Friday, December 24, 2010

Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread Houses have become a family tradition for me. Most of my family started doing them many years before I did, because I moved across the country when I was 20 and totally missed out on the beginnings of it!

This is a long one... grab a cup of cocoa get cozy!

It started out with my Auntie Mary. My sister used to work Sunday mornings at the local coffee shop. While she was working, my Auntie Mary would watch my nephew Damien. If you're a long time reader of my blog, you met Damien back in my Chilaquiles post.

Anyway... Damien spent Sunday mornings with Auntie Mary and Uncle Joe, and with my cousins Annie and Frank, who are a few years older than him.

One Sunday morning, Auntie Mary thought it would be nice to bake cookies with the kids. Definitely not anything unusual for Auntie Mary. But on this particular Sunday, she decided it might be fun to make a gingerbread house for the kids to decorate.

And so there begins the tradition!

She made the first gingerbread house for the kids to decorate. Apparently, it was a success, because she's been doing it every year since!

She started inviting other little cousins over and it grew and grew until she was making more than 50 gingerbread houses a year!

She also started making a gingerbread manger every year for my grandmother; and my cousin Annie always goes all out on her house making it part of a big winter wonderland scene!

Anyway... when I moved back to Massachusetts, she invited me to bring Tawny and Bobby over to decorate and we were totally hooked!

I love to decorate houses with Auntie Mary whenever I'm in MA. But now I also do them with my kids and our friends and their kids too!

First... you need gingerbread houses.

This is Auntie Mary with a few houses she made!

She uses the Wilton Gingerbread Recipe.

Grandma's Gingerbread Recipe
5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups unsulphured molasses
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven 375°F. Thoroughly mix flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Melt shortening in large saucepan. Cool slightly. Add sugar, molasses and eggs; mix well. Add four cups of the dry ingredients and mix again.

Turn mixture onto lightly floured surface. Knead in remaining dry ingredients by hand. Add a little more flour, if necessary, to make the dough firm. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4 inch thickness and cut out house pieces with Wilton Gingerbread House cutters or with the attached templates

Bake 6-10 minutes for small to medium size cookies and 10-15 minutes for large cookies.

If you're not going to use your gingerbread right away, wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate. Refrigerated dough will keep for a week, but be sure to remove it 3 hours prior to rolling so it softens and is workable.

Royal Icing - to assemble houses and for decorating
3 level tablespoons Meringue Powder
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approx. 1 lb.)
6 tablespoons water

Beat all ingredients at low speed for 7-10 minutes (10-12 minutes at high speed for portable mixer) until icing forms peaks.

Yields 3 cups of icing.


I've only made them from scratch once. I have to say, I get intimidated working with dough... but once I get started, I always wonder what I was worried about!

Thoroughly mix flour, baking soda, salt and spices.

Melt shortening in a saucepan.

Add sugar, molasses and eggs; mix well.

Add four cups of the dry ingredients and mix again.

Turn mixture onto lightly floured surface. Knead in remaining dry ingredients by hand.

I cut the dough into sections and wrapped it, so it didn't dry out while I was cutting.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness

I cut templates from a thin plastic cutting board to use as cutting guides.

Click Here for template to roof and sides.

Roof is the rectangular piece. Side is the square piece.

Click Here for template to front/back.

You can cut your own house pieces free hand. You can use the Wilton cutters too. The Wilton cutters do make a bigger house so you will get fewer houses per recipe.

Cut out your pieces.

You will need two of each shape for one house.

Bake at 375F for 10-15 minutes.

Cool on racks.

I cooled them overnight so they had a chance to harden up a bit before assembling the houses.

I had some extra dough... so there are a few cookies too!

Now for assembly!!

This is MUCH easier with an extra pair of hands!

Make the royal icing and use it as glue to hold all of the pieces together. Try to wait about an hour before you put the roofs on. It gives your foundation a chance to harden.

Start with a strip of icing on the bottom of a front/back piece and attach it to your base. I used heavy paper plates for bases this time.

Apply icing to the side and bottom edge of a side piece and attach it to the front/back piece.

Now attached the other front/back piece.

Then the other side.

Auntie Mary adds little candy canes to the corners. I did it when I made them from scratch... but this year I was very short on time... so I cheated and used kits. That only cuts out the baking. You still have to assemble. But I left out the candy canes this year.

I like them both ways... but the candy canes don't really fit the kit pieces.

Some pieces might need to be trimmed at bit to fit together better.

Put together all the bases... then you can start adding roofs.

Not bad for a first time! (don't mind the miscellaneous condiments)

That's the batch I made from scratch last year.

And these I assembled from kits this year.

Now invite your friends and family. Have everyone bring candies to share for decorations... and let the fun begin!!

These are random shots of gingerbread house decorating at my sister's house with Auntie Mary and with my family and friends at my house.

Gingerbread houses make memories that last a lifetime!

Thank you Auntie Mary! I love you!

Merry Christmas everyone!


Ciao Chow Linda said...

I love your Auntie Mary. what a wonderful tradition she started.

tamilyn said...

I love that HUGE Santa on the roof!
Merry Christmas

Culinary Alchemist said...

Awesome!!!!! Wonderful tradition! Yay!!!

Patti T. said...

That looks like SOOOOOO much fun!!

~Chris said...

Looks like fun. Would be cool if you could find small Santa candies and have him going down the chimney. :)

Carole said...

Fantastic. Thanks for linking it in to Food on friday.