There is something very magical about a gingerbread house. Seeing a building made out of nothing but cookies, candy, and sugar, awakens the little kid in most of us. Our eyes fill with excitement just looking at the wonder of an edible structure. I don’t think anyone ever contemplates actually eating a gingerbread house, but knowing that you could, seems to makes them even more special.
Since it is simply too much for my parents anymore to bring them over to the house for Christmas, I though it would be nice to do something special for them, and the others in the assisted living home where they now reside. The idea came to me to make a gingerbread model of the charming Homestead where they live, to place in the dining room for all to enjoy. And enjoy they did! The gingerbread house seemed to do its magic, and bring out the little kid in everyone. The holiday treat could not have worked out better.
I decided to make a caricature of the original part of the building. I used cardboard to make a template of the building, numbering all of the pieces to keep them in order.
I used a recipe for the gingerbread that I came across many years ago in a copy of the 1970 Farm Journal Christmas Book. This is the best recipe I have ever found for making houses. It uses some dark corn syrup which helps the structural quality of the house. It is a wonderful recipe, and the houses I have built using this dough stand up much longer than any other I have found.
To prepare Gingerbread for Houses:
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ginger
- 1 cup dark corn syrup
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 5 ½ to 6 cups sifted flour, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
Heat oven to 375, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cream shortening together with sugar, lemon rind, and spices.
In a small sauce pan, bring corn syrup to a boil. Slightly cool and add to the sugar mixture. Mix until well blended.
In a small bowl lightly beat the eggs, and then add to the mixture. Stir.
Sift 3 cups flour with the salt and baking soda, add to mixture. Mix in another 2 ½ cups of flour a little at a time.
Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, adding remain ½ cup of flour if necessary.
Roll dough into 4 balls and chill for 1 hour.
Working with one ball of dough at a time on a lightly floured surface, roll out to ¼ inch thickness. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Lightly dust pattern pieces with flour and arrange them on the dough. Cut around them with a sharp knife. Roll the excess dough into a ball and return to fridge.
Bake large pieces for 12 to 15 minutes, 5 to 7 minutes for smaller parts (It works best to make all the big parts first, baking the small ones together to prevent burning).
Cooks note: If needed, trim parts using a sharp knife while gingerbread is still warm.
Place on a cooling rack to completely cool.
To glue the large pieces together I used a sugar glue, since it holds the large pieces together better than icing.
To prepare Sugar-Syrup Glue:
Melt 2 cups of sugar in a wide skillet (at least 12” across) on lowest heat, stirring constantly as sugar melts to prevent burning. (Be sure to use a wide skillet so you can dip the edges of the long pieces).
Carefully dip the edges of the pieces in the sugar and “glue” together. Make sure each piece has set up before adding more (keep sugar on heat while you are using it).
There are some large cottonwood trees behind the Homestead which I thought would be fun to incorporate. So I trimmed some branches off of a bush by the house, and made some bases for them out of salt clay.
To prepare Salt Clay:
- 2 c. flour
- 1 c. salt
- 1 c. water
Mix flour and salt together. Slowly add water and stir until it forms a soft dough, all of the water may not be needed. If too gooey, more flour may be added. Roll out on a flat surface to make bread dough cookie ornaments. May be painted with food coloring while still moist. Can be air-dried (about 2 days) or baked 1-2 hours at 200-250 degrees. Baked ornaments are less fragile than those which have been air-dried.
I made gumdrop trees by using toothpicks to hold the candies together. Now I know that I would be disqualified from a gingerbread house competition since the branches and tooth picks are not edible, however for this application I was not concerned.
I tempered some white chocolate and used some thread and a candy mold to make snowflakes to tie to the branches of the trees to add to the winter wonderland feeling of the house.
This is my favorite icing for decorating houses. It dries very hard and shiny, and is easy to work with.
To prepare Snow Icing:
- 1 pound confectioners’ sugar
- 3 egg whites
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
Place sugar in mixing bowl. Beat egg whites slightly and then add to sugar. Mix on low-speed for 1 minute. Add vinegar and mix at high-speed until stiff and glossy (like meringue)
For candy I used gumdrops, pretzels, red licorice, and mini M&M’s. I sliced yellow gumdrops to make window panes and added them after they were dry. Some green sanding sugar and some edible glitter completed the house.
Then came moving day. I had not said a word to the people at the Homestead about bringing the gingerbread house, in case I ran out of time to make it, or if it fell apart on the way. I was pretty confidant that the house would stand the move, but I packed along a variety of repair items such as extra candies, more parts, and a pastry bag full of icing.
All went well and the house arrived without any damage. The hours of work that I put into this project disappeared the moment I saw the looks on the residents faces. Total success! I had brought a little of the magic of Christmas to my parents as well as the staff, and all of the wonderful people that they now share their time with.