Sunday, December 16, 2007

2007 Christmas Issue: Christmas Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread Houses

Christmas at our house means gingerbread house time. We made some simple ones when
the children were little. You know the kind - graham crackers and frosting - but that’s not what we do now. Before everyone comes home, I bake a house.

Rick starts by choosing a house pattern and making cardboard pattern pieces for the walls and roof. Generally I have to double the recipes for gingerbread to make the house but it goes quickly now because I have a method.

I put parchment paper on a baking pan, roll the dough out, cut around the pattern and remove the extra dough. Since I don’t pick anything up, I no longer stretch the rectangles into some frustrating parallelogram or wonky trapezoid.

When they are cool, I glue the pieces together. The first time I glued a house it was without appreciation for the searing temperature of melted sugar. I thought I had to hurry and while hurrying I dripped melted sugar on my hand. It took about two weeks to heal.

Now I wear neoprene gloves and move slowly and carefully. With all the pieces arranged on the kitchen counter and an aluminum foil-covered board at the ready I melt sugar in a large frying pan. Sugar melts into sticky syrup. I dip two sides of a wall into the goo and then place the wall on the board. I know that there’s enough time to move slowly and deliberately.

I worry a little about putting roof on. I have to use a spoon to drip glue on the top of the wall and then place the roof parts. The small pieces of the chimney go on easily and they add style. Often I put a few trees or shrubs or a snowman in the “yard” or pour the sugar/syrup into a “walkway” in front of the door. The sugar glue hardens and the house waits for candy.

At our house all the food we share has to be vegan and that, just a couple of years ago, limited our choices of candies for decoration but now one can get just about anything in a vegan formula so we get pretty darn colorful.

Christmas Eve is decorating time. We get some drinks, turn on the holiday music and put the house on the dining room table surrounding it with bowls of candies. I make lots of frosting for the decorations and we get the kitchen scissors, knives and our fingers very gooey in the process.

Often each of us claims a section of the house and gets to work, a process that means the house looks different from each angle. We cover it with enough candy-tile to make Anton Gaudi jealous and us happy.

As soon as it’s finished it is okay to start eating it but usually the sampling of materials has already made us sick on sugar by then. Our gingerbread house is the best 50,000 calorie project of the year.

Basic Gingerbread House Dough
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 or 3 tsps ground ginger (use a really good quality spice)
1 or 2 tsp ground cinnamon (Vietnamese is my favorite)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup molasses
2 Tbs soymilk, or as needed

In a large bowl stir together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. (This is the step where our kitchen floor gets messy.)
In a saucepan, combine the shortening, brown sugar, and molasses over low heat.
Stir occasionally until the shortening is melted and the sugar is dissolved,
but still slightly grainy. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool to lukewarm.
Gradually add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing until well blended.
Add enough soymilk to make a firm dough.

Gather the dough into a ball, and cover with plastic wrap.
Let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes. (When tightly sealed, the dough will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before rolling.)
Preheat oven to 325 F. Position rack in the center of the oven.
Use ungreased baking sheets or use parchment paper.
With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough 1/4" thick, and cut out desired shapes.
Bake until the edges are slightly brown, about 15 minutes.
Makes enough for 1 small gingerbread house (8" x 8").

Gingerbread House Glue*
Pour a layer of sugar about 1" thick in a heavy frying pan.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon
until it melts. This makes a quick-hardening, edible glue.
*Caution, this is VERY hot, do not taste or touch!!

Frosting Glue
This frosting works well if made with egg whites but it's okay with water
1/3 cup water (or 3 egg whites)
1/2 t cream of tartar
about a pound of confectioner's sugar
Whip till smooth if you can stand the noise of your mixer.

People tell me that these can be sprayed with a clear finish and saved for years but we nibble on the peanut brittle and chocolate until the house seems less than glorious and then we get serious and eat the gingerbread.

1 comment:

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