A home for the holidays
Skip the kit and bake your own gingerbread house
Everyone has little things that remind them of being a kid at home during the holidays. For me, it’s garland hung from every ceiling beam in our cottage-style home, twinkle lights wrapped around each window and having my friends over to decorate home-baked gingerbread houses with my Mom.
Hours before I’d wake up for school, mom would be in the kitchen mixing, rolling, baking, stenciling and assembling gingerbread houses. After days of construction, a group of us would gather with our own houses around a table covered with candy canes, skittles, marshmallows and whatever else was on sale in the candy isle to decorate our structures.
Even through my teenage years, during Christmas Mom would always offer to host a gingerbread extravaganza for my friends and me. (There were gingerbread men and women, too, and it probably goes without saying that our decorating skills got better—and more anatomically intricate—as we got older.)
Now that I’m grown, Mom is hours away, but this year I got an itch to execute the tradition. So, I took a stab at building my own home—away from Mom (but with her just an e-mail and phone call away)—with bits and pieces of the tradition she created oozing from each wall. As I made a mess of my kitchen, I was reminded of how much work (and love) my Mom put into assembling those cute, sweet-smelling abodes.
Julie’s Christmas Gingerbread Houses
Things you’ll need: Nonstick spray, wax paper, foil, sturdy cardboard, toothpicks, rolling pin, two 11x16 baking sheets (with sides), assorted candies.
6 cups all-purpose flour
6 tbsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup honey
1 3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, unsalted
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk (save white for icing)
2 egg whites
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Coat pans lightly with nonstick spray and flour. Sift first seven ingredients into large bowl; set aside. In large pot, bring honey, sugar and butter to boil and cook five minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into mixer bowl (or regular bowl) and cool to room temperature.
Beat in two cups of sifted ingredients with dough hook. Beat in rest of dry ingredients. If you do not have mixer, flour hands and knead until dough is soft, pliable and sticky. Add more flour if it’s too sticky (one tsp. at a time).
Roll as evenly as possible into pans and force dough into corners of baking pan with fingers.
Bake at 325 degrees 20-25 minutes; cool before cutting.
Note: One pan of gingerbread is enough for one house. The second pan is for back-up and snacking.
Beat two egg whites until thick and frothy. Add sifted powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition, until icing is thick and smooth.
Note: Icing will harden over time, so store in refrigerator in air-tight container overnight.
Note: As each piece is assembled, hold in place for a few minutes to let icing set.
Base: Cut a piece of heavy cardboard (I used an old campaign sign for Councilwoman Mary Flynn) at least 10-by-12 inches; wrap in cellophane or foil.
Back and side walls: Ice bottom edge of back wall (1) and bottom edge and backside edge of one side wall (2). Fit side wall inside one edge of back wall and place one post (3) on inside corner. Ice bottom edge and backside edge of other side wall (4) and fit against other side of back wall, and place another post on inside corner.
Front wall: Ice bottom edge, and both side edges of front wall (5) and fit against edges of side walls. Place posts on each inside corner.
Roof: Ice top edges of front and back walls and place roof pieces (6) together on top of structure. Place roof beam (7) in gap and fill with icing. Insert toothpicks to hold roof in place.
Chimney: Ice two chimney pieces (8) together and place on roof at desired location.
Allow at least three hours for house to dry.
Decorate with leftover icing (make more as needed) and your favorite candies.