When my boys were very young I made a decision to focus on creating the experiences I wanted to have with them; writing the stories of their childhood. Our December is exceptionally busy (as I know you likely feel is true for you as well), we celebrate five birthdays in the mix with Solstice and Christmas. With that, it has been a saving grace to have some tried and true family traditions that help us push back time and frenzy in favor of cozy winter days full of merry memory making.
Seasonal traditions root us deeply to family, place, and time, they become the punctuation marks of each rotation after the next. As the years pass we quickly begin to look back at the weaving of our story in and out of the seasons and see our own reflection as we return year after year to these favorite little traditions. In a busy life, these are the moments that anchor us.
Our family has grown to love our annual Gingerbread Day, a day that is awaited with much anticipation. It's a day that takes quite a bit of preparation, baking and love and it's worth every ounce of effort we put in. We typically build our houses just before Christmas as Santa has become accustomed to seeing it by the tree when he arrives (no nibbling allowed until after he's had his viewing).
This year, I would love to share our pattern and recipe with you, but before I do - a few words to the wise:
~ Plan on a day of baking and a few hours of decorating madness the next day.
~ I would suggest having two adults on construction duty. The initial construction of the houses involves HOT sugar-glue that needs to be used quickly before it turns to rock candy.
~ Adults should do the glueing of house parts to avoid burns.
~ Children should have all the fun decorating.
~ Parents: if you are the decorator sort, or a micromanager extraordinaire, consider making your own house so you can let go of your ideas about how your kiddos gingerbread house should look. Let them have all the messy fun in the world (easier said than done unless you have your own house to decorate, wink, wink).
~ Read all the way through this tutorial before you begin. There are three recipes and a pattern to prepare.
Gingerbread house recipe:
2 cups sorgum flour
2 cups tapioca flour
2 cups potato starch
1-1/4 teaspoon guar gum
(to make with regular wheat flour substitute 6 cups flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoon ground ginger
4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
Whisk above dry ingredients together and set aside.
In a mixer, combine:
1-1/2 sticks of soft (not melted) butter
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
beat butter and sugar until fluffy
add the following:
2 large eggs
1 cup molasses
1 Tablespoon water
beat into butter mixture until well combined.
beat in half of the flour mixture until smooth, stir in remaining flour mixture. Knead by hand or use dough hook to mix until smooth. Batter should be fairly stiff. If too soft, add some extra flour.
wrap in plastic wrap or otherwise cover dough (I use a reusable glass bowl with a lid) and refrigerate for several hours. I often mix the dough the night before baking day.
Makes one house!
Use the images and measurements below to create your house pattern.
My pattern pieces are made out of a fairly thin, but stiff, craft cardboard. I keep them clean and store them in our holiday box along with the recipe for easy use every year.
Front of house:
~ Cut out one with door and window cut out.
~Save and bake door.
Back of house:
~ cut out one using the above pattern piece without cutting out door and window.
~ cut two with slanted bottom for the sides of chimney.
~ cut out one 1" x 3" piece for front of chimney
~ cut out one 1" x 1-1/4" piece for the back side of chimney (closest to the top of roof)
~ Cut two 5" x 5" pieces.
Rolling, cutting and baking:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Divide dough into two.
Place wax paper on rolling surface, dust with flour (I use sweet white rice flour for dusting).
Roll dough to 1/4" thickness.
Add flour to surface of dough. You do not want it to be sticky.
Place pattern pieces on dough and cut with a clean knife.
Stop and clean knife often to avoid sticking.
Place dough pieces onto wax paper and bake on cookie sheet.
Bake till edges just begin to darken, about 15-18 minutes.
Cool on rack for 15 minutes.
While still warm, trim any uneven edges, doorways or windows that grew while baking.
Roll scraps a bit thinner and make gingerbread people for your house (bake about 7 minutes)
To assemble your house:
Have a cutting board or piece of wood you don't mind doing without for the length of time your house is on display.
You are going to construct your house with VERY hot glue made from melted sugar. You do not want to drip this on any part of your body.
**Please, do not have your children help you with this part of the building!**
Be prepared for construction before you make the glue:
~ have all pieces of baked house parts on a table or counter
~ place a hot pad for the glue to rest on next to your cutting board
~ have wooden spoons ready to apply glue to house
In a cast iron frying pan melt 1 cup of white granulated sugar. Stir continuously until it becomes liquid. Remove from heat once all sugar has melted.
Assemble your house:
Dip edges of house pieces in sugar-glue and put them together.
Glue sets up fast so you will need to work quickly.
Start by glueing the back of your house onto the cutting board, followed by the walls and the front.
Walls should be placed inside of the the back and front pieces.
Glue seems with extra glue by spooning it on and letting it drip between pieces.
Finish with roof pieces allowing them to meet at the top, adding more glue with a spoon as needed.
Don't forget to place your door in an open position on the cutting board.
Don't worry about sticky, messy strings of sugar-glue, big drips and such. You will be decorating with "snow" (recipe below) and candy soon enough. This phase is about crafting a solid house for your kiddos to go crazy decorating!
4 egg whites
5-1/3 cups of powdered sugar - divided
~ Whisk together egg whites and 2-2/3 cup of sugar
~ Add remaining sugar and beat on high until stiff and peeks form. Add more sugar if needed. Place in a cake decorating bag or put in baggies with a small hole snipped in the corner. I like to give each child their own decorating bag.
Over the years we've decided we like our houses best with a pretty base of white all around the house as a yard, I actually think the more "snow" the better, but I suggest setting all the decorations out and sitting back with camera in hand a big smile on your face as you watch the decorating party unfold just the way they want it!
Enjoy! I would love to hear about the fun you have, or even see pictures of your creations if you feel inclined to share.
From my family to yours ~ happy winter holidays!