I think my favorite holiday tradition growing up was making gingerbread houses. When it came to gingerbread houses, my mom went all out – and when I say all out I mean all out. She made them completely from scratch, from the walls to the icing, and most years she not only made one house but a village. The one for our house was always an elaborate mansion, while the houses meant for the neighbors or friends were smaller cabins. And she also always made one specially for my brother, sister, and me to decorate.
The few days a year we spent constructing and decorating gingerbread houses were always the most exciting for me. We got to see the creation of something from start to finish: dough to building pieces to a beautiful, fully decorated house. I cling to those memories, and am determined to make it a lasting tradition in my home as well.
If you’ve never made a gingerbread house, let me tell you this: it is a lot of work. Going at it alone makes me really appreciate my mom, because not only would she make a bunch at a time, but they always looked perfect. I haven’t yet mastered that quality of perfection in my houses, but perhaps as the years go on I’ll get as good as she is.
This year I decided to make a gingerbread forest cabin, inspired by the quaint dwellings in the woods of the Bighorn Mountains. As you can see, I don’t like to leave a lot undecorated, but believe me, the gingerbread is under there. Doesn’t it just make for the perfect winter centerpiece?! 🙂
The stone-like siding is made from saltines, the roof from wheat chex, and the snow from pounds of royal icing. I like going overboard on the snow. One year I made a gingerbread beach house and it just wasn’t the same without a snowy roof.
The windows are made with melted sugar. Simply place about a cup or so of sugar in a pot, and on medium, heat the sugar until it is melted and thin. It is very easy to burn, so be careful. To add some flare to your windows, add a drop or two of food coloring.
The gingerbread recipe I used is from The Weekend Crafter Cookbook, Making Gingerbread Houses. I like this recipe because it uses butter instead of shortening and it is delicious enough to snack on while assembling your house (if you have extra, of course!).
My house takes one batch of this dough.
cream until light and fluffy:
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
add and blend on low speed:
3/4 cup molasses
sift, add, and blend until all the flour is absorbed:
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp groung ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp salt
add and blend:
3/4 cup cold water
After dough has been mixed, separate it into two balls and cover completely with saran wrap. Store in fridge for a minimum of three hours and a maximum of three days.
When you are ready to bake your gingerbread house, roll it out onto a floured surface. I always put parchment paper beneath my dough so that it is easy to move to the baking sheet after my shapes have been cut out. Bake the gingerbread in an oven preheated to 350 degrees until the dough is deep brown but not black (about 20 minutes). Place your pattern pieces on top of the baked cookie to make sure they are still the right shape and size as your pattern. If they are not, trim the edges, being careful not to burn yourself. After your pieces have cooled on the baking sheet for a few minutes, carefully transfer them to a cookie drying rack. Let them cool and harden completely, about 25 minutes. If they still seem soft after this, put them back into the oven for a few minutes. You want your pieces to be completely dry and crisp, as they are building materials, not cookies for eating.
ROYAL ICING (from Wilton’s website)
4 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp meringue powder
5 tbsp warm water
Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer). Be sure to keep your utensils and bowl clean and grease-free so the icing will reach proper consistency.
Below is the pattern I made for my gingerbread forest cabin. If you’d like to try it, copy and paste the images into a word document and enlarge them so they each fit an entire sheet of paper. Print. This should be to scale so that your gingerbread house will come out right. When cutting your gingerbread pieces, lay down the cut out pattern piece on top of the rolled gingerbread and cut around the paper with a pizza cutter or sharp knife.