Excuse me for a moment while I remember fondly the cute little, blond haired boy who's made a gingerbread house with me every year since he was able to stand on a kitchen chair to reach the counter tops. His lips would be stained bright red from some crimson candy, snitched when he thought I wasn't looking. He loved to engineer the building of the house, thought the frosting was like cement, and his sticky fingerprints all over the house's exterior were priceless to me.
Fast forward a few years and we have Barack Obama looking out one of the windows and one of the snowman has a cigarette. (Now, I had a hard time with this at first, until the laughter became contagious. After all, Frosty, DID have a corncob pipe, so I'll let this candy cigarette pass this time!!) Gales of giggles erupted as we put it together. There was more candy eating than there was decorating. My counter tops are still sticky.
You'll find my gingerbread and frosting recipes below. Making the gingerbread from scratch is not hard and it smells delightfully Christmasy. I formed the pieces using a gingerbread house mold that I got at a thrift store for a buck, but you can just cut them out using a template found online OR challenge your creative side and make your own design!
This is one of our traditional Christmas activities. We haven't missed a year and have included dear friends in our gingerbread house construction. It's one of my favorite days!
Gingerbread House Dough
Don't be intimidated by the length of these directions. It goes together really quickly. Make it a family project and you'll have a great, messy, fun time! I DO NOT recommend eating any gingerbread house (however tempting).
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 ¼ cups molasses
2 eggs, beaten
In large saucepan, melt shortening on stove over low heat. While shortening is melting, in a separate bowl stir together flour, salt and spices (if using for cookies, add 1 tsp. baking soda). When shortening is half melted, remove from heat and continue to stir until completely melted. Add sugar, molasses and beaten eggs. Mix well and quickly (to prevent eggs from cooking). Add molasses mixture to flour mixture. Mix well. Dough will be soft. Cover and refrigerate until firm enough to handle.
Place in mold and bake as mold manufacturer directs or:
Remove dough from refrigerator when firm enough to handle. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough onto aluminum foil. To prevent aluminum foil from slipping, wipe counter with wet sponge then smooth aluminum foil over damp counter. This will prevent the foil from slipping while dough is being rolled out. Working with a small handful of dough (about the size of a baseball), roll dough onto aluminum foil that has been sprinkled with flour. Sprinkle dough with flour to prevent dough from sticking to rolling-pin. When finished rolling and cutting, LEAVE your piece on the foil and simply lift the foil and place on cookie sheet.
After baking and cooled, simply remove the foil from the back of your baked piece. IF DOUGH IS TOO STIFF, MICROWAVE FOR 10-15 SECONDS TO SOFTEN THE DOUGH. Roll dough to about 1/8” thickness. Place gingerbread house pattern pieces onto dough and cut-out dough pieces (don't forget to cut out windows). A pizza cutter works great for cutting out walls and roof sections. Remove excess dough pieces. Lift entire piece of foil and place on large cookie sheet.
Place cookie sheet in oven. Check frequently to prevent burning. Bake until golden brown. Large pieces may bake as long as 14 minutes. Smaller pieces might take 6 – 7 minutes. To prevent from sagging, bake roof sections until dark brown, almost burnt. When dough pieces are done baking, remove baking sheet from oven. Quickly lift foil from baking sheet and place on a flat area for gingerbread pieces to cool. If pieces have distorted while baking, while still warm, run knife or pizza cutter along sides of walls/roof sections to create a straight edge. If pieces have curled up during baking, while still warm, gently push edges down to lay flat. With gingerbread pieces still on the foil, let cool overnight. Next day – gently peel foil off of gingerbread pieces. You are now ready to assemble, or add windows!
Unused dough may be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks (bring to room temperature and knead briefly to use again).
Royal Icing - Cement Frosting
3 tablespoons meringue powder
6 Tablespoons warm water
1 pound powder sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon Vanilla or Almond flavoring
Note: 3 egg whites may be substituted for 3 tablespoons of meringue powder. Omit the water if using real egg whites.
Because this frosting dries quickly, and very hard, this is the recommended frosting to use for gluing together the walls and roof sections. Keep all utensils completely grease-free. Combine all ingredients, mixing slowly with stationary mixer until peaks form. Beat at high speed for 7 to 10 minutes. This is important for the frosting to be soft enough to use with pastry bag.
This frosting is fast drying – keep bowl covered with a damp cloth. If icing is too thick when using fine tubes, add a few drops of water. For thicker icing, beat in a little extra confectioners sugar.
Store leftover frosting, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for weeks. Re-beat before using again (if using real egg-whites, the frosting will not keep its cementing properties after the initial beating).
This recipe makes about 3 ½ cups of glue frosting.
Frosting Tip: When working with egg whites or meringue powder, keep all utensils grease-free. Any oil or grease will break down the frosting mixture. Note that the "decorators frosting" contains grease (shortening). When decorating, it is helpful to keep one bag exclusively to be used for "glue frosting", and another bag to be used for the decorators frosting. This helps to keep grease away from the "glue frosting".