Tastes like home

Make your own gingerbread house from scratch

Photo by Stacey Kennelly

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 plain houses around a table covered with assorted candy canes, Skittles, marshmallows and whatever else was on sale in the candy aisle to decorate our structures.

Even through my teenage years, during Christmastime 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.)

I’ll be home to take part in the tradition again this year. But a few years ago, living hours away from Mom, I took a stab at the construction myself. 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 Gingerbread House

Supplies: Nonstick spray, wax paper, foil, sturdy cardboard, toothpicks, rolling pin, two 11x16 baking pans, assorted candies.

Gingerbread ingredients:

6 cups all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup honey

1 3/4 cup sugar

1/4 stick butter, unsalted

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 whole egg

1 egg yolk (save the white for icing)

Icing ingredients:

2 egg whites

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Gingerbread: Coat pans lightly with nonstick spray and flour. Sift first seven ingredients into a large bowl; set aside. In a large pot, bring honey, sugar and butter to a boil and cook five minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in last four ingredients. Pour into a mixer bowl (or regular bowl) and cool to room temperature.

Photo by Stacey Kennelly

Beat in two cups at a time of sifted ingredients with dough hook. If you do not have a mixer, flour hands and knead until dough is soft, pliable and sticky. Add more flour if it’s too sticky (one teaspoon at a time).

Roll as evenly as possible into two baking pans and force dough into corners with fingers.

Bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes; cool before cutting (see blueprint).

Note: One pan of gingerbread is enough for one house. The second pan is for backup and snacking.

Icing: 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 cover and store in refrigerator.

House assembly: Note: As each piece is assembled, hold in place for a few minutes to let icing set.

Base: Use a piece of heavy cardboard 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. Repeat with other side wall (4).

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 angled 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 house and cardboard landscape with leftover icing (make more as needed) and your favorite candies.