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Holiday Joy: Tips for Creating the Perfect Gingerbread House (December 2012)

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Published: December 2012
Holiday Joy: Tips for Creating the Perfect Gingerbread House  

Don’t worry if you haven’t made a gingerbread house yet, there’s still enough time to participate in this holiday tradition; and according to Sara Beth Thomas, executive pastry chef at Carolina Crossroads Restaurants in The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C., your gingerbread house could be a local landmark, a current event (or upcoming...think New Year’s Eve), or a place that’s celebrating a big anniversary.

With a theme in mind, your next step is ensuring that your creation doesn’t collapse after you place the final piece of decor on the roof. Make a gingerbread house that’ll be memorable (in a good way) by following advice from professionals.

Materials

To begin, Thomas advises to make sure you have all the tools you need ready, so that you are not looking for the ruler when you need it.

“Gingerbread houses are like building a regular house; all your measurements need to be consistent and precise.”

Ashley Nakano, executive pastry chef, at Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga., says don’t forget to use a solid base. Nakano recommends either plywood covered in foil or a study baking pan. This is important because if you move it, you want the house to be strongly supported.

Constructing

Thomas adds that it’s important to have a solid gingerbread recipe (see her’s below.)

“It’s not like a gingerbread you’d eat during the holidays. The recipe is a little more dense so it can stand up.”

Icing is key as it needs to be right, she says. (Below, she provides a recipe for the icing.”

“This could take a little trial and error. The trick is to make sure it is not too firm because it will be too hard to pipe. But if it is too loose it will not stand up and make a mess.”

Nakano recommends taking your time piping the icing “glue” onto the pieces and assembling them. Be sure hold them in place until the icing is partially set.

“If you break a piece, it can be fixed.  You can make a ‘splint’ out of a small piece of cardboard and use it to support the pieces you have ‘glued’ with icing.  Once it has completely hardened, cover it with icing and no one will ever know.”

Decorating

The most important part is (especially to the decorator) is the candy, says Nakano. “Always buy a lot more then you need to decorate the house to anticipate consumption. Smaller candies work best, just try to find a large variety.”

“Also, look for the classics like gum drops and peppermints, as well as some you don’t see often like red and green Nerds and Twizzler Rope.”

As for Thomas’ most important tip to follow, “ Let your imagination run wild and have fun!”

Gingerbread House Dough and Icing

provided by Chef Sara Beth Thomas

Yield: 1 14in. X 12in. house with roof

1 ½ cups  shortening

1 ½ cups  sugar

3 each      eggs

1 cups    molasses

6 ¾ cups AP Flour

1 ½ T     ginger

1 ½tsp   cinnamon

1 ½tsp  baking soda

1 ½tsp  salt

Directions

  1. In a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, cream together the shortening and sugar

  2. Add the eggs slowly

  3. Add the molasses

  4. Then add all the dry ingredients

  5. Chill the dough for about 1 hour

  6. Roll out the dough to your desired pieces

  7. Bake @ 300’F for about 15 to 20 minutes


Royal Icing:

12oz  egg whites

4#      powdered sugar

1T     cream of tartar

Directions

  1. In a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment

  2. Add the powdered sugar and cream of tartar

  3. Slowly add the egg whites until you get the constantly

  4. Add more egg whites if the batter is to thick or add more powdered sugar if the batter is to runny.


photo credits: (top left) Gingerbread House Back, flickr, creative commons alleus; (top right) Gingerbread House, flickr, creative commons Fil.Al; (middle left) Gingerbread House, flickr, creative commons Dani Hydes.

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