Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Make Your Own Gingerbread House, Part I

Have you ever made a gingerbread house? Now, I am not talking about making one from a kit, I am talking about making one from scratch. It is not hard at all. Really! The best part is, you don't need any special skills. Are you up for it?

Just in time for Christmas, I will show you how you can make your very own gingerbread house. Today, I will show what supplies you need. On Friday, we will bake the house pieces and assemble some of the scenery. Monday, we will put it all together!

If you want to follow along in the book, I used Festive Gingerbreads by Evelyn Howe Fryatt. The first gingerbread house I made is the one on the cover of this book.

Festive Gingerbreads

This book is out of print, but you can purchase a used one from an Amazon affiliate. Get one of the cheaper ones, it doesn't have to be in perfect condition! Here is a picture of mine.

The very first thing you must do is to gather supplies. The materials fall into three categories:
  • The gingerbread recipe
  • The decorations
  • Tools needed to make the gingerbread house
Lets start with the gingerbread recipe. I use the Hansel & Gretel recipe on page 78. This is the same recipe I used to make the Award Winning Gingerbread Cookies I showed in a post last year. The recipe has a slight variation to it when you are making pieces that must bear the weight of frosting and candy. Gingerbread made for the intent of eating (such as in cookies) should have baking soda in it. That is the way the recipe is written in the previous post. 

However, if you are going to use the gingerbread for house construction, substitute 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder for the 1/2 tsp baking soda in this recipe. The previous post shows you exactly how to make the gingerbread so I won't repeat it here. I will just show you my dough. I doubled the recipe. The recipe as written in the previous post is enough to make a house. I doubled it because I also want to make cookies. Because the dough has baking powder and not baking soda, the cookies will have the texture of a gingersnap, not a soft and chewy cookie.

The dough is much easier to work with when it is cold. I made mine last night and put it in the refrigerator. I expect to start baking the pieces late this afternoon.

The next consideration is the decorations you will use on the house. Your imagination is the limit here! Look at the picture of the book, see what they used. Gumdrops, M&M's, mini-cookies, candy canes, pretzels, Life Savers, or any other type of candy will work! Stroll the candy aisle of your favorite store and pick out a few things. Here is a picture of the supplies I gathered.

Now, you don't need all of this stuff. You pick what you would like! Let me give you what I think is a minimum amount needed to make a pretty gingerbread house:
  • M&M's - They can do so much! You can decorate the roof, use them for a pathway to the front door, use them as 'bricks' on a chimney, and save one for the door knob on the front door! Mini M&M's work well too!
  • Mini-cookies - To give variety to the roof, get some mini-cookies to decorate with. You will be placing them on the roof, just like in the picture on the book cover.
  • Regular size marshmallows  - I believe this item is critical! Marshmallows make the BEST bushes! This will give your house some 'real life' features. You can see marshmallow bushes in the picture on the book cover.
  • Ice cream cones - If you want to make realistic trees for your house, you can't beat ice cream cones! This item isn't really necessary, but I always add a few trees to my gingerbread creations for some added 'real life' features. 
  • Life Savers - I use Life Savers to make windows. If this is your first gingerbread house, you don't need to make windows. (I didn't make windows on my first house.) However, I am going to show you how easy it is to make realistic looking windows so you may want to try it! If not, Life Savers can add variety to the decorations on your house and they make a great wreath.
  • Fondant  - This stuff makes a great snowman for the yard! Get a little box, you don't need a lot. You will roll it into 3 balls to make the snowman. I got mine at the big box store.
  • Food coloring - Get a basic box with red and green in it. Don't get liquid or gel food coloring. You need food coloring paste. The liquid & gel coloring only makes pastel colors. If you want a vivid red and green, you must use paste.
The other thing you will need to decorate your house is icing. This is not just any icing, but a hard drying icing that will 'cement' everything together so the house will hold up. For the icing you will need powdered sugar, cream of tartar and meringue powder or egg whites. I like meringue powder because it is cheaper. If you are going to make a 'winter wonderland' around your house, it takes a lot of egg whites! One can of meringue powder will last many years. I get mine at the big box store in the cake decorating aisle.

The last consideration is the tools you will need to construct your house. The first item to think about is what you are going to use to hold the gingerbread house. I use cake boards. I got mine at the big box store in the cake decorating aisle.

Next, you will need some heavy duty paper to make the house shapes. Construction paper or cardstock paper are good choices. You can also use freezer paper. You will need to make a roof and the front and back of the house. Your house can get as elaborate as you want!  Cut out the pieces and tape them together first to make sure your house will fit together. You can see the ones I will use in the picture above. However, if this is your first house, you may want to keep it simple. To make the house on the cover of the book, you will need three pieces:
  • A rectangle for the roof. I think a good size is 10 1/2 inches x 7 inches
  • An isosceles triangle. A good size would be 8 inches for the base and 10 1/2 inches for the sides.
  •  A front door. 2 inches x 3 1/2 inches. You can make it rectangular shaped or round off the top. 
Of course, all of this is scalable. The key is to make sure your paper pieces fit together relatively well before you cut out the gingerbread. (They don't have to be perfect.) Here is a picture of the pieces I created for my very first gingerbread house. I can't find the piece for the roof. (It wasn't in the bag with the rest of my pieces!) They measure to the sizes listed above.

Last, you will need some decorator tips to shape the icing. Don't go purchase these if you can borrow a few from a friend. You will need:
  • A leaf tip- This will be used the make the leaves for the bushes and trees. Any size will do.
  • A star tip- This will be used to make the trim on the house. Any size will do.
  • A round tip - This is for general purpose decorating. Any size will do.
My tip set is from Wilton. I know that each tip size has a number associated with it. It really doesn't matter what size you use for any of these. I don't use the smallest or the largest out of my set. I always opt for the medium ones. Again, it really doesn't matter.

Sometimes I use parchment paper triangles to make my decorator bags (to hold the frosting). Sometimes I use a small sandwich bag and cut a corner off. If you have parchment paper triangles, they will work great to decorate your gingerbread house. If you don't have any, don't worry about it. A sandwich baggie will work too.

That's it!  Follow along with me and make a house of your own!

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