More than anything else, the smell of gingerbread says Christmas to me – cake or cookie form, either will do! Along those lines, or course, is the gingerbread house. I made my first gingerbread house when I was about 19. It was a gift for a boyfriend’s young cousin and it nearly killed me when she opened it and proceeded to eat the decorations immediately, only pausing to mumble “thank you,” with her mouth full when her mother prompted!
I’ve matured and mellowed some since then, partly from age and largely from having survived a house full of my own children. Gingerbread houses became a wonderful vehicle to gather around the kitchen table and spend time completely engrossed in a family holiday project. Some years they were made of graham crackers, some became part of a village and one was rather large and ambitious.
If you are interested in trying your hand at Christmas architecture, the gingerbread recipe below varies slightly from that for eating. This recipe will also work well for gingerbread ornaments:
Gingerbread for Houses
INGREDIENTS: 5 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp EACH cloves & nutmeg (where the wonderful smell comes from!), 2 tsp EACH cinnamon & ginger, 1 cup vegetable shortening, 1 cup sugar, 1 1/4 cup molasses, 2 eggs beaten
INSTRUCTIONS: Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Blend the dry ingredients together. In a large saucepan, melt the shortening. Cool slightly, then add sugar, molasses and eggs. Mix well. Add dry ingredients one cup at a time and mix just until blended. Roll dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap, which you have sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray (Pam). Chill for a minimum of 1 hour. www.cakecentral.com/recipe
When ready to roll dough for cutting, remove from refrigeration and allow to come to near room temperature. Cut several sheets of parchment paper to fit the cookie sheets you will be baking them on. Roll dough out on each sheet to a consistent 1/4″ thickness. If dough becomes “sticky,” return to refrigerator. Lightly flour the pattern pieces and lay them on the dough. Cut around the shapes with a non-serrated pizza cutter or pastry wheel. Remove excess dough – should have approximately 1″ spacing around your pieces. Pick parchment paper up from opposite corners and place on your baking sheet. DO NOT remove dough pieces from parchment paper – this would cause your dough to stretch and is the leading cause of misshapen pieces!
BAKE: Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until pieces begin to brown along the edges. Allow gingerbread pieces to cool completely before removing from parchment paper. Gingerbread “walls” should be allowed to cure for 24 hours to better withstand assembly.
For inspiration, be it to decorate a store bought kit or completing your own creation, check out www.cakecentral.com for “Top Gingerbread Houses.”
Merry Christmas. May your December be filled with love and joy and icing!