Monday, December 5, 2011

Gingerbread houses

It wouldn't be Christmas without Gingerbread houses.  Every year for the last three years we have decorated Gingerbread houses.  I love it the kids love it and it makes lasting memories for the holiday season.  This year I decided to forgo the premade kits and make them myself.  It was a lot of work and spanned out over three days, but it was so worth it. 

It all started with this tutorial I found on Frog Prince Paperie.  It's a very detailed beautifully illustrated walkthrough.  I used the White House Gingerbread recipe from this site and it worked perfectly.  It held up really well in baking and assembly.  There were two tips I found invaluable.  

1.  Roll the dough out in the pan, cut the shapes then remove the extra pieces. This way you never have to move the cut pieces and bend them out of shape.  They just sit in place and hold their shape. 

2. Once you remove the baked gingerbread from the oven.  Take the template pieces and trace around the warm gingerbread trimming off the extra bits that grew during baking.  This way your pieces always fit perfectly.  This must be done when the gingerbread is warm.  The knife will slide like butter through the cookie.  If you try to trim the edges when it's cold the cookie will be hard and break easily.  It doesn't work trust me I tried.

The one thing I did do differently was to place parchment paper in the bottom of the pan before rolling the dough out.  This made removal so easy.  The first couple pans I baked I followed the directions and just lightly greased the pan before rolling out the dough.  I found it very difficult to remove the pieces from the pan.  Maybe I over baked them or maybe I let them sit too long on the pan before removing.  Either way it was easier for me to just use handy dandy parchement paper.  That way the cookie pieces just slid right off when they were done. 

I started cooking two days before I planned to decorate the houses.  This way the pieces would have plenty of time to cool and set.  Like I said this recipe worked really well.  The pieces were dense and sturdy and not crisp and brittle.  The house smelled wonderful (and still does).  I let the kids munch on the extra bits I trimmed off after baking and they loved them. 

I did draw my own templates for this.  I printed them out on cardstock and used them over and over to create all five houses.  I also used them to do the trimming after the pieces came out of the oven.  If you would like the templates they are posted at the end of this blog entry.  For the back piece I used the same template as the front but didn't cut out the door.

On the second day I assembled the houses with royal icing.  Royal icing is wonderful and for those that aren't familiar with it, it starts out soft and smooth and dries to a rock hard candy like consistency.  Perfect for decorating cookies, making flowers, and gluing together gingerbread.  The icing does harden fairly quickly but I wanted to make sure it had plenty of time to set before the kids started decorating, so I let them sit for a day.  They were probably done after a couple hours but I wanted to make sure. 

After three years of this I think I finally have the decorating process streamlined. 

With four kids you have to be organized and make sure the same candies are available for everybody.  I made a little decorating station for each child with tiny candies and the pieces that needed to be attached, like the door and gingerbread men. 

 I also set out some larger candies in bowls in between the kids with enough to share.  This way I didn't have to set out individual bowls for each child. 

I also had my icing bags ready and waiting.  Speed is important once you start decorating.  Attention spans are short and the icing dries quickly so you have to keep the process going. 

My sweet Marina with the puffy marshmallow roof. 

Marcus was so precise with his.

Notice Myles adorable Lego Star Wars Jammies. 

We started out with the top of the roof. It's just easier to start at the top and work your way down. Since I had to pipe the icing I just filled in the area they were going to work on and let them go to town.

It still amazes me how steady her hand was.  Marina takes this very seriously.

Yes there is candy in his mouth.  Maybe that's why he's smiling.

I love the randomness of Mara's house.  When you're three everything is random.

Next we did the sides and finished with the front. 

Myles cute house.  His poor gingerbread man lost his tooth. 

Marcus's perfectly planned and precise house.

Marina's fluffy, pink fancy house.

Mara's adorable random animal cracker house.  I did help her a tiny bit, but she was such a trooper.

I think the best part is setting all of the houses on our window sill in a row.  We try not to let anyone touch them until after Christmas but sometimes pieces go missing.  Usually on Mara's house. 

This year after the kids were finished I got to decorate my very own house.  I've always wanted to but gingerbread kits aren't cheap and having to buy four was bad enough.  Now with making my own I didn't have to worry about any of that.  Here are some pics of how my house turned out.

So after three days we had five beautiful gingerbread houses.  Goodtimes. 


Frog Prince Paperie and Tradewind Tiaras for posting such an awesome gingerbread tutorial.

My printable Gingerbread templates...