Tomorrow is National Gingerbread House Day so I thought it would be a good time to write about one of my favorite holiday traditions: decorating gingerbread houses with friends and family.
I honestly don’t remember the first time I made a gingerbread house, my recipe is so old that the paper is brown from being touched with gingerbread covered hands so many time. What I do remember are the get-togethers over the years and the joy and laughter it brings. There have been times when it’s just one other friend and other times with a group of more than 20 (the one time I switched to kits) but each time is filled with sticky fingers, candy everywhere and lots of smiles. Even the year where we decided one of the houses had been by a tornado we had a blast.
This year I got to start the tradition with a new generation, my son and his friend. Sterling and I made the gingerbread dough together and he helped me cut (check out my new cutters from World Market!) and bake all the pieces. Then we boxed it all up and went to make our houses at a friend’s.
While the kids played and watched movies I whipped up our cement icing and us moms decided to do the actual building this year. It made things a lot easier having stable houses for when the three year olds started decorating.
When the decorating started we just let the kids go at it and only helped with unwrapping candy and smearing on cement when needed. The houses didn’t turn out with neat rows of candy on the ridges poll or intricate patterns on the wall but they are some of my favorites we’ve ever made. Seeing the joy and pride on our kids faces made all the sticky clean up worth it and we are already talking about doing it again next year.
This recipe is also great to use for cookies (frosted and unfrosted). The cookies are a great solid cookie that makes them perfect for boxing up as gifts and are delicious dipped in your favorite hot holiday drink.
Making the houses
I try to plan on spreading out the whole process over three days because each part is time consuming and comes with its own messes and needs.
This will make enough for two large houses plus some cookies. You might be able to get three houses out of it but it would be tight.
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cup dark molasses (12 ounce bottle)
1/2 cup cold water
7 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 3 tablespoons of cold water
Mix together thoroughly the shortening, brown sugar and molasses. I highly suggest using a 12 ounce bottle of dark molasses so you don’t have to pour it into a measuring cup and then into your bowl…they weren’t kidding when they said “slow as molasses.”
Stir in the cold water until fully integrated.
In a small bowl dissolve the baking soda in 3 tablespoons of cold water and set aside. In separate mixing bowl sift together the flour, salt and all the spices. Mix in the water-baking soda mixture.
Slowly add the dry ingredients into your wet ingredients, mixing after each cup or so. This dough gets really thick so you will want to switch to a dough hook if you have one and you will probably still need to mix in the last cup or so of dry mixture with your hands. You will get messy and you will get a work out so this is great in place of an arms day at the gym. Of course in my book baking is always better than going to the gym.
Once all the dough is well mixed divide it into 3-4 balls and press them into disks and put into Ziplock bags to chill in your fridge. To make it easy I start each disk with my hands, put it in the bag and then press it flat in the bag as much as possible and then seal the bag. This will help the dough chill faster and make it easier when it comes time to roll out your dough.
After your dough has chilled for a few hours or overnight you are ready to roll, cut and bake your pieces. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Prep your rolling space with flour to avoid sticking and take out one disk of dough to roll out. Roll dough to 1/8″ – 1/4″thick and cut out your pieces. Bake pieces for 9-14 minutes. Gingerbread is done when you can light press in a fingerprint and doesn’t leave a mark. Repeat rolling, cutting and baking till all our pieces are done. Let the pieces cool before assembling your houses. Pieces can be stored in Tupperware if you are using them in the next day or two or wrap them separately in foil and freeze until you are ready to use.
Building and decorating
Making your Icing Cement
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups powdered sugar
Beat eggs whites and cream of tartar until stiff. Gradually beat in powdered sugar. Beat 10 minutes or more until very stiff. While using or storing cover with plastic wrap (or a bowl lid) to prevent drying. This icing cement will dry very hard and is perfect for building and decorating your houses. If you are planning on making cookies to decorate and eat I would use our Royal Icing recipe instead.
Wrap a piece of cardboard (great use for all those Amazon boxes) or a cookie sheet in foil to use as base for your house. Set yourself up with your board in front of you, all of your house pieces within reach and your cement on a wide shallow bowl or plate and have a butter knife or spatula handy.
Most gingerbread cutters or patterns that you cut behind will be sized that you put the edge of the side against the back of the front and back places but check this before you cement your pieces to make sure you are putting them together in a way that will fit your roof pieces. Dip the bottom edge and one side edge of the front piece in your cement and then hold on your board. While still holding that with one hand (or working with a partner or friend) take one side piece and dip the bottom and one side in the cement and then place on your board with the front and side pieces meeting where you put the cement. Hold the front and side piece for a minute or two until the feel sturdy enough to let go without them falling over. Add in the second side and then the back piece the same way. After all four walls are together let them dry for about 5 minutes before you add the roof pieces. To attach the roof, use you knife or spatula to spread cement on the top of the walls and around the back edges of your roof pieces. Make sure to have a good amount of cement along the top ridge. Hold until sturdy. If you have a door or chimney pieces you can add now or wait till you start decorating.
Once the cement has dried on all your seams it time to start decorating! There are no rules to decorating. You can coat your house in cement and stick candy to it. You can dip your candy in a bowl of cement and then place them no your house. You can get fancy and using piping bags, food coloring and carefully patterned candy pieces or you can simply see how much you can fit on to the house. Whatever makes you happy. Most any candy will work on the house but see the list below for some ideas.
– Candy canes
– Peppermint twists
– Gum drops
– Mini Nilla Wafers (they make great shingles)
– Small gumballs
– Red hots
– Mini marshmallows (great for snowmen)
– Sugar cones (use upside down to make trees)
Printable recipe: Gingerbread Houses & Icing Cement