Monday, December 9, 2013

The Complete Guide to Building a Gingerbread House

When I was a young lad, my mom made a gingerbread house every December, and I loved helping to decorate it.  A few years ago, right after Sam was born, I revived the tradition.  (I wanted to have a track record of building them so the first one when Sam was aware of what was going on wouldn't be a disaster.)  These days my mom buys the kits ... and she offers me one every year.  NEVER.

Over the years, I've amassed a list of bookmarks for the combination of recipes that I use.  And every year I have to sift through them and figure out what works and what doesn't.  Why?  Because I've been too lazy to write it up.  But not this year!  It's a Chrismathanksgivikah miracle!

I've split the directions up into multiple posts.  This post has the overview and assembly instructions.  The next post has the gingerbread recipe..  Following is the optional stained glass window recipe.  Finally, the royal icing recipe.

Note that this must be done over a couple of days: the dough should chill in the fridge overnight; then the walls need a couple of hours to fully set before the house should be assembled and decorated.

Gingerbread with Fresh Ginger

I've tried many gingerbread recipes.  I've settled on a slight variation on this one. It's the perfect amount to make two 9"x13" baking sheets, suitable for the 5"x7"x8" house in my Complete Guide.  For best results, you should make the gingerbread dough on one day, refrigerate it overnight, and roll and bake it the next day.  You'll want to bake the gingerbread for a bit before cutting out the pieces.  Otherwise, they'll expand while baking and they won't fit together as expected.

Gingerbread House Stained Glass Windows

This was the first year that I tried to make stained glass windows for the gingerbread house.  And it was a lot easier than I had feared ... and they look great!  I used a variation on this stained glass recipe.  They've gone through all the trouble over many years perfecting the method.  Fantastic!

Gingerbread House Royal Icing

The final component to a gingerbread house is the royal icing.  This is literally the glue that holds everything together.  My favorite royal icing recipe is adapted from here.  It uses cream of tartar, which apparently has some magical property to help stabilize the egg whites (along with being the other half of baking powder).  It really does make a difference!

It really helps to put this in a squeeze bottle or other icing bottle.  If you don't have one available, you can apparently use a ziploc bag and cut a hole in the corner.  But seriously?  This doesn't work.  Get a bottle.