By Donna Foley
It is said that gingerbread originated in Europe in the medieval times. Crusaders returning from the Middle East, brought back the spicy, yet sweet bread to western civilization. However, the French argue that the bread was brought to their country by the Armenian monk-turned saint, Gregory of Nicopolis before the 10th century.
Europeans began shaping and making edible art with gingerbread in the mid 1700s, like cookies made in the shape of a patron saint. It wasn’t until the 1800s, in Germany, that the gingerbread house came into relevance. We can thank Hansel & Gretel for that.
Whether you use the kit or the recipe provided, building gingerbread houses with your loved ones is sure to make memories! The first thing you must do is pick a gingerbread house style and theme. You can also go online and print patterns for your gingerbread house.
I throw a Christmas Gingerbread house party each year. Eight kids attend, so I do it the easy way and get the Wilton Gingerbread house kits that you can pick up at most craft stores. My older granddaughters put them together a few days before the party. Then the houses are ready to be decorated without falling apart on party day.
This recipe is easy and the kids can help make it. It is more for making the gingerbread house and the candy you add will be what they want to eat.
Gingerbread House Dough
2 cups light corn syrup(or dark for a darker house)
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cups margarine
9 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a medium microwaveable bowl, heat corn syrup, brown sugar and margarine until margarine is melted and sugar has dissolved completely. Stir until smooth. In large bowl, combine flour and salt, add syrup/sugar/margarine mixture making sure it is cool enough for the kids to squish the dough. Stir until it is smooth and comes away from the bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. If the dough is too hard or unmanageable you can microwave it for 20 to 30 seconds. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick onto a sheet of parchment paper. Cut the parchment paper to fit your baking pan. Lightly flour the cardboard pattern pieces and place them on the rolled out dough, leaving a one inch space between pieces. Try to fit as many as you can without crowding. For clean edges, use a pizza wheel. Remove the excess dough. Grab the opposite edges of the parchment paper and transfer to the baking pan. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until pieces are firm and lightly brown. Cool completely before removing from pans.
Royal icing dries candy-hard. It is ideal to use on your gingerbread houses. If you buy the house kits, a bag of already made royal icing will be in the kit. If it seems too stiff, put it in a mixing bowl and beat it. You might want to add a couple of drops of water as it should be the consistency of toothpaste. If the icing is too thin, add powered sugar. You can also color the royal icing, but use food paste colors.
3 tablespoons Wilton Meringue powder
1 pound (4 cups) sifted confectioners sugar
6 Tablespoons of water
Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7 to 10 minutes ) on medium speed mixer. For stiffer icing, use less water. Makes three cups.
*Royal icing will dry very quickly. Lay a wet dish towel over your bowl while you are working.
*If your gingerbread house wall breaks or a corner breaks off, glue it back together with your royal icing.
· Be sure to start assembling your house the day before you want to decorate it.
· Use the design on your gingerbread house kit as a starting point, then let your imagination go wild.
· The base that you sit your house on needs to be sturdy and bigger than your house.
· You want to decorate the yard of your house. This is another great place to be creative.
· Trees can be made from upside down sugar cones brushed with royal icing. Add sprinkles, M&Ms or any other candy.
· Campfires can be made with graham crackers or Hershey bars. Gum drops and pretzels can make your fire.
· Window shutters can be made with sticks of chewing gum.
· The roof of the house can be covered in many things: Hershey bars, gum drops, Chex cereal, marshmallows and Hershey kisses.