many of us, gingerbread houses are as much a part of
Christmas as decorated trees and candy canes. Whereas some
people vary the traditional ski chalet or wood cabin by
turning their gingerbread houses into cathedrals, castles,
Hogwarts or Downton Abbey, we decided to make a gingerbread
surf shack this year.
made a gingerbread house? No worries. It can be a lot of
fun. However simple or intricate you decide to make it is
your decision, just adjust the project to suit your skill
level and OCD tendencies — we certainly won’t judge. And
even though the components are technically edible, remember
that a gingerbread house is mostly for decoration — nobody
really wants to eat something that’s sat out on display
for days, or longer.
are a few things to keep in mind before constructing your
gingerbread house. First, look for a durable cookie recipe
that won’t crumble — you will want something stronger
than your average gingerbread cookie. For an
industrial-strength dough, add additional flour, as much as
twice what the standard cookie recipe calls for, or more.
And because these cookies won’t be eaten, you can save
money by skipping some of the more expensive ingredients.
Substitute shortening for butter and skip the eggs. If you
want your gingerbread house to double as a holiday air
freshener, bump up the spices — a lot.
plan to make plenty of royal icing — it’s nothing more
than a basic combination of powdered sugar and egg whites.
Simple as it may sound, royal icing has the strength of glue
when it dries; this is no ordinary frosting. Use plenty of
icing to construct the house; it will act as your cement and
help hold everything together. Then continue to use it to
pipe decorations or glue on candies or other embellishments.
Just be sure to keep the icing covered when it’s not in
use. Royal icing dries quickly, so keep the surface covered
with a layer of plastic wrap or store the icing in sealed
worried about stability, and you may be if you’ve seen the
meme on social media of a destroyed gingerbread house with a
toy dinosaur (the caption usually reads: "When your
gingerbread house fails … add dinosaur"), then
consider building your house around a structural support.
You could use a repurposed tissue box or cereal box when
building a basic house. Or consider using craft foam sheets,
available at arts and crafts supply stores, for more
elaborate creations. The internal framing will help carry
the weight — so you don’t need to worry about sci-fi
don’t rush it — give yourself plenty of space and time.
Because this should be fun. Have any available older kids
help with the construction while the younger kids (or
obsessive adults) can focus on fine-tuning the decorations.
Gingerbread houses can never have too much confectionary
bling. Built right, your gingerbread house could last for
years. And if anyone starts nibbling a little too much on
your pretzel porch or fondant beer cooler, you can always
add that dinosaur.
minutes, plus baking and cooling time. Makes about 2 1/2
cup brown sugar
tablespoon ground ginger
teaspoons ground cinnamon
teaspoon ground nutmeg
teaspoon ground cloves
tablespoons water, more if desired
(21.25 ounces) flour
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut several sheets of
parchment paper large enough to fit your baking sheets.
the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment,
combine the shortening, sugar, salt, ginger, cinnamon,
nutmeg and cloves. Beat to fully combine.
the water and molasses and beat over low speed until
combined. With the mixer running at low speed, slowly add
the flour, a spoonful at a time. The dough will become very
thick as the flour is added. If desired, turn the dough out
into a large bowl and add the last of the flour by hand,
mixing until fully combined. If the dough feels too thick to
work with, add water, a tablespoon or so at a time, until it
becomes more pliable.
Roll a piece of dough between two sheets of parchment until
it is 1/4-inch thick (if you roll the dough between
parchment, you will not need to flour the dough). Cut the
dough to size using cardboard cutouts but being sure to
leave at least 1 inch between each of the pieces. Remove and
save the excess dough to roll again.
Carefully grab the parchment and transfer it to a baking
sheet. Bake until the pieces are fully set and there are no
dark patches of underdone dough anywhere on the pieces.
Remove the sheet to a cooling rack and set aside until
completely cooled before removing from the sheets.
Even though there is no leavening in the dough, it might
expand a little as it bakes. If needed, carefully sand the
pieces before assembling your structure for a more exact
minutes. Makes a generous 3 cups icing.
whites, at room temperature
teaspoon cream of tartar
pound powdered sugar
bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using an electric
mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until the
whites are fluffy and have formed soft peaks. With the mixer
running, begin beating in the powdered sugar. Continue
beating until all of the sugar has been added and the icing
holds stiff peaks when the beater is raised. If not using
immediately, cover the surface of the icing with plastic
wrap to prevent it from drying and hardening.
Consuming raw eggs can pose potential health problems. If
the icing is to be consumed, consider using pasteurized egg
whites or substituting powdered egg whites or meringue
powder (consult the packaging for proper substitutions).
UP THE BLUEPRINT
are many ways to trick out your gingerbread house. Here’s
what we did:
your structural support. Purchase craft foam sheets from
your local craft store, which you can cut using a box cutter
and assemble with a hot-glue gun. Add a string of clear LED
lights to the inside of the structure so the windows can
light up after the shack is constructed.
cutouts. To make sure you have the desired shapes, make
cardboard cookie cutouts. These include four rectangles: No.
1 (13 by 10 inches), No. 2 (13 by 12 inches), No. 3 (15 by
10 inches), No. 4 (15 by 7 3/4 inches); and two triangles:
No. 5 (15 by 8 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches), No. 6 (13 by 8 1/2
inches by 8 1/2 inches).
the cookies. Bake three of No. 1, two of No. 2, one of No.
3, one of No. 4 (we also cut out two windows for this
piece), and one each of Nos. 5 and 6. You will go through
almost 6 batches of dough to construct the shack, along with
extra to bake a door, a strip for the top of the roof, and
surfboard and boogie board decorations.
the sugar windows. Cook about 3 cups of sugar with some
water (enough to give the sugar a wet sand consistency) and
a teaspoon of corn syrup on the stove-top until the sugar
reaches "hard crack" stage (300 degrees). As soon
as the sugar reaches the right temperature, add a little
blue food coloring and pour it into the "windows"
of the baked No. 4 cookie.
the house. Glue the cookie pieces over the craft foam
structure using either royal icing or a hot glue gun (use
the hot glue gun only if the finished piece will not be
eaten). If the pieces are a little mismatched, they can be
filed using a Microplane or sandpaper. Seal corners and gaps
between pieces using pretzel rods.
Use original Shredded Wheat cereal squares to construct the
"thatch" roof and sesame candy pieces for the
porch roof. The porch can be constructed of pretzel rods,
and the fake "rocks" on the side walls can be
added using Raisinets and royal icing. Chocolate and royal
icing are used for the detail work, and prepared rolled
fondant is molded into the cooler and life preservers.
Saltwater toffee candies are molded into the shellfish and
starfish on the back wall of the shack, as well as the cans
on the porch. The "sand" can be created using
ground sugar cookies.