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Gingerbread Houses - Step by Step


by Alison Anton

There's no better way to spark up the holiday cheer than to create a gingerbread house with the whole family. My mom, brother and I made these every year that I can remember as a child. My mom would make the dough from her old authentic German recipe handed down from her mom's mom, and we'd cut out the patterns, assemble the house, frost it and adorn it from top to bottom.

Things have changed a little bit since then... I adapted the dough so that it is easier to work with, and I always make sure to use all-natural ingredients and candies that have no high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or food colorings. I also incorporate dried fruits, nuts and seeds (a phenomenon that would not have occurred in the home-designs of the 70's). Goji berries and banana chips were definitely the favorites this year!

Since the icing has to hold all the candies in place throughout the weeks before Christmas, it uses about one ton of powdered sugar that allows the icing to get rock-hard within about 30-45 minutes of being exposed to the air. I generally do not recommend powdered sugar since it is goes through such a vigorous refinement process, but for such a specific purpose, I just don't see any way around it.

Plan to set aside at least 3 hours for making your gingerbread houses, from start to finish. The dough and frosting can be made several days in advance (see storage techniques below). The dough or baked cookies can be frozen for several months until ready to use.

RECIPE: Gingerbread Houses - Baking, Assembling and Decorating
Yield: 1 large house (House A) OR 2 medium houses (House B) and 1 small house (House C)

This recipe makes a crisp cookie that can withstand the test of being frosted, adorned with candies and oogled over for weeks during the holiday season. The extra dough can be rolled and cut out into ginger people, but know that the cookies will be a touch harder than a typical gingerbread cookie.

GINGERBREAD
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups organic soft brown sugar
1 cup light organic sugar
1/4 cup molasses or sorghum syrup
4 eggs
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon allspice

SUGAR GLUE
1/2 cup light organic sugar

MAKING THE DOUGH: Blend the butter with the sugars and molasses in an electric mixer on medium speed until light and creamy (put the molasses into the mixer before turning it on or you will have molasses everywhere but in the dough). Add in the eggs and blend another 1-2 minutes.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and gradually add them into the mixer, scraping down the sides until incorporated. The dough will be slightly crumbly.

Remove the dough to a large bowl or a flat work surface. Bring the dough together with your hands, working it until the dough forms a smooth mass that holds together easily. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate at least 30-60 minutes before rolling.

ROLLING: Divide the dough into five pieces. Roll each piece out on a flat, floured work surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out the patterns for the house using the templates. Work quickly, as the dough is easier to cut and shape while it is still cool. Using a pastry or pizza spatula, carefully lift the pieces onto sheet pans lined with a baking liner or parchment paper (or double up two sheet pans) to keep the cookies from burning.

BAKING: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bake 10 minutes, until golden, rotating the cookies halfway through baking. Cool on the pan for 1-2 minutes before removing them to a cooling rack to cool completely before assembling.

SUGAR GLUE: Heat the 1/2 cup sugar in a medium sauté pan over medium heat until it bubbles and turns a very dark brown, 8-12 minutes.

ASSEMBLING: Have ready a sturdy surface on which to place your house (inverted sheet pan, wooden or plastic cutting board, sturdy cake board, etc.)

Prepare the sugar glue, keeping it on low heat while working so that it doesn't harden up.

Have ready a house side panel and a front or back panel. Place them together to get an idea of how they will fit. Dip the edges that will come together into the sugar glue and very quickly hold them together, assembling them at the proper angle. It should hold within 10-20 seconds. Adhere the back panel and the other side panel in the same fashion.

To assemble the roof, very quickly drizzle the sugar glue onto the top edges of one side of the house. Place one of the roof cutouts on top of the house, letting it adhere to the glue. Repeat for the other roof cutout. Drizzle glue along the top of the roof where the two panels come together.

Assemble the chimney by dipping the edges of the pieces into the glue and holding them to the roof. Assemble the door, leaving it slightly ajar. You can do the same for window panels, if desired.

Royal Icing
Yield: for 1 large house (House A) OR 2 medium houses (House B) and 1 small house (House C)

This icing gets rock-hard in order to keep the candies on top of the house and to hold throughout the weeks before Christmas. If you plan to decorate a snow-drifted yard with your house, make a double batch of the icing. This recipe uses raw egg whites, but if you are hesitant, they can be substituted with meringue powder for the same affect (use recipe from any packaged meringue powder).

3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pound organic powdered sugar, sifted or whirled in a food processor

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugar until the frosting stands in firm peaks and is stiff enough to hold a sharp line when cut through with a knife.

STORAGE: Place a piece of plastic wrap over the frosting so that the plastic is in direct contact with the frosting. Wrap the bowl in plastic and store refrigerated for up to 2 days.

While working, keep the bowl of frosting covered with a damp towel to keep it from drying out. Once spread onto the house and exposed to the air, it will harden up within 15-25 minutes. Decorate one panel at a time and work quickly!

Decorating Ideas:
Nuts and seeds
Dried fruits
Chocolate dipped dried fruits
Candied ginger slices
Banana chips
Pretzel fences
Panda brand red licorice
Gummies
Sunspire "MnM's"
Shredded coconut for icicles and frosty trees
Ice cream cone trees
Cereal
Cookies

About the Author

I am a Certified Nutritional Chef, food writer and culinary instructor through Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts in Northern California. I teach cooking and nutrition classes through the Whole Foods Market Salud Cooking School and write a monthly eLetter, also entitled Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking, to a wide audience.

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