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There is something magical about gingerbread houses.  I have always loved assembling them with friends and family while listening to holiday tunes, drinking hot chocolate, snacking on clementines, and soaking in Christmas joy.   I have been satisfied with the kit from the grocery store over the past few years,  but last year, I wanted to try something even more special.

Just before Christmas, my old roomate from Toronto came up to visit me.  We had two missions: visit Peggy’s Cove and build a gingerbread house from scratch.   With -9 C cold and biting winds, we braved Maritime weather to drive out to the Cove.  As for the gingerbread house, we were inspired by Joy of Cooking, with their tried and true recipes, to build one from scratch.  Over two days we mixed, rolled-out, baked, and decorated the house.

The most difficult element of this recipe is waiting: waiting for the dough to chill, wating for the gingerbread to bake (while delicious aromas waft through the house), and waiting for the icing to set.  But the end result was well worth it: A gorgeous gingerbread house – with far more delicious candy and gingerbread than you find in a kit – of which we are incredibly proud!

The gingerbread can be baked up to a week in advance of assembling.

 

Gingerbread House

(makes one gingerbread house, about 5 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches high on a 9-inch square base, plus a few extra cookies)

 

Ingredients:

GINGERBREAD DOUGH

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup molasses

5 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
 

ROYAL ICING

3 large egg whites

3 cups icing sugar

Food dye

1/2 teaspoon vanilla
 

DECORATION

Your favouite candy for decorating a gingerbread house.  The sky’s the limit!
 
Gingerbread house!
 

Directions:

GINGERBREAD DOUGH RECIPE

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar and molasses and stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture no longer feels gritty. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients except for 1/2 cup of flour.  Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the lukewarm butter mixture, and beat to blend everything together.  Work in the remaining flour, beating until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Remove the dough from the bowl and knead 3 or 4 times on the counter, until smooth and pliable.  Wrap well and refrigerate until dough is thoroughly cool.

After refrigerating, if the dough feels to soft to roll out, work in a tiny bit more flour.
 

GINGERBREAD HOUSE PREPARATION

PREPARE THE PATTERN PIECES: Copy the pattern pieces onto stiff cardboard and cut them out.  You should have seven pieces: 2 sides; 1 front and 1 back; 2 roof panels; and 1 base.  Rub flour over both sides of the pattern pieces to prevent the dough from sticking to them.

SIDES – cut two: 4 inches x 3 inches (base x height).  If desired, add a window (1 inch x 1 inch) in the middle.

FRONT AND BACK – cut two: 5 1/4 inches x 6 3/4 inches (base x height).  These pieces should be pentagon shaped (so the base is 5 1/4 inches, the height is 6 3/4 inches in the centre, but only 3 inches on the sides).  If desired, add a door (1 inch by 2 inches) and two windows (1 inch by 1inch).

ROOF – cut two: 5 inches x 6 inches

BASE – cut one: 9 inches x 9 inches
 

BAKING THE GINGERBREAD

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Position the racks to divide the oven in thirds.

With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out about one-third of the dough directly on an ungreased cookie sheat, preferably with only 1 raised edge, to about 1/4 inch thick.  Lightly dust the dough with flour.  Position as many pattern pieces as will fit comfortably on top of the rolled dough, leaving about 3/4 inches between them to allow for spreading during baking.  Cut around the patterns with a sharp paring knife.  Remove the pattern pieces.  Peel away the dough between the cut pieces and gather the scraps together to reroll.  Repeat with a second and third cookie sheet if needed, using the remaining dough and cutting out all the pieces.

Cut around, but do not lift out the windows and front door (if they are removed know, the shapes will warp). Roll out the scraps and use cookie cutters or a paring knife to cut out gingerbread people, fence posts, animals, and other designs.

Bake the gingerbread pieces 12 to 15 minutes, or until the colour darkens slightly and the pieces feel nearly stiff – they will firm completely as they cool.

As soon as they come out of the oven, set the cookie sheets on a heatproof surface and immediately, while the dough is still hot, place the pattern pieces on the corresponding pieces of hot gingerbread.  One at a time, cut around each pattern with a paring knife (trimming all the house edges will make them fit together neatly.  Lift off and save the scraps for decorations.  Cut out and remove doors and windows.  While the dough is still warm, you can cut each window in half to make them shutters.

Once the shapes are rigid but still slightly warm, use a broad spatula to transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.  Store them flat on a tray or in a sturdy box in a cool, dry place until ready to assemble.
 

ROYAL ICING

Stir together the egg whites, vanilla, and 1 cup of the icing sugar in a microwave-safe bowl until thoroughly combined.  Microwave on high until the mixture reaches 160 F on a thermometer, 30 to 60 seconds.

Add 2 cups of icing sugar and beat on high speed until the icing is cool and holds stiff peaks.

If the icing is not stiff enough, add more sugar.  Color, if desired, with liquid food colouring.

The icing can be stored in a covered container for up to 3 days: Press a piece of wax or parchment paper directly against the surface to prevent drying.  The icing can be rebeaten if necessary.

To pipe, use a small pastry bag fitted with a fine tip, or cut off the corner of a sealable plastic bag or the tip of a parchment paper cone.   Immediately cover bowls of icing with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out; keep tightly covered when you are not using the icing.
 

ASSEMBLING THE HOUSE

Set the gingerbread base right side up on a tray. (The right side of each piece is the side facing up when baked). Centre the front, back, and side pieces, right side down, on top of the base, with the bottom corners touching.  Pipe out a thick 1/2-inch-deep line of icing around the foundation lines.  One at a time, lift the side pieces into place, and pipe a generous line of icing along both side edges of each piece.  Repeat with the front and back pieces, icing their side edges and standing them up in the foundation icing next to the sides.  Gently press all the iced edges of the house together.  If the icing is thick enough, the house should now stand up unaided (but if it is wobbly, support it on all four sides wiht jars or cans until the icing dries, 1 hour to overnight, depending on the humidity.  Do NOT attempt to add the roof until the icing is dry and structure feels solid.

To attach the roof, spread icing generously along the top edges of each house piece and along one long edge of each roof panel.  Press the roof panels in place, touching each other at the peak.  Use your fingertip to smooth all the joints where pieces meet; add extra icing if necessary for stability.  If the roof panels droop, support them with jars or cans until the icing sets.  Don’t decorate the room until the icing is set, or the weight of the decorations may cause it to collapse.

To decorate the house, using icing to glue on the window shutters and position the front door ajar.  Use icing as glue, decorate the house with your favourite candies.

To make icicles: add a little water to some of the white icing, and pipe drippy icicles along the edges of the roof.

For snow: lightly sift icing sugar over the top of the house and the base.
 

Bon appetit!

– Catherine

SAM_7223

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