beginning. It was way easier to cut a shape and if I didn't have room for the other, instead of gathering up the excess into a ball and starting over, I took the excess from the shape I had already cut.....
Added it where I needed it to cut another shape.....
Put the parchment paper over that area and rolled smooth...
And then cut my shape

Maybe it will make your life a little easier. :)

Once shapes are cut, transfer whole piece of parchment paper (with shapes still on it) to a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and bake for 8-10 minutes depending on how thick your dough is, bake until firm to the touch in the center and dry looking.  Remove from oven and make sure pieces are still the correct size, re-cutting as necessary.  
Let cook completely.  Repeat with all pieces for all houses.

I barely had enough dough left to make each of us a gingerbread person.

Once pieces are cooled, Mix Royal Icing.

Combine all ingredients for royal icing in mixing bowl.  Mix on low until icing loses it’s luster. If it isn't shiny when you start mixing it, you need to add a little water, small amounts at a time. (7-10 minutes)  
This is how the icing looks when you first start to mix it. It really smooth and shiny.

After a while it starts to look like this and is more matte in appearance. It kind of reminded me of marshmallow creme.

For piecing the house together, we used the icing just how it was after mixing. For decorating, we thinned it out a little so we could use decorator bags and pipe frosting onto the houses. If you want to thin some out, add to a bowl and add water a tsp at a time, mixing with a spoon until it's the desired consistency. If you are using it to decorate you won't need to thin it out much at all. Keep unused portions covered at all times, it dries out quickly.

We didn't have to wait long after putting the houses together to start decorating. Probably about 5 minutes was all. The icing was great. I let Hadlee take hers apart yesterday and eat some of it since we are leaving for Christmas anyway and she could barely get some of the candy off. She also reported that the gingerbread was delicious, (and I have to agree, I might have sampled some of the pieces I cut off after baking) so that was a plus.

The Parade of Homes

I was going for a winter wonderland look. I wanted lots of snow, so I used the icing and then sprinkled sugar on top of it before it dried to look like snow. I also covered the walls with pretzels because I wanted it to look log cabin-ey. I used the pretzels before putting the house together and in hind sight, I wish I would have done it after since there were gaps where the side of the walls were exposed. I used the round red and white candy with pretzels underneath to try to cover the unsightly-ness of it.
Hadlee was the winner of most candy on a gingerbread house, which I think she appreciated when she went to eat it yesterday.
Calvin kept trying to eat Hadlee's because he ran out of M&Ms fast. I think he learned a valuable lesson here.

I think I like Tyler's the best.  It's simple and still cute.  He always out-does me when it comes to things like this.
More pictures of our gingerbread village.

Another thing I didnt' think about when we started making these was where-in-the-heck to put them.  I was kind of glad to have them start eating them because they take up space on my much needed counter top.

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