Christmas season is upon us, and one of the delightful things about this season is the many opportunities it holds for making lasting good memories.
Gingerbread House Memories
Creating a gingerbread house is one traditional, and super fun way to pull in many of our favorite things: the delicious aroma of the gingerbread, the visions of sugarplums in the form of applied candies, creating things in miniature. It is whimsical, homey, and has a touch of fantasy all at once.
The amount of time and work involved depends solely on the choice of the maker, nowadays. We once had to bake all the gingerbread parts and assemble them carefully, but today with the many kits available it is quick and simple.
Of course, the kits are lacking in the creativity and detail of expert bake and craft mavens, but their easiness and convenience make a premier craft activity for children.
My mother and I made some of the home baked gingerbread houses in my youth. I still remember decorating upside down cones with icing and candies for the Christmas trees outside the house. We used “Necco” candies for roof tiles… it was quite an undertaking! But you see, here I am, a sixty something grandmother, with vivid and happy memories of that Christmas project of long ago.
Kits Make It Easy
More recently, when the grandchildren were here, I had purchased a kit for them to do up in the manner they wished. Everything was included and the work was quick, which suited the schedule and their attention spans. The result was no piece of artwork, but it was immense fun!
I plan to do the same this year. They can take more time, but for the short time they are here, the simplicity of a ready-made kit is ideal.
There are so many options, from plain cookie and icing ones available at Ikea to more traditional ones from Wilton online, or at most Walmart stores. I see them offered in many stores!
Of course, if you plan to eat your project, I would definitely make them from scratch. There used to be a page online that was the most complete set of directions. I have a recipe and edited some of the instructions included with it for making your own from scratch.
5 1/2cups flourto 5 3/4 Flour or - more for very stiff dough
TO MIX GB DOUGH: Pour melted Crisco into mixer bowl. Let cool slightly; add sugar and Karo, blending well. Add eggs, mixing all until smooth and creamy. Add salt, baking soda and spices into mixture and begin to add flour, just a little at a time. Knead the flour in when dough becomes too stiff for the mixer. DON'T HURRY THIS STEP! Continue adding as much flour as the dough will absorb.
TO ROLL OUT DOUGH: Lightly grease baking pans. Roll the dough out, lay pattern pieces on, and cut the desired shapes. Leave a 1" space between each piece so they won't bake together. Remove the excess dough and the pattern pieces.
WINDOWS: Must be cut before baking. You can add crushed hard candy for "a stained glass look." Use "sour ball" candies. Crush them with a hammer before unwrapping the pieces.
If pieces bake together, cut them apart immediately after removing from oven, while house parts are still hot and soft.
Bake house pieces at 375 degrees for 5-8 minutes. Pieces should not brown. Again, slide the cardboard back under the foil to remove the baked house pieces from the oven. Cool on flat surface.
ASSEMBLY: To "glue" house together
1. Use a very sturdy tray or 2-3 cardboards to set the house on. Cover cardboard with FDA foil or white freezer paper!.
Three 14" round cardboards together work well for this size house.
2. Using #5 tip in decorator bag, back of house first; pipe out icing on each side-edge of back. Stand the back house piece up and place one side at a time against the back of house. Prop with cans of soup, etc, if it doesn't stay firmly together. Or hold it for a few moments, until house feels like it is staying together.
3. Place icing up the front edges of standing sides. Add house front section. Let dry for 10-15 minutes, then add roof and chimney.
4. Decorate with desired candies using royal icing to hold decorations on.
5. Do "landscaping" last. Let dry and store covered away from dust.
Christmas Ornament Cookies
Before baking the cookie, use a straw to punch a hole to tie a string through. Add the string before baking.
"TREES" can be added on the "lawn" made of ice cream cones, decorating tip #67 or 352. While icing is still wet, sprinkle on multi-colored sugar decorations.
Window shutters for the house can be of gingerbread or candies. Sugar wafer cookies also make nice shutters.
Put a Light in It?
A single tiny light bulb on a chord - the type ceramics shops have - can be inserted through a hole in the bottom of the cardboard your house sits on. This hole must be cut before assembly.
*recipes and directions from Dolores Inlow McCann. Her wonderful site is gone, but her helpful hints remain.
Share this Recipe
Whether you decide to make your own cookie construction in your kitchen, or assemble a simple store bought one, this is a wonderful activity to add some priceless memories this Christmas.
Use this icing recipe to construct Gingerbread house and decorate with candies.
RECIPE FOR ROYAL ICING
1 1/2 cup Warm water
12 Tb. Meringue powder
4 lb. Powdered sugar
1 tsp. Almond extract
Beat until icing loses it’s shine and stands in peaks.
Beat water and meringue powder until frothy. Add as much p. sugar as necessary. Continue beating until icing stands in peaks. Color as desired.
Icing should not be stiff or house will not hold together as long. Add more water to thin the icing if necessary.
Makes enough for 2-3 houses. Can half recipe.
ROYAL ICING NOTES:
Icing will keep about 2 weeks unrefrigerated or may be stored in fridge for months. Seal very tightly so that it doesn’t harden into lumps. (Tupperware or similar container is very good container)
Requires heavy-duty table mixer*
Any bit of oil will cause this icing to become soupy and unusable.
Icing should not be stiff or GB houses fall apart a lot sooner!
You might want to add 1/4 ts Cream of Tartar for additional icing strength.
You have found a wonderful resource, if I don’t say so, myself. This post is dedicated to all cookie bakers, especially holiday cooks. Which in my book are the most discerning of culinary artists.
That sounds way too fancy, so let’s just say home cooks who like to serve their families the best possible dishes and treats. Because that is a culinary artist.
A list of great cookies
Mamas Hungarian Cooking: Lemon Kossuth Cookies is a printable recipe for my Mother’s favorite Hungarian cookie. She was always baking them, and they are easy and delicious. Start out with this one for any time of year, any occasion.
My First Choice Nut-filled Kifli is the best recipe for baking lots of these fantastic cookies. I consider them fine enough for Christmas… which is the top level of recipe. Good for family and company. Printable recipe.
Years ago, before all the plugins for making professional recipe pages, I put all my very best cookie and dessert recipes on the web. Eventually they will be updated on this site, but in the meantime, Find Cookies I, Cookies II, Cookies III and just print the pages.
Now, you have a great collection of recipes to start your holiday baking. What are you waiting for? Many of these pages include helpful tips to make sure your efforts are a success, and they are tested by years with my family, so I am pretty sure your family will love them, too.
Have fun with this part of the Christmas season. Fill your house with the smell of delicious cookies baking and coming fresh from your oven. It only takes a few sessions and one recipe at a time to make a really happy and festive atmosphere.
Yes, we have to watch our calories, but that is when we generously give away platters of homebaked goodies to grateful friends!