The holidays have the aroma of pine trees, spiced cider, candles, and woodsmoke to me. The smells bring back memories of Christmas traditions from my childhood, mostly food-related: we baked a lot of cookies and made a lot of fudge, popcorn balls and caramels for parties and friends.
Easily the most exciting tradition for us was making gingerbread houses. It seemed like a long process back then, but really, it’s just two days. Perfect for a weekend family project.
Recipe, instructions, and a video after the jump…
- 1 cup butter or vegan alternative, room temperature
- 6 cups flour
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 1 cup molasses
- 2 eggs or equivalent egg replacer
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground allspice
Mix all of the dry ingredients together with a whisk. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar, then add the molasses and eggs and beat well.
Add about half of the flour mixture to the butter mix and stir well. Add the rest of the flour in increments until fully mixed. If the dough seems really wet, add flour until it has a smooth doughy consistency. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate overnight. You could also start it in the morning and bake it that night.
A traditional frosting is called royal icing:
- 3 egg whites
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 3 & 1/2 cups of powdered (confectioners) sugar
Beat the whites until foamy, add the cream of tartar and beat until stiff. Beat in the sugar, mixing for 5 minutes or until a thick consistency is reached. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
A vegan version of the frosting:
- 3 cups of powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of Silk Nog or soy milk
- egg replacer for 3 eggs
Beat the soy milk, egg replacer and vanilla together, then add powdered sugar and beat until thickened. Add more sugar as needed. This recipe tends to be runnier than the royal icing.
You may need two batches of icing for a house, depending on the size and amount of decorations you apply.
Gingerbread House Instructions:
- Get a basic pattern here: Holiday House Pattern or AFrame (PDF) or Colonial (PDF). You can also plan one out with cardboard or paperboard, taped together, and then use those pieces as templates to cut out yours.
- Take the dough out of the fridge and let it warm to room temperature for about 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 325° F.
- Sprinkle flour over your work surface, and roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is about 1/4 thick.
- Lay out your pattern pieces, starting with the biggest. Cut around the patterns and remove the scraps. Cut any windows out now. Gently transfer the cut pieces to a foil-lined cookie sheet with a spatula.
- Combine the scraps in a bowl and roll out again for the rest of your pattern pieces. Make shutters, flagstones, a fancy chimney, or gingerbread people with the leftover dough.
- Bake them for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough should be somewhat firm when done. Remove foil and pieces as one from the cookie sheet after 5 minutes and let cool on a rack to finish. Don’t try to assemble it when the pieces are still warm.
- Cover a stiff board or cookie sheet with tin-foil (make sure you won’t need it for a while, as it is the base for the house).
- Start with the rear wall, covering the bottom of the piece with icing and placing in position on the base. Prop the wall up with a heavy jar (water bottle).
- Add the first side piece, using the icing as glue to affix it to the base and the back. Assemble the other side, then the front.
- Once you have four walls together, the house should stand up by itself. To strengthen and beautify it, run a bead of icing along the outside joints.
- Carefully frost the top of the house where the roof sits, and add the roof panels. Run a bead of icing along the top to help hold it together.
- Let the icing dry before decorating the house. The house should be solid, and the icing should feel firm.
- Using more icing, decorate your gingerbread house with dried fruit and nuts, candy, sprinkles, popcorn, whatever…
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar for snow.
- Make a front walk with gingerbread flagstones, or a porch and yard filled with Lego people.
Lazy Gingerbread House:
- Buy some cinnamon graham crackers
- Grab a tub of pre-made frosting
- Make a bunch of tiny houses and eat them for dessert
Here’s the video with a slightly different recipe for those who learn best by watching:
Image: net efekt at Flickr under Creative Commons License