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.

First, as Gerald the Elephant says "you must make a plan."  The [gingerbread recipe] is enough for two 9x13 cookie sheets.  I use posterboard to draw my shapes.  This year, fortuitously, the posterboard we bought had 1/2" grid lines on it.  This was awesome.  (The second sheet with the roofs is not shown).

My standard plan is a 5"x5" front and back, with a triangular gable that is 2.5" tall.  You certainly don't want a larger pitch than 45 degrees!  The sides are 7"x5", and the roof is 9"x6".  This is important!  The roof needs to be long enough to have eaves on all sides, and to account for the thickness of the walls (1/4-1/2" each.)  We also built a chimney out of four pieces, two slanted to match the roof.  If you want to do stained glass windows it would be convenient to cut window holes in your plan.  This year the windows were a last minute addition, so they came out off center and not-quite-square...but still damn good looking if you ask me.

In the end, our plan looked like this.  A little askew but workable!

Now, we're ready to make the dough and cut the pieces.

If you cut out window holes, here's how to make stained-glass windows..

When the pieces are baked, cooled, and firmed, it's time to make the royal icing.  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.

And then we can have a good ol' gingerbread-house-raisin'.  Just like the Amish, this takes more than one person.  Start with one wall, and put some icing down to keep it in place.

Next, put the back, other side, and front on.  I usually put the front and back inside the sides, but depending on how your gingerbread warped when it dried, you may want to switch this up.  Be liberal with the icing to fill the cracks.  It'll hold pretty well after a few minutes.

Next, put the roof on.  Be careful and patient and it will stay on without any problems.  When the roof is in place, you can attach the chimney.

Finally, it's time to decorate!  Our favorite decoration is the Dots gumdrops.  They're bright, not too dense, and have a nice flat bottom to attach to the roof.  We also use M&Ms, red vines, and candy canes to make candy cane hearts.

And that's it!

All pictures copyright Rebecca Stanek, all rights reserved.

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