Christmas building – gingerbread houses to munch on while you build

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Gingerbread is almost synonymous with Christmas.

From simple cookies cut to elaborate houses, it’s a symbol of the season. But not all gingerbread is the same. Gingerbread generally falls into two camps: the one you eat and the one you build with.

The kind you eat ranges from chewy and cake-like cookies to crispy gingerbread cookies. Builder quality tends to be pretty bland.

But we think if you go to the trouble of cooking and building a gingerbread house, it must be edible because, let’s face it, you know you’re going to taste one or two.

This recipe is solid and flavorful – for a crisp, builder-grade gingerbread – so you can snack on while you build. It’s quite crunchy, so we suggest you treat it like a biscotti and steep it in a cup of coffee, tea or cocoa.

But don’t worry, to eat gingerbread straight away, we also have a recipe for that.

Fun fact: In Germany, a gingerbread house is called the Hexenhaus or witch’s house, as in the popular tale “Hansel and Gretel”.

Gallery: Goodness of the gingerbread

For our house, we opted for a simple cottage with short walls and a sloping roof. Templates can be downloaded from the internet or you can create your own. We couldn’t find a pattern for the style of house we wanted, so we created our own: two walls (5 ½ by 2 ½ inches); two roof panels (8 ½ by 7 inches); and two walls (9 inches high, 7 x 7 x 2 ½ inches) with gables.

The following recipe made 3 half plates, which was enough for our chalet plus some cut out decorations like stars, wreaths and Santa Claus.

The glue (aka royal icing) is flavorless and quite stiff, making it ideal for building. For the cookies you plan to eat, use one of the royal icing recipes that follow.

We recommend that you spread this project over at least two days. On the first day, make or print your template and bake the gingerbread. On the second day, assemble the house and a few hours later or the next day, decorate. Although quite tacky and dries relatively quickly, the “glue” needs enough time to set before adding decorations.

We have used a variety of hard candies, chocolates, nuggets and the like for our decorations.

Gingerbread and construction glue

  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
  • 5 teaspoons of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • Small cup (17 tbsp) light corn syrup
  • 9 tablespoons butter, very soft
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • For the icing glue:
  • 3 egg whites
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 4 cups of icing sugar
  • Cinnamon sticks, assorted candies, colorful nuggets and your choice for decoration

In a large mixing bowl (I used a stand mixer), combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, corn syrup, butter and vanilla. Mix over low heat until smooth, then sprinkle with flour and continue to mix to form a stiff dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Divide the dough into three portions (about 14 ounces each).

The dough can be rolled and baked immediately or wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut three sheets of parchment paper at 12 by 17 inches.

Spread a sheet of parchment on the work surface; set the remaining leaves aside. Sprinkle the prepared parchment with flour, place the dough on top and flatten into a rectangle. Sprinkle with more flour and roll into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Using a flat cookie sheet, pizza peel, or both hands, gently transfer the parchment with the dough into a half (13 x 18 inch) baking sheet with 1 inch sides. Cut to your gingerbread house template, using an X-Acto or a paring knife. Leave a narrow border of dough around the cutouts to minimize spreading, but cut off larger areas of excess dough to gather and roll again. (You can bake all of the dough at once, but we found it easier to cut after baking if we baked one at a time because the gingerbread, although soft when coming out of the oven , crispy pretty quickly and if you have a lot of cuts to make it may get too crisp before you finish.)

Bake gingerbread until dry to the touch and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Immediately cut the pieces with a sharp knife or pizza wheel. Let cool completely in pan, then transfer cutouts to a safe place.

Repeat with the rest of the dough and parchment.

Leftovers can be nibbled on or crushed in a food processor for use in recipes that call for cookie crumbs.

To make the icing:

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until fluffy. Gradually incorporate the icing sugar. Continue beating on medium-high speed for 7 to 10 minutes, until very foamy.

Immediately pour into a pastry bag and use. To prevent unused icing from hardening, press a sheet of plastic wrap over the surface of the icing to keep it from drying out.

Assemble and decorate the house using icing as glue.

Make 1 homemade and enough frosting for building and decorating.

Gingerbread recipe adapted from Stella Parks via SeriousEats

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Soft gingerbread

  • 4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, more as needed for dusting
  • 1 cup light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon of baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon of fine salt
  • ¾ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature, cut into 1 tbsp portions
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 cup of molasses (no blackstrap)
  • Royal icing (recipes follow), optional
  • Sprinkles and non-devices, for decoration, optional

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, salt, allspice, cloves, pepper and nutmeg at low speed to combine.

Add the butter to the blender and mix on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and resembles the texture of cornmeal. Add egg and molasses and mix on low speed until a uniform paste forms, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Shape dough into 2 equal disks, about 1 inch thick. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 48 hours. Bring to room temperature for 10 minutes.

Line four baking sheets with parchment paper and prepare a few extra sheets of parchment paper. Roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment paper until ¼ inch thick. Remove the parchment paper every now and then as you work to make sure the dough doesn’t stick. If necessary, sprinkle the dough very lightly with flour, but only if it sticks. Cover the rolled dough with parchment paper and refrigerate the dough for 15 to 30 minutes before cutting.

Using a flat cookie sheet, pizza peel, or both hands, gently transfer the parchment with the dough into a half (13 x 18 inch) baking sheet with 1 inch sides.

Cut chilled dough into desired shapes using cookie cutters dipped in flour or parchment templates and a paring knife. Gently remove the excess dough. (Press all of the dough into a 1-inch disc and roll again, cool and cut.) If using cookie cutters with a lot of detail, cool the dough again for about 15 minutes before baking.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees with the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Bake cookie trays in batches. Bake in the preheated oven until cookies are lightly browned around the edges and appear to be set, 8 to 10 minutes.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then use a spatula to remove them on a cooling rack to cool completely.

Frost and decorate if desired.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies depending on the size of your cookie cutters.

Gingerbread recipe adapted from Erin Jeanne McDowell via Food52

[Video not showing above? Click here to watch: arkansasonline.com/128royalicing]

If you are worried about consuming uncooked eggs, we recommend using pasteurized eggs. If you can’t find pasteurized eggs, royal icing can also be made with meringue powder (recipe follows), however, we didn’t make it that way.

This icing is a little thinner than the one used for the construction; do not hesitate to clarify it further depending on the use you want to make of it. The thinner it is, the longer the setting time will be.

Royal icing

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract OR ½ teaspoon of lemon or orange extract OR ¼ teaspoon of peppermint extract
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 3 ¾ cups (1 pound) icing sugar
  • Water at room temperature, as needed
  • Food coloring gel, optional

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the egg whites, vanilla, cream of tartar and salt; mix until frothy. Gradually add the icing sugar and whisk until thick and shiny. Stir in a little water to dilute to the desired consistency. To tint the frosting, divide it into small bowls and stir in the gel colors to the desired shade. Transfer the frosting to piping bags or cover the frosting with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly onto the surface of the frosting to keep it from hardening.

Makes enough for 2 to 4 dozen cookies.

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This recipe has not been tested by the Democrat-Gazette, but comes from a trusted source.

Royal Meringue Powder Icing

  • 4 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 3 tablespoons of meringue powder
  • 9 to 12 tablespoons of water at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract OR ½ teaspoon of lemon or orange extract OR ¼ teaspoon of peppermint extract, optional
  • Food coloring gel, optional

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, meringue powder, 9 tablespoons of water and any flavoring. Mix with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk on high speed for 1 ½ to 2 minutes or until smooth. The icing should flow evenly over the whisk. If it is too thick, dilute with additional water. Color at will. If the icing is too thin, thicken it with more icing sugar. To prevent the frosting from hardening, press a piece of plastic wrap directly to the surface.

Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction


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