Gingerbread Houses






Gingerbread houses are time consuming, but beautiful and fun!  It's rewarding to make a nice one and be able to display it the entire holiday season. 

I have a six step schedule below to help you enjoy the process and not get burnt out.  Often by decorating time it's easy to get sick of the mess and just want to get it over with.  Careful planning, patience, and preparation are the keys to a beautiful house.

I have tips for making a custom house and tips for making houses with kids.  Have fun!


Step 1- Templates    

You can make your own template or there are a lot of free patterns online that you can print off and cut out.

To make your own template

1. Make a model out of cardboard to make sure it fits together properly.  Make sure it has adequate support for the roof.

2.  Record measurements in inches.

3.  Make a template on the computer using Photoshop.  This will give you straight edges and accurate measurements.  The cardboard model will be much more rough and hard to cut dough from.

4.  Print and cut out templates.
 
Templates for houses above can be found at:
http://www.ultimategingerbread.com/free%20patterns/Elf-House-Pattern.pdf
http://www.ultimategingerbread.com/free%20patterns/Barn-Pattern.pdf 

Step 2- Shopping
Now that you know the shape and dimensions of the house, try to visualize the type and placement of the candy, frosting, and colors.  Make a list of possible items, then shop at a store with a lot of candy options.

Tips for candy shopping
1Buy only items that look good together- The biggest mistake people make is just buying a bunch of different candies and hope they'll look good together.  Create a color and appearance scheme and stick with it.

2Buy neutral colors- Even if you will be using some bold colors, you'll need some neutral colors as well.  Marshmallows, pretzels, and peppermints are good items to keep on hand.  Cereals, cookies, and crackers are also great.

3Avoid cheap variety packs of candy.  The colors and shapes often don't look good together and will cheapen the look of the house.

4Avoid licorice and long bendable candies-  they are tempting to buy and seem easy to use, but it's hard to straighten them and will make the house look messy.

5Buy ice cream cones- These make a great base for evergreen trees.

Tips for Gingerbread and Icing Shopping
1Plan to make more gingerbread than you think you'll need.  It's really frustrating to be short and have to make another batch.

2 Buy PLENTY of powdered sugar and eggs.  It's good to have a lot of frosting.  You'll use it for building the house, decorating, edging, making icicles, covering up mistakes, and covering the base.  You may want some to color for trees, wreaths and flowers as well.

3Buy disposable icing bags.  It is great to have plenty of these on hand.  They are a bit expensive, but it's worth it to not worry about cleaning them out.  There will be plenty of other messes to clean up.



Step 3- Baking
The recipe here makes a sturdy, fragrant gingerbread.   It comes out the oven soft and easy to trim, then hardens in a few minutes.  It's not my favorite to eat, but perfect for making houses.
Gingerbread
Heat oven to 375.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the butter, brown sugar, molasses, and water.  Beat on high using the whisk attachment, 2-3 minutes. In a seperate bowl, add the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and baking soda. 

1 c (8 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c (4 oz) light molasses
1/4 c (2 oz) water
2 T cinnamon
2 T ground ginger
1 T ground cloves
2 t baking soda
4 c (1 lb 4 oz) all-purpose flour

Mix well.  Add to the wet mixture.  Using a paddle attachment, mix until flour is just incorporated.

 Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll out on a pastry mat or a lightly floured countertop until 1/4 inch thick.  Lay a cut out template piece on top.  Trim the dough around the template.  Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.  Continue with the other pieces.

A canvas baking mat and rolling pin sleeve are wonderful for soft rolls, pie crusts, sugar cookies, and many other soft doughs. You can flour them generously and the excess flour works into the mat and the sleeve leaving the dough soft. You can get them for $10 on http://www.thebakersplace.com/pastrymat.html.  I've also seen them at Bed Bath & Beyond.

 If there is too much flour, it will work into the dough and make it dry.  Dry dough is more brittle and often cracks while baking.

 
Bake 10-12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and place the template on each piece again.  Trim off any excess.  Carefully transfer to a cooling rack.  Continue until all of the pieces are made. 
Place the template cut outs on top of the pieces to help you remember which piece goes where.  Cover until ready to use.  You can freeze them at this point up to 4 months ahead of time. 
 
 
Dough spreads when it bakes.  It is still soft when removed from the oven for a few minutes.  Trimming it at this point will give the cookie straight edges.  This will make the house stronger, easier to build, and sharper looking.  You could bake large sheet of dough and trim it later, but it wastes more of the cookie and is harder to roll out the dough and transfer it.

Step 4- Windows, Icing, and Trees
Candy Windows
Place cooked gingerbread on parchment paper on a flat surface that can handle heat.  Brush crumbs off. Combine sugar, hot water and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan. Place on high heat and stir until all the sugar crystals are dissolved. Without stirring, cook until 290 F, about 15 minutes.  It is necessary to use a thermometer to get the temperature exact.  Remove from heat.

1 cup granulated cane sugar
1/3 cup hot water
1/3 cup light com syrup
food coloring (optional)
The candy mixture gets very hot, so you want to pour it on a surface that won't get ruined by heat.  A baking sheet works well.  A granite countertop or candy stone also works. 

A thermometer is necessary to get the windows right.  The temperature needs to reach 290 degrees for the windows to set up and last.  I got impatient once and used it 20 degrees too cool.  They seemed fine and hardened, but over time they began to droop.  The windows that I heated properly stayed hard and looked great.

Add food coloring if desired. While hot, pour the candy into window and door cut-outs.     Place a kitchen knife or other flat metal object along the bottom of the door to contain the hot candy.  Let it cool completely before moving it or peeling off the parchment.

If the mixture starts to cool before you've used all you need, reheat it on the stove and use again.

To clean the pan, fill it with water and bring to a boil.  Stir to loosen it from the sides and bottom of the pan.  Once it's all melted, wash as you normally would.

 
I like to use the excess for shapes that can be used for decorating.  Pour the mixture it into metal cookie cutters. Let them cool completely, then remove them by pushing them out or gently stretching the sides of cutter.  

Royal Icing
Beat all ingredients on high. Beat until fluffy and doubled in size, about 3 minutes.  Add food coloring if desired. 

Royal Icing with egg whites
8 large egg whites
2 T plus 2 t lemon juice
12 c (3 lbs) powdered sugar
food coloring (optional)

Royal Icing with powdered egg whites
I prefer real egg whites, but if you're worried about using raw eggs this is a good but expensive option.
1/2 c plus 1 T meringue powder
12 c (3 lbs) powdered sugar
1 c lukewarm water 
I like to color a small portion of the icing red for holly berries.  I also color a cup or two green for trees, bushes, and window flowers.
Transfer to decorator's bags.  Keep covered until ready to use.  Good in the refrigerator up to three days. Edge the windows and doors. Pipe green icing on for garnish.  Add three dots for berries.

 I like to transfer the icing directly into decorator's bags so they are ready to use.  I like to have one bag with red, one with green, and two or more with white.  I keep the extra covered and refrigerated.  Be sure to cover the tips or the frosting will dry and be difficult to clean out.

Royal icing dries out quickly which makes it perfect for building and decorating gingerbread houses, but anoying for storage.

After three days the icing gets goey.  You can still use it, but add more powdered sugar to stiffen it back up.

Step 5- Making the Base & Assembling

 

Cover a piece of foil with cardboard Build the house, piping with Wilton tip #12  

Step 6- Decorating!
Add shutters or any window garnishes. Make the trees using ice cream cones.  Pipe the icing using Wilton #352. Make wreaths using Wilton tips #352 & #8.

I use cotton for the chimney.  It's not candy, but looks cute! Make icicles using tip #8 and bushes using tip #352.  Edge the house using tip #32 Drill a hole in the back and push the lights in.  You can do this before assembling the house, but I usually do it later.

   
Add any details or garnishes you'd like.  I added a hot tub and two chocolate dogs to this house.    

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Gingerbread Recipe
from www.foodnetwork.com

1 c (8 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c (4 oz) light molasses
1/4 c (2 oz) water
2 T cinnamon
2 T ground ginger
1 T ground cloves
2 t baking soda
4 c (1 lb 4 oz) all-purpose flour

1.  Heat oven to 375.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the butter, brown sugar, molasses, and water.  Beat on high using the whisk attachment, 2-3 minutes.

2.  In a seperate bowl, add the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and baking soda.  Mix well, then add to the wet mixture.  Using a paddle attachment, mix until flour is just incorporated.

3.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll out on a (1)pastry mat or a (2)lightly floured countertop about 1/4 inch thick.  Lay a cut out template piece on top.  Trim the dough around the template.  Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.  Continue with the other pieces.

4.  Bake 10-12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and place the template on each piece again.  (3)Trim off any excess.  Carefully transfer to a cooling rack.  Continue until all of the pieces are made. 

5 Place the template cut outs on top of the pieces to help you remember which piece goes where.  You can freeze them at this point up to 4 months ahead of time. 
Gingerbread Notes

1 A canvas baking mat and rolling pin sleeve are wonderful for soft rolls, pie crusts, sugar cookies, and many other soft doughs. You can flour them generously and the excess flour works into the mat and the sleeve leaving the dough soft. You can get them for $10 on http://www.thebakersplace.com/pastrymat.html.  I've also seen them at Bed Bath & Beyond.

2.  If there is too much flour, it will work into the dough and make it dry.  Dry dough is more brittle and often cracks while baking.

3.  Dough spreads when it bakes.  It is still soft when removed from the oven for a few minutes.  Trimming it at this point will give the cookie straight edges.  This will make the house stronger, easier to build, and sharper looking.  You could bake large sheet of dough and trim it later, but it wastes more of the cookie and is harder to roll out the dough and transfer it.


Candy Windows 
1 cup granulated cane sugar
1/3 cup hot water
1/3 cup light com syrup
food coloring (optional)

1.  Place cooked gingerbread on parchment paper on a flat surface that can (1)handle heat.  Brush crumbs off.

2. Combine sugar, hot water and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan. Place on high heat and stir until all the sugar crystals are dissolved. Without stirring, cook until (2)290 F, about 15 minutes.  It is necessary to use a thermometer to get the temperature exact.  Remove from heat.

3.  Add food coloring if desired. While hot, pour the candy into window and door cut-outs.  Place a kitchen knife or other flat metal object along the bottom of the door to contain the hot candy.  Let it cool completely before moving it or peeling off the parchment.  

If the mixture cools and thickens, it can be reheated and poured.  I have only tried this within 15 minutes of making it.  I don't think it would work an hour or more later. 

With the excess I like to make shapes that can be used for decorating.  Hearts, stars, and flowers are useful.  Just pour the mixture into a metal mold that is placed on parchment paper.  Let it cool completely.  Remove the candy from the mold by gently pushing it out or stretching the sides of the mold.  

To clean the candy pan, fill it with water and bring it to a boil.  Stir to release the candy off the bottom and sides.  Dump the water and wash as you normally would.
Window Notes
1.  The candy mixture gets very hot, so you want to pour it on a surface that won't get ruined by heat.  A baking sheet works well.  A granite countertop or candy stone also works. 

2.  A thermometer is necessary to get the windows right.  The temperature needs to reach 290 degrees for the windows to set up and last.  I got impatient once and used it 20 degrees too cool.  They seemed fine and hardened, but over time they began to droop.  The windows that I heated properly stayed hard and looked great.
Royal Icing with egg whites
http://www.joyofbaking.com/RoyalIcing.html#ixzz177Gtik4o

8 large egg whites
2 T plus 2 t lemon juice
12 c (3 lbs) powdered sugar
food coloring (optional)

Beat all ingredients on high until fluffy and doubled in size, about 3 minutes.  Add (1)food coloring if desired.  Transfer to (2)decorator's bags.  Keep (3)covered until ready to use.  Good in the refrigerator up to (4)three days.

Royal Icing with powdered egg whites
I prefer real egg whites, but if you're worried about using raw eggs this is a good but expensive option.

1/2 c plus 1 T meringue powder
12 c (3 lbs) powdered sugar
1 c lukewarm water 

Beat all ingredients on medium speed 5-7 minutes.  Keep (3)covered until ready to use.  Good in the refrigerator up to (4)three days. 
Icing Notes

1.  I like to color a small portion of the icing red for holly berries.  I also color a cup or two green for trees, bushes, and window flowers. 

2.  I like to transfer the icing directly into decorator's bags so they are ready to use.  I like to have one bag with red, one with green, and two or more with white.  I keep the extra covered and refrigerated.  Be sure to cover the tips or the frosting will dry and be difficult to clean out.

3.  Royal icing dries out quickly which makes it perfect for building and decorating gingerbread houses, but anoying for storage.

4.  After three days the icing gets goey.  You can still use it, but add more powdered sugar to stiffen it back up.

Custom House Tips
I recommend splitting up the work into at least three days.



Day 1
1- make a cardboard model
2- measure and record the size of each piece
3- create a digital copy of each piece using Photoshop
4- print and cut out templates
5- create a shopping list- look at the cardboard model and visualize what you need and how much of it

Day 2
1- shop for all of the ingredients and candy
2- make, cut out, and bake the gingerbread, cool completely
3- make the icing, color it if desired, transfer to decorator's bags
4- cover a large piece of cardboard with foil
5- edge the windows and doors
6- build the house- this is good to do a day before decorating so the icing can dry to make the house strong

Day 3  
Decorating!

Tips For Making Houses With Kids
I love making houses with kids.  This doesn't mean you have the give them the candy and icing and let them go at it.  Create a plan with them and let them place the candy.  Finish it off with edging and icicles to make it nice looking house with a kid's touch.  They will be proud of it and so will you.



1.
  Choose candies that look good together.
2.  Make the icing and transfer it to decorator's bags.
3.  Build the houses ahead of time.
4. 
Set out the candy and make a plan with the kids.
5.  You pipe the icing while the kids place the candy.
6.  When the kids are done, you edge the house and make the icicles.  This gives it a nice finished look.

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