Eat (Not so) Well: Gingerbread Houses w/ WWW

The following post was written by my mom, WWW. Thank you, mom!
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With Rebecca and David, 1988

When I was little, I fantasized about living in a gingerbread house. I understood why Hansel and Gretel were tempted by the witch’s house and broke off pieces of candy to devour because I would have been tempted, too. I think that is why I loved playing Candy Land so much. At the end of the path of my 1960’s version was a beautiful gingerbread house, and reaching it made me happy Every. Single. Time.
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It's no wonder that when we first had children I announced to Larry one Christmas that more than anything else, I wanted to make a gingerbread house totally from scratch. At this same time, I subscribed to the Time/Life books, “The Good Cook” which gave me a how-to cookbook each month on a different topic. One month I unwrapped my package to find the book titled “Cookies and Crackers.” When I opened the pages, I was thrilled to discover a step-by-step guide on how to build and make the gingerbread for a house, although I must admit I was disappointed at the house, itself. It was a plain brown house with an iced roof dotted with almonds, a traditional house—not the fantasy house of my dreams. I used the recipe for gingerbread but designed my own house and bought bags and bags of colorful candy. We decorated it together on Christmas Eve and then ate it on Christmas. That was in 1988 and as a family we've been making a gingerbread house every year since.
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Our first gingerbread house + Rebecca with with her cousin, Erica.
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Gingerbread house circa '91. Rebecca was dealing with a bit of pre-teen angst at the time.

Our houses were pretty simple at first, but as the kids grew older, the designs became more intricate. David became chief architect and his sense of humor would reflect some of the designs—a pool with shark-infested waters, a house burning down the year we almost lost our house in a brush fire... Every year we've included family friends, neighbors, boyfriends, girlfriends—each person finding a spot on the house to call their own.
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Each person’s individuality comes to life in vivid designs. Every house is unique, each one bearing a different array of candy, cookies, or even sometime, cereal. And afterwards, with sticky fingers and candy cluttering the kitchen, we stare at it in wonder, turning it around to see all the sides and to admire the eclectic display.
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We laugh and eat leftover candy and bask in the joy of being a family together. And now that we have grandchildren, the magic continues. Archer’s and Fable’s faces light up as bowls overflow with gumdrops and candy canes, ready to adorn the plain brown house.
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After dinner on Christmas, our gingerbread house stakes its claim as the centerpiece of the table. We turn out the lights, carry out our flaming brandied plum pudding, sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas as the blue flames blaze around the pudding, and when everyone is seated with plates full of my sister’s luscious pies and Christmas hats donning our heads, we start breaking off pieces of the house, just like Hansel and Gretel.
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Except there isn’t a witch to scare anyone away Just the warmth of a loving family...
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***
This gingerbread cookie recipe, quadrupled for the house, is delicious. That’s why we actually eat it. Luckily there are enough scraps left over after cutting up the pieces for the house so that everyone gets some warm bites from the oven.

The first thing you want to do is make the templates for the house. The gingerbread fits into two large jellyroll pans (either 12x17x2 or 15x18x2 inches). My pans are the standard 12x17x2 so I have included the template pattern for a very simple house made in them, but you can make it any way you want. (One year Rachel and I made a gingerbread mission for her California Mission Project.) Just make sure you plan your design ahead of time and cut out the pattern pieces before the gingerbread goes into the oven. The gingerbread MUST be cut when it is warm or else it will crack.

Here is the template for the house. You will need to use the patterns TWICE using both pans:
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If you want your roof to overhang a little, then cut the sides two inches shorter than the roof. I made mine on thin poster board, but if you can find big graph paper, that would be easier. Once you make the templates, you can use them year after year, so it’s worth the little bit of work the first year since from then on, it will be easy. I used my rotary mat and Omnigrid to make the templates for this post, but this is the first time I have been quite so fancy.
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Since we make our house differently every year, we usually just measure out our design on paper. Just remember, your sides need to match the height of the house before the pitch and the roof width needs to be at least the length of the pitch.

We make the gingerbread in the afternoon, cut it while it is still warm using the templates, and let cool on wire racks. Then, when it is cool, David and I assemble the house with royal icing. The royal icing dries hard as a rock so you don’t have to worry about the house collapsing. That evening after dinner, we decorate it.

For this post, I made half the recipe which I used to cut the shapes for a “cottage” so Archer and Fable can decorate their very own this year. I froze the cooled shapes and will defrost them on the day we make our larger house. (If you do this, make sure you defrost COMPLETELY before you unwrap them so they don’t get soggy).

Gingerbread House
Templates for gingerbread house
Royal Icing (see recipe below)
3 jars of vanilla frosting
All sorts of candy, the more types the more fun. Look at photos for ideas
2 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/3 cup molasses
4 tsps. ground cinnamon
4 tsps. ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
3 sticks butter
6 tsps. Baking powder
12 cups flour (it helps to have someone counting while you measure since it is really easy to lose track of what cup you are on!)
4 eggs, lightly beaten


1. MAKE TEMPLATES FOR THE HOUSE AND CUT THEM OUT.
2. Preheat oven to 350. In a heavy-based pan over low heat, dissolve the sugar with the molasses, spices, and butter. Slowly and carefully bring the mixture to a boil, cool it to room temperature, then mix in the baking powder.
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3. Place the flour in a LARGE bowl with a pinch of salt and make a well in the center. Pour in the cooled syrup mixture and the egg, and stir from the center to incorporate the flour.
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4. Knead the dough in the bowl until smooth and flour is completely incorporated:
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It should look shiny and kind of like fudge:
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5. Split in half and roll it in the pans until it is uniform thickness and completely filling the pans.
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6. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Lay templates on the warm gingerbread and cut around them with a knife.
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7. Let cool on wire racks:
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Assembling the house:
1. Make royal icing:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg white
¾ teaspoon strained fresh lemon juice

Using a wooden spoon, stir about half of the sugar into the egg white. Add the lemon juice and beat the mixture with the spoon until it is thoroughly blended, then add the remaining sugar, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat for until smooth and creamy. The icing should be used immediately or kept for up to 30 minutes if covered with a damp cloth. If kept longer, the icing will begin to set.

Cover a large board with aluminum foil. Lay one end wall on the work surface. Spread a wall support with icing.
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2. Lay the support face down parallel to one side of the wall and 1.2 inch from the edge. Affix a second support on the other side. Repeat with the other end.

3. Stand one end up and attach one of the walls, generously using the icing to attach (you can ice the bottom, too, to help hold it).
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It helps to have a helper hold the end while you do the wall. Attach the other wall, also generously using the royal icing. Attach the final end.

4. Spread the top edges of the walls and the pitched roof with icing. Gently press one roof piece into position, holding it until it doesn’t slip.
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5. Affix the second roof piece. Ice the ridge on top. Sometimes they want to slip so you might have to hold them for a little bit or prop them up with cans.

6. Attach the two chimney pieces together using the royal icing.
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7. Let house completely harden before decorating.

To decorate, put candies in bowls so everyone can share. Put house in center of the table. Make sure everyone gets his or her own spot to decorate (a side, a wall, a roof, etc). Frost house with frosting and add candy!

We frost the ground, too, and decorate the “yard” with paths, trees, snowmen and sometimes coconut for snow. Use your imagination….anything goes!!
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Although this seems like a lot of work, it is WELL WORTH the time. We put aside an afternoon for the gingerbread making, and an evening for making the house, one of our best family days of the year!
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With Archer, 2007

Enjoy your family time together and Happy Holidays to all of you!

Love,
WWW



The how-to-assemble photos via Time/Life "The Good Cook"

25 comments:

Sydney | 1:23 PM

These gingerbread houses are amazing. Such a wonderful family tradition to have, I bet you all look forward to making these together every year.

I've gotta say though, the sulky face on Rebecca in the photo in the pink dress made me laugh A LOT!

wonderchris | 1:23 PM

Looks like a blast - great memories for sure!!

Maile | 1:30 PM

We just used a store boug kit this year...(my kids are 2 and 10 months) while my big girl had lots of fun mixing icing with me and squirting it on the house she preferred eating the candy to actually putting it on the house. Its pretty much got some sprinkles and 3 M &M's on it and generally looks kinda blah. But we had fun! Next year I am definitely going to make from scratch! Such a fun family tradition!

Megan | 2:18 PM

That's so funny- I was gonna say about the photos, "what app did you use to give it that 80's look? It's so realistic." Then I saw that it's from WWW's cookbook...classic!!

Anonymous | 3:05 PM

Adopt me please.

Cave Momma | 5:12 PM

LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! I have always loved gingerbread houses and this year we finally decorated one. Yesterday,in fact! I just bought a kit this year but I am definitely making one from scratch next year.

Ashley | 6:29 PM

Thank you so much for sharing this. I have a 3-yr old son who loves "helping" in the kitchen. He will love doing this together. I can't wait to start this tradition with my own little family!

Mama Kat | 9:32 PM

What an amazing tradition! We never made gingerbread houses when I was growing up and I've ALWAYS wanted one. I've been doing the store bought houses with my kids, but I'll definitely need to try it the WWW way!

Lies | 12:46 AM

When I still lived at home, my mother and I had the tradition of making marzipan figurines every year, around Sinterklaas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas). When my children are a bit older, I will make marzipan figurines with them too. And you just convinced me to add another tradition for the Christmas holidays: making our own gingerbread house. I can't wait...
Happy holidays!
Liesbet, Belgium

Jodi | 1:00 AM

Thank you so much for this post! Making gingerbread houses has been a tradition in my family for years but this year, due to my grandmother's illness among other things, we won't be able to do them. This blog gave me a little taste of my traditional Christmas and sparked a lot of wonderful memories. That was something I really needed this year.

LJB | 4:57 AM

I always make gingerbread cookies, but have never made a house. Your photos were amazing though - I had a dream about a gingerbread house last night and will tomorrow make one! :)

Courtney | 6:51 AM

You have such beautiful family traditions. I really appreciate you sharing them because it allows all of us the opportunity to start them in our own family. The combination of this post with the lullabies were inspirational to me. Happy holidays.

Whitney | 6:54 AM

This is the best post. Loved it.

Lori | 7:44 AM

Making gingerbread houses is one of the most fun parts of Christmas time! Your houses look great, and like they were a lot of fun to make!

Anonymous | 7:47 AM

I love your mom Rebecca. What a fun post. Our family has a candy-construction project tradition too-we decorate a sheet cake with a candy nativity.We color coconut flakes for grass and hay, use licorice to construct a barn and manager, and choose just the right color gummy bears for the family, shepards and wiseman. Best part of Christmas every year, and now that the family has four grandchildren in it is even better.

Suburban | 8:22 AM

Great post. I just interviewed a friend of mine who has engineered some amazing gingerbread constructions.

Check it out his tips and pics here: http://www.suburbancookbook.com/?p=1193

Cheers!

Anonymous | 9:27 AM

The first photo of this post is beautiful but what I noticed first off was how much Fable looks like your mother! I'd never noticed before, but the resemblance is striking! Great post btw. And as far as your evolution goes; keep on keepin' on, I'm lovin' it!

Law Mama | 10:32 AM

Ooh, I want to do this some year. Probably not while I have a one year old, but definitely a wonderful tradition to have with your kids.

Also, did every California kid have to build a mission in 4th grade? My husband did elementary school in Hawaii and he thought I was crazy when I started talking about building a mission. Your sister's made of gingerbread must have been AWESOME.

sarah doow | 3:59 PM

Such a wonderful tradition and your houses through the years are out of this world!

Robyn....but call me Rob | 5:26 PM

How cool of your mom to post this! We've always made GBhouses too and it's an awesome tradition to pass on. Agreed, all crafty family time together is priceless. Rock on.
<3

Anonymous | 1:24 PM

My husband has been making gingerbread houses every year for the past 25+ years. We used your recipe this weekend, and the gingerbread is delicious!! Our kids, ages 4 & 6 loved this years gingerbread!! Thank you so much for sharing this! We have a mold we use, but next year we are planning to create our own house plans.

Deidre | 7:35 PM

I tried this recipe this year, and had to save it from a catastrophe! I have no idea what went wrong but I ended up with like 4 extra cups of flour. Eek!

Check out my blog to see the finished product.

Ashley | 7:56 AM

I am having a gingerbread emergency! I think I may have put in too much flour as well. The dough came out dry and crumbly instead of shiny and pliable. I still kind of molded into the pans and threw it in the oven. It is baking now, so we'll see how it turns out! Fingers crossed!

Manda | 10:23 AM

I'm totally doing this today! But! I have a question! What size pans does she use to bake the gingerbread? Are those cookie sheets or jelly roll pans? HALP!
p.s. your mom is awesome. We are totally starting a gingerbread house tradition. Thanks for the idea WWW!!

Wendy Woolf | 10:42 AM

Ashley and Manda...You need to kneed it the dough for quite a while...it is crumbly for a long time and then suddenly, it all comes together. Keep kneeding it until it is shiny. Also, make sure you count the flour carefully (and always make sure you don't pack the flour when you measure flour...keep it fluffy). Sometimes one can get lost in the counting. I make tally marks after I put a cup in so that I am sure it is the right amount. Hope that helps and sorry you had trouble.

Use standard jelly roll pans...12x17x2 Sorry...I put the pan size above but didn't include in the recipe!