‘Tis the Season for Cookies: Gingerbread!

Gingerbread House

I’ve always loved making gingerbread houses. I’m not sure when I made my first gingerbread house, school perhaps? Or with my mom? But I remember making them, and loving the process. The first one I made was with graham crackers and a milk carton, if I recall. I even made gingerbread houses one Christmas for all my friends.

When Alexis was born I couldn’t wait until she was old enough to make them too, and once she was (we did our first gingerbread house when she was 3), we’ve made one every year since. We make a big production out of it…we make the cookies one day, along with hot chocolate, and then we assemble the houses the next. We make royal icing, get our candy together and construct away.

The secret to a good gingerbread house is a firm cookie, and these have a bit of a crunch to them. That also helps if you want to turn these cookies in to ornaments, because the firmness makes for a good ornament too. I’ll give you instructions on how to do that below as well.

Be sure and check out the other participants of ‘Tis the Season for Cookies to see their fabulous cookie recipes for this week as well!:

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Diana Cannone at To Di for Bakery.
Judy Chiappini at No Fear Entertaining.
Mandee Racer Pogue at The Kitchen Wife.
Marye Audet-White at Restless Chipotle.
Renee Joslyn at Flamingo Musings.
Sandy Smith at Eat Real.
And Sherri Jo at The Adventures of Kitchen Girl Jo.

The theme this week was formed and decorated!

Gingerbread House: The Pieces

What You’ll Need:
1 cup packed natural brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark molasses
2/3 cup cold water
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In large bowl cream brown sugar, butter and molasses until smooth. Add water and mix well. Stir in remaining ingredients and stir until well incorporated.

Sprinkle some flour onto the surface you’re working on and roll dough out to between 1/4-1/8th of an inch thick:

Gingerbread House: Rolling the Dough

To make a gingerbread house cut out house shapes using a template, or gingerbread house cutters. To make ornaments, cut with the cookie cutters of your choice. If you are going to use the cookies for ornaments remember to make a hole for the string or ribbon to tie them onto your tree. You can do this by using a straw to make a hole at the top of each cookie.

Bake for 9-10 minutes and cool completely on the pan. Cooling overnight is best. You want them to get extremely firm, the firmer the better.

And if you’re like Alexis, then you’ll want a little bite of dough, or several bites of dough, or a lot of dough. It’s good dough. And it is eggless, if you’re worried about such things, which we aren’t, but there you go.

Gingerbread House: Dough!

And make sure you get plenty of flour all over yourself. On your face, on your apron, on the floor…I mean the bigger mess the better. Just ask Alexis! 😉

After the cookies have cooled and sat overnight you want to make some royal icing if you’re making gingerbread houses (see below) or you can paint them if you’ve decided to make gingerbread ornaments.

Gingerbread House: Royal Icing

What You’ll Need:
6 egg whites
1 teaspoon of cream of tartar
8 cups of powdered sugar

Add all the ingredients to a large glass bowl and stir until mixed.

Beat on medium speed for 5-6 minutes until icing is thick and has a pearly sheen to it.

Use immediately to make your gingerbread house, or to decorate cookies.

Now you get to assemble your gingerbread house!

Take a piece of cardboard and cover it with aluminum foil. This will be your “yard” for your house. Next add a layer of royal icing for the “snow” on the yard, and this also serves as glue for the bottom of your house walls:

Gingerbread House: Snowy Yard

Now you want to put up your walls:

Gingerbread House: Putting it Together

I like to use a canned good, or a bottle to balance the walls on until the “glue” dries. Add a line of royal icing to each wall and balance them against each other. Once the icing dries you will do the same process to add the roof to the house.

While the walls are drying you can also start adding some of the decorations around the sides of the house:

Gingerbread House: Decorating

The roof can be tricky, because gravity, well she’s a bitch. You’ll need to hold the roof on while the icing dries. Be generous with the icing on the edges of roof peek, so that it has plenty to hold on to. This is when you can watch a Christmas movie, or something, while you’re sitting there holding the roof. If you’re really talented you can figure out a way to brace the ceiling with cans or bottles, but you have to have the perfectly situated can or bottle size and it’s easier said than done. Your best bet is holding it on and amusing yourself for a bit some other way.

Decorate with icing, candy, sprinkles or other embellishments if you’re going to cookie route. Whatever you like works. Just let out your inner cookie creator!

If you’re making ornaments paint them with craft or acrylic paints and let dry completely. Once the paint is dry you can “seal” the ornaments by painting or spraying on a coat of polyurethane if you want them to last for many years. If you want to make “Pissy” Gingerbread boys and girls, like the one pictured below, use a fluted cutter to cut a “bite” out of the side of their heads or even their foot if you want, because after all wouldn’t you be a little pissy too if someone took a bite out of you? ;o)

Pissy Gingerbread Man

See? Doesn’t he look pissy? I absolutely love these ornaments! To make a girl gingerbread person, paint a little bow on the other side of the head away from the “bite”.

I’ve made gingerbread houses for almost 30 years now. Wow. That’s a long time! Alexis gets a little impatient and doesn’t wait for her “glue” to dry so she ends up with a disaster house, more often than not. Being the laid back kid she is, she just goes with it. Last year she said her collapsed house was hit by a tornado. This year she explained it was caused by a tsunami. But hey, she kept decorating it anyway!

Gingerbread House: Decorating Her Disaster

I mean how disastrous does this look?

Gingerbread House: Catastrophee

Candy cane loss, Christmas tree chopped in half, Santa hanging out next to the rubble. The kid makes it fun, even if it’s not what you expect in a gingerbread house!

But what she really enjoys about the collapsed houses, other than having fun in general, is eating the parts!

Gingerbread House: If it Collapses, Eat it!

What’s not to like about a little nibble of gingerbread? Oh and royal icing. AND candy! 😉

This was the first year my house collapsed too. I’ve made so many houses over the years, but this one just gave up. I think it had to do with the humidity in the air, as a friend of mine suggested. We had a very rainy day on Saturday, like ark worthy rain, and when I decorated the roof the weight of the icing and candy, just took out the house.

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I’d like to tell you I was as cool about my house collapsing as my 11 year old, but sadly not so much. As I’ve said I’ve never had one collapse I wasn’t impressed, so it took the wind out of my sails a bit, and it felt like a big defeat. But then again I nibbled on mine too, so that made it all better…well sort of! 😉

Gingerbread disasters aside, a few years ago I made a Fangtasia gingerbread house:

Fangtasia Gingerbread House

I was a big fan of the Sookie Stackhouse books, and even though they didn’t end up the way I would have liked, this is still one of my favorite gingerbread houses I’ve ever made. I put a bite out of Bill’s head, like the pissy gingerbread men, as if Eric had gotten tired of his nonsense and finally taken a bite out of him to put him in his place. I made Sookie look Christmasy, and I did a cross between book Eric and SkarsgÄrd Eric, by the pink spandex from the book, and the black muscle shirt from the show.

The point being, gingerbread can be anything you want it to be. Just have fun with it. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are about?

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