Tasty Traditions

I can trace my roots as an avid culinarian back to when I was a child, sitting on a counter, helping mix, frost, clean, and taste the wonderful creations coming out of my parents’ kitchen. The memories I hold dear, besides the delicious tastes, are the experiences we had as a family. I loved being involved in the process, not just on the sidelines. One of the best ways you can create holiday memories in the kitchen is with building a gingerbread house. While fun for children, baking and assembling this edible creation can make even a humbug like Scrooge smile.

The beauty of gingerbread house construction is the spectrum of complexity. You can build a very simple, Hansel and Gretel-style house with all the sweet decorations you can think of, or choose to go the more artistic route, adding the smallest details to your house for a more realistic look. Depending on how much time and energy you choose to invest, this recipe provides an appetizing gingerbread that is durable enough to use for construction without first building a cardboard frame.

If you are the competitive type and would enjoy the challenge of trying to build the most original or creative gingerbread house, Aurora (an agency that strives to end homelessness in Evansville) is sponsoring its second annual Midwest Gingerbread House Competition on Dec. 1, when 80 teams of varying age and skill level will be vying for cash prizes between $125-$2,500.

• 6 cups flour
• 4 tbsp ground ginger
• 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
• 2 tsp baking soda
• 1 ½ tsp salt
• ¾ tsp ground cloves
• 3 sticks or 1½ cups butter, softened to room temperature
• 2 cups sugar
• 4 large eggs
• ¾ cup dark molasses

Useful tools:
• Paring knife
• Sheet of cardboard (poster board-style works)
• Parchment paper (highly recommend sheets)

Whisk first 6 ingredients together in a large bowl until well mixed. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter until it becomes fluffy. Add sugar, again mixing well. Beat in eggs one by one. Add molasses and increase speed to high until fully combined.

Add dry mixture gradually, no more than 1 cup at a time. By the time you add the final dry ingredients, the dough will begin to look somewhat crumbly. Form it into balls; you should have enough to make about 6-8 balls of dough. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

While the dough is doing its thing, begin to draw your template on a sheet of cardboard. You can find any number of stencils online to use as a template; however, being the DIY type, I wanted to wing it. I cut 4 rectangles of the same size to use for the sidewalls and roof pieces. I then used one as the base of the front and back walls. Instead of drawing/cutting flat across for the front and back, I drew from each top corner up to a center point to form the roofline. I kept it simple this time, being that it was my first experience with gingerbread.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pat 1 ball with lukewarm water until sticky and malleable. Place it between 2 sheets of parchment paper and roll to ¼ inch thickness. Using your template, score and cut each piece. Feel free to re-roll scraps and reuse. You should be able to get at least 1 piece of your house per ball of dough, sometimes 2-3 depending on size. Peel top layer of parchment off and bake on a cookie sheet for 13-15 minutes. Immediately remove to cool on clear counter space or a wire rack.

Royal Icing:
You will need 4 egg whites, or 4 eggs worth of powdered egg whites, and 6 cups of confectioner’s sugar. Rehydrate and whisk until foamy. Using an electric mixer, add ½ cup of powdered sugar at a time until fully blended. Final additions will begin to feel thick and almost too stiff to mix. Store in a large bowl covered tightly with Saran wrap, being careful not to leave any pockets of air (this prevents icing from drying out.)

As for construction, I’ll leave you to your own devices for the most part because the building is half the fun! I do have some helpful tips I’ve gathered from my own building experience.

Use generous amounts of icing. Pipe the icing onto each edge using a Ziploc bag that has been snipped at the corner. Feel free to use canned goods or coffee mugs for added support when constructing. Once you’ve built the frame, let it sit for several (4-6) hours before you add the roof and decorate further. Don’t add too much weight (icing or candy) to the roof. It WILL slide off. You WILL become frustrated. Be patient, be creative with your decorations, and enjoy the fruits (or house as it were) of your labor.

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