In the Cookie Jar

In the Cookie Jar: Gingerbread Houses

I’ve never made a gingerbread house before.  Well, actually, I made one from a kit back when I was maybe 13 or so.  But I had never created my own templates – until now.  Well, last month.  (December.) 

We were watching a Gingerbread House competition on the Food Network and Alex said he wished we could make one some day.  So I thought – I’m already making a zillion cookies – what’s one more project? 

Honestly, I had been wanting to make one anyway; I just didn’t think I’d have the time.  But hey, if my kid wants to make a gingerbread house, then that becomes the most important project.

So, I have a good sturdy gingerbread recipe that I’d used in the past to make gingerbread bowls.  I hoped to do gingerbread bowls this year (well, last year, since I’m writing in January), but I wasn’t sure if I’d have time.

The recipe is from Marcia Adams’ book Christmas in the Heartland, published by Crown in October 1992.  It’s a beautiful book – not just recipes, but crafts and traditions and information and a cozy warm feeling. 

Cover Image

But I digress.

Here we go…

The wet ingredients…and their good friends, the fats and sugars:

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2 cups of unsalted butter (4 sticks), room temp.

1  1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup molasses

1  1/2 cups dark corn syrup

4 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp orange extract

6 large eggs

And…

The dry ingredients:

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17 cups all-purpose flour

2 T baking soda

2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

(This is a big recipe.  You can cut it in half if it’s easier to work in smaller batches of dough.)

Okay, in your mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add in the molasses, corn syrup, extracts and eggs while the mixer is still running

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and beat until well combined.

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While the mixer is running, combine all the dry ingredients in another bowl with a whisk.

Add the flour mixture gradually.  The dough will become extremely stiff, and you will probably have to finish by hand, either in a bowl or on a board.

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Divide this into quarters, wrap in plastic and put this in the fridge.

Now, about the template.  I decided I would make two houses so that each of my kids could decorate one, rather than suffer the hell of them fighting over who gets to do what to this wall and that roof.  And since it was the first one I was designing, I figured I should make it simple.

I have these square 12" x 12" sheets of graph paper that I’d bought for designing quilt squares and applique pieces.  I drew a rectangle 6" x 8 " for the longer sides of the house, and a narrow rectangle 4" wide with a point at the top for the short side pieces – 8" at the highest point and 6" at the lowest point, and then the roof, which was 9" x  4".  Fortunately all 3 template pieces fit on the one sheet of paper.

Then I taped the single sheet of paper to my countertop and covered that with a sheet of parchment and taped that down.  then I traced the templates onto several sheets of parchment, so I’d have many sets, just in case any ripped or got damp and curled or anything like that.

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Then I cut out all the pieces and set them aside.

Now – take out one of the pieces of chilled dough and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick.  Try to roll it out so that you can fit several pieces of the template on it at once.

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Then, holding the parchment in place with one hand, carefully cut around the template pieces with a knife or pizza wheel or bench scraper. 

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And remove the paper.

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Fun, huh?  You’ll need 2 of each shape to make one house.

Place the dough sections on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and place in the fridge for an hour.

Preheat your oven to 350 F and bake for a good 30 minutes or so.  Take the pans out and let the sections of dough cool on the pans.  They should be hard.

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As you can see in the image above, as they bake they will spread slightly, and the sections of your house may run together a tiny bit.  Just wait until they’re completely dry – they’ll snap apart nicely.

Now, to decorate, I kept the pieces separate because it’s easier to work on a flat section than the house once it’s completed.  Also – because my kids would be decorating them, I figured there was the chance that they’d somehow accidentally knock over the house if they had to decorate after assembly.

And I used plenty of royal icing to decorate and to glue the pieces of the house together, and we had Necco wafers, mini marshmallows, and colored sugars to use as well.  We also had gumdrops, but I couldn’t find them til a couple days later.

Time for the fun part…

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Julia favored the mini marshmallows.  Lots and lots of them.

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Alex, on the other hand, really wanted to make his look like a house

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If you look over at the section he’s pointing to, you can see that he’s drawn a front door on there in red.  And if you look at this other section on the lower right, you can see a little green wreath with a red bow. 

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You can see the door a bit better.  I think the Necco wafer there below the marchmallow is supposed to be a window.

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And this is just a glimpse of the chaos that existed in my home all of December.  You can see sections of the kids’ gingerbread houses toawrd the back, and other gingerbread cookies I made with the leftover dough, and a whole mess of  Pecan Squares in their little paper cups on a tray…all the icing and sugars…and those pale cookies are dinosaurs made out of Short Dough that Julia was going to decorate and instead she broke a Pteranodon into pieces and went on her way.

Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures as the houses were assembled.  I was too busy doing the gluing and holding the sides in place.  But here’s the one shot I took of them while the icing glue was drying, after the roof sections had been attached:

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Those containers of cookies and that snowman napkin holder (That Alex made in a Home Depot kids workshop when he was 3, hee hee hee!) are supporting the edges of the roofs.  Oh – and do you like Alex’s roof?  With the Necco wafer shingles?  He worked really hard on his house.

And where are they now?  Did we wrap them carefully and pack them away for next year?  Nope.  They ended up as bird food.  The kids got to whack them to bits with a meat tenderizer in the back yard.  That part was Bill’s idea – the brutal destruction part.  The kids – well, particularly Alex – loved it.  (I know, and you’d have thought Julia would have been the joyfully violent one.  The birds enjoyed them.  Particularly the seagulls.  And also the squirrels. 

And just for fun, here’s a picture of the gingerbread house (actually a graham cracker house, if you want to be precise) Alex made in his kindergarten class:

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And that’s an ice cream cone tree and a graham cracker reindeer cookie there in the front.

Isn’t that adorable?

The birds thought so.

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