Make a Gingerbread House!


This week Franciscan Media is launching “Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta,” and so I’m reposting one of my favorite Advent traditions here, to give you some extra tips and tricks on how to create your very own Gingerbread House for Advent. This originally appeared on my original blog, “Extraordinary Moms Network.” Enjoy!
On the Friday after Thanksgiving each year, we get started. (The project can be worked on over an entire weekend.) We mix dough, cut out and bake the cookies. The next day we make a batch of royal icing, and assemble the house. (I cheat and use the powdered kind available at my local baking store. You can also get it on Amazon.) The decorating is typically done the third day, but you can assemble and bake on the same day as long as you give the house time to dry before you start decorating. An excellent video tutorial on how to assemble a simple gingerbread house is available here at “Cookies, Cupcakes, and Cardio.”
You can make your own templates to cut out your cookies from poster board or laminated parchment paper. If you’re not architecturally inclined, you can also buy gingerbread house cookie cutters at a craft store or Amazon (I like the Fox Run Gingerbread House Cookie Cutter Set).
What do you do with your house once it’s done? That’s really up to you. We like to “smash” our house on New Year’s Eve, and enjoy it with hot chocolate or coffee. Some people like to make two houses, and give one to another family or to a favorite teacher. You can also create a little “village” for your mantelpiece or tabletop. Make this tradition your own — the scent is heavenly, and the fun is contagious.
Ready to start baking? Here we go!


Gingerbread House

Each recipe makes one house, with enough to make a few gingerbread men or women for the tree.  You will need…

5-1/2 C unsifted flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 C shortening
1 C sugar
1-1/4 C molasses (dark)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla

Combine dry ingredients into a bowl; stir and set aside. Cream sugar and shortening. Beat in molasses, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually stir in dry ingredients into the molasses mixture. When it becomes too stiff to stir with spoon, work dough in with hands until completely blended. Divide dough into 4 parts. Shape into a flattened round, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill at least 1 hour and up to 2 weeks. Place a disk of chilled dough on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Cover with waxed paper or more plastic wrap and roll to 1/4-inch thickness. (Paper keeps the dough from sticking, so you don’t need flour for rolling.)

Remove plastic/waxed paper and place templates on dough, leaving 1/2-inch border around pieces. Use a small, sharp knife to cut around pattern edges. Use fingers or knife to remove scrap dough pieces, leaving house pieces intact on the foil. Cut out doors and windows as desired.

Bake at 325 degrees for 10-25 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Gingerbread will darken, especially around edges, and feel firm to the touch. While cookies are still warm, put templates back on each piece and trim any extra cookie around the edges (it will expand during the baking process). Cool and peel off foil. Store in a cool, dry place.

To Make the Gingerbread House, You Will Need:

Pre-baked (trimmed and cooled) gingerbread cookies. (You will need at least six pieces: One base, two pointy front and back pieces, two windowed side pieces, two roof pieces.

Foil-covered cardboard. (Should be large and sturdy enough to support not only the house but any surrounding “landscaping” you choose to do.)

A couple of soup cans. (Use them to support the walls while they are drying, and remove before you put on the roof. The YouTube tutorial shows how to do this.)

Royal icing. One batch for each house you are making. When you are not actually using part of the batch, keep the icing covered by a clean, damp paper towel and dishtowel, to keep it from drying out prematurely. You will also need something to “pipe” the frosting (disposable pastry bag or Baggie with the tip clipped off). If you choose to color the icing (I usually don’t), paste gives you bolder colors than liquid food color.

Decorations! It’s really up to you what you choose to use. Tinted coconut for grass (or white for snow), frosted sugar cones for trees, Vanilla wafers for roof shingles, wafer cookies for window shutters, front stoop, benches, or door. M&Ms or pastel mints for brickwork or around garden beds (I often pipe a “tree” or “lattice” onto the back of my house, and use M&M’s for “flowers.”) Red hots and sprinkles to decorate the tops of roofs and trees. Let your imagination go wild!

To construct house, pipe or spread royal icing on the front, side, back, and other side walls (in that order), both on the bottom of each cookie and the side where it will adhere to the pieces that are already in place on the foil-lined cardboard. Once you have all four pieces in place, let rest at least 30 minutes before you place roof cookies on top. Once the roof pieces are in place, allow to dry completely (even overnight) before decorating.iv>

Vegetable Lasagna: Vegetarian Recipes for Carnivorous Families

vegetable lasagneThe first Sunday dinner with our new German daughter, the vegetarian, and my husband, the unabashed carnivore. Hmmm…. What to serve? Spent the day puttering in the kitchen and came up with my own version of vegetarian lasagna. Liked it so much, I thought I’d pass it on! (Note: Ours got gobbled up so fast, I didn’t have a chance to get a photograph, so I borrowed one online — thanks, Cooking Training Center!)

For one 9×12 pan of lasagna, you will need …

9 Barilla pasta sheets
12 oz ricotta cheese
2 eggs
large bunch fresh spinach, large stems removed.
2 whole zucchini, “coined”
1 red pepper, cut in strips
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 can (14-16 oz) diced tomatoes (mine was Furmanos with basil and oregano)
3 cloves garlic (peeled and chopped)
small handful basil, chopped fine (or 1 T dried)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp garlic powder
8 oz mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)

Step 1: Sauce. Heat 2 Tbls olive oil in large fry pan, add garlic and stir to flavor oil. Stir in zucchini, red pepper, and onion. Cook about 8 minutes, or until veggies start to brown. Add tomatoes and cook about 10 minutes more, turning down heat to simmer. Remove from heat and pulse through food processor until “spreadable” but veggies are still a bit chunky.

Step 2: Cheese. Combine ricotta, eggs, basil, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Beat until fluffy. Set aside.

Step 3: Lightly spray lasagna pan. Put about a cup of sauce in the bottom, spread around.

Step 4: Put first 3 noodles on bottom layer; they will expand and should not quite touch. Next put a generous “sploop” of cheese mixture on each noodle and spread to cover. Layer 1/2 your spinach on top. Pour 1/3 remaining sauce over this, then 1/3 your mozzarella.

Step 5: Repeat Step 4.

Step 6: Put remaining layer of noodles on top. Pour remaining sauce over all, then sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

We served this with salad and rosemary bread. Yum. Craig said we could make it again — high praise, from this carnivore!

Photo Credit: We borrowed this one.

Christmases Past: Remembering Kimberly

Every year about this time I have a special tradition that I do just for me (well, mostly, though my family always notices if I skip). I make “Kimberly Fudge,” in memory of a Bethany friend who died in a car accident a few years ago while she and her husband were missionaries in China.

I don’t have a picture of Kimberly. But in my mind’s eye I can see her at the stove in the basement of the Old Ad building (also now the stuff of memories, as it was recently demolished), stirring the sugar syrup for a full 12 minutes before adding it to the bowl with the chocolate and walnuts and beating for another 15 minutes. That’s nearly thirty minutes of nothing but standing and stirring. And (especially since I did nothing else but watch) it was worth every delicious bite.

Kimberly’s Fudge

2-1/2 C chocolate chips
1 pint marshmallow creme
1 C butter
2 tsp vanilla (I add a splash of Amaretto, too)
1 tsp cinnamon (my addition)
2 C chopped walnuts
1 can evaporated milk
4-1/2 C sugar

Line a cake pan 11×13 with buttered waxed paper. Put chips, creme, flavorings, cinnamon, and walnuts in a large bowl, set aside. Combine in heavy saucepan the remaining ingredients and bring to rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil 12 minutes (set the timer). Pour over other ingredients and beat for 12-15 minutes (the longer you beat it, the smoother the texture). Cool completely before serving.

One of my favorite Bethany memories is of me and Maria strolling around the “back 40” in the dead of winter, then coming back to my room for “special” hot chocolate (I’d hidden a bottle of blackberry brandy at the back of the closet). I’m not sure if alcohol was exactly forbidden to post-grads, but somehow the “sneaky factor” of pulling down the shades before pulling down the bottle from the top shelf made the experience that much more of a treat.

After the warmth had returned to our bodies, we’d make our way down to the basement where Kimberly was invariably baking something. Not sure where she put all that baking — she couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds or so. Come to think of it, I don’t remember her actually eating her creations. But she had a way of making a home no matter where she was. It’s something I always admired — and something from which my own children now benefit.


Tips for Baking Gingerbread

It’s that time of year again … Gingerbread House Making!!! This is a rerun of one of my “hottest” posts, which offers tips and a really good recipe to help you make a house of your own. Have fun!

A couple of years ago I posted instructions on how to bake a gingerbread house that continues to draw a substantial amount of traffic.  This year I’m making three gingerbread houses and five dozen oversized gingerbread men for Boosters, and after making gingerbread dough in those kinds of mass quantities, I was reminded of a few tips that I wanted to pass along to those who are new to baking this Christmas confection.

*  Use quality ingredients. Preferably Crisco (not all-purpose vegetable shortening) and “Grandma’s molasses.”  This year I tried to cut corners by stocking up with the low-grade, no-name molasses. It turned the dough quite a bit darker than I was used to — and added a bitter aftertaste I did not like at all. Stick with Grandma’s (or possibly B’rer Rabbit).

*  Use foil or parchment paper (my favorite) to roll out the dough and bake. Roll on top of waxed paper to avoid using flour, to keep the dough nice and dark. Don’t forget to chill the dough at least an hour before rolling it out.

*  Use the touch test to check for doneness. It should spring back, without leaving an indent. Leave it on the pans for several minutes before moving it to waxed paper to cool. It will darken and harden as it cools.

*  If ground cloves are out of your budget (when I went to buy them, they were over $7/teeny, tiny jar that had barely enough for three batches), you can use allspice.

*  Use ROYAL icing to decorate — put 2-3 Tbls powdered egg white in per pound of confectioner’s sugar to get the icing to harden quickly. Then just add water to the right consistency.

At our house, the Friday after Thanksgiving is Gingerbread House Day.  If you’re going to adopt that tradition at your house, be sure to take a picture and put a link in the comments.

Happy Thanksgiving . . . and Advent, too!

Advent Cake … Good Anytime!

This evening the contributors of will be gathering for a potluck, and I’ve decided to bring out a special recipe I make each year for my annual Rose Sunday Advent Tea. For several years I hosted one at my house, last year I made it for the tea at church. It takes a bit of time, but totally worth the results! It is a slightly modified version of a recipe I found on

One of the things I like best about this recipe is the fact that it makes 4-5 cupcakes in addition to the cake. That way the family can “taste test” without ruining the picture-perfect company treat! The picture is my special “Advent cake plate” the day after I make my Advent Cake. Enjoy!

You will need …
3 C flour (all-purpose)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, soft
3 C white sugar (it’s once a year, so live it up!)
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites, beaten stiff
1-1/2 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 tsp Amaretto (almond flavored liquor)
cinnamon sugar for dusting the pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10 inch tube pan, and dust it generously with cinnamon sugar. Shake out excess. Line 4-5 muffin/cupcake holes with liners, set aside.

Sift together dry ingredients, and set aside. Add flavorings to measured milk, and set aside.

Cream shortening and butter in an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mixture should be light yellow and light.

Alternate dry ingredients and milk, stirring well to combine. Gently fold in beaten egg whites, mixing just until no streaks remain. Fill bundt pan to 1″ from the top, pour remaining batter into muffin tin.

Bake 1 hour 15 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. (Cupcakes come out after 30 minutes.) Rest in pan 10 minutes before inverting on to cake plate. Glaze while still warm. Serves 14 or so.


5 Tbls cocoa
2 Tbls vegetable oil
4 Tbls butter
3 C powdered sugar, sifted
1 Tbls Amaretto
boiling water

In small saucepan over low heat, combine cocoa, oil and butter. Stir until melted and smooth, remove from hea. Stir in powdered sugar and Amaretto, adding water 1 Tbls at a time and beat until smooth and “glazy.” Dip your cupcakes in first, then pour the rest over warm cake. Sets with a nice sheen almost instantly. Now try to resist cleaning out the pan with your finger. I dare you.

What to do with a Halloween Pumpkin …

Get it ready for Thanksgiving!  With a little effort, you can turn your ubersized pumpkin into a tasty treat for the kids and a large bowl of pumpkin puree, perfect for pies and  muffins and all sorts of yummy treats.

Here’s what you do.

1.  Turn on your oven to 250 to toast the seeds.

2.  Decapitate Pumpkin, cutting a circle around the stem and pulling it off. Reach in and pull out the “pumpkin guts” (plastic gloves may make this less distasteful but it’s harder to reach the seeds). Put all the guts in a strainer, and set pumpkin aside. Slide fingers down each string, dislodging seeds into the strainer as you go. Discard strings and keep the seeds. I like to rinse mine at this point — but some choose to retain the nutrients and leave on the little bits.

3.  Line cookie sheet with foil, drizzle a tablespoon or so olive oil over foil. Dump seeds onto foil, then add a couple tablespoons more oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of seasoning salt and garlic powder. (You can also put on a teaspoon curry powder for a more distinctive taste.) Toss gently to coat, then shake sheet until seeds are in a single layer. Place in oven to roast, shaking the pan every 10 minutes to toast evenly. Bake 30-40 minutes total, then turn up the heat to 350 degrees.

4.  Now for the pumpkin. Using a large knife, cut the pumpkin along the ridges, approximately every 2-3 inches, from the top to the base. When you open it up it resembles a flower. On another foiled, oiled cookie sheet, place segments of pumpkin, flesh side up.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes each. Set aside to cool slightly.

5.  For the next step you will need a food processor, sharp knife with cutting board, and a bottle of apple juice. Take each cooled segment of pumpkin and slice horizontally all the way down the length at approximately 1 inch increments. Slice off peel. Put the peeled pumpkin in the food processor about half-way full. Add a splash of apple juice, and pulse smooth. Empty processor and repeat until all the pumpkin is processed.

6.  This creates a LOT of pumpkin puree, but fortunately it does freeze nicely. Just segment pumpkin in 1 or 2 cup portions into sandwich bags, squeeze out the air, and freeze. Now you’re all set for your Thanksgiving pies!

What else do YOU like to do with pumpkin puree?

Wee Cook Wednesday: Zucchini-Blueberry Bread and Zucchini Chocolate Cake

Today we went blueberry picking at a farm near our house. It’s a local secret — we go every year and pick gallons of blueberries for a couple of dollars each. It keeps us in berries all through the winter, since blueberries are very easy to freeze. Just wash, place on a cookie sheet, freeze, and bag in ziploc baggies. We like our frozen berries on oatmeal or Kashi Pilaf (when I can find it).

Anyway … yesterday we also got an armful of zucchini from a friend, and I decided to combine the two. With a little help from Bobby on, I adapted her recipe to create both lower-fat and lower-calorie versions.

Basic Recipe:

3 eggs (slightly beaten)
1 C vegetable oil* (loaf on right made with lower-fat recipe, using 1 C brown and 1 C white sugar)
3 tsp vanilla
2 C sugar** (loaf on left made with lower-sugar recipe)
2 C shredded zucchini
3 C flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 Tbls cinnamon
2 C fresh blueberries
1/2 C chopped walnuts or pecans

* Lower sugar version: Use 1 C sugar, 1 C Splenda. Increase baking powder to 1-1/2 tsp.
** Lower fat version: Use egg substitute. Replace 1/2 of oil with apple sauce (1/2 C oil and 1/2 C sauce)

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease 2 loaf pans.

In large bowl, combine eggs, oil/sauce, sugar and vanilla. Stir in shredded zucchini. Beat in flour, salt, bp, bs, and cinnamon. Gently fold in blueberries and nuts. Pour mixture into loaf pans.

Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until toth pick inserted into center comes out clean. Allow bread to cool 20 minutes, remove from loaf pans and cool on wire racks.

Each loaf serves 6-8.

If you’re looking for an even sneakier “cover,” my friend Joyce Haase recommends this chocolate cake recipe:

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
3 Sq. unsweetened chocolate (or 9 Tbs. Cocoa, 3 Tbs. Shortening)
3 C. flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
4 eggs
3 C. Sugar
1 ½ C. Oil
3 C. finely grated zucchini
1 C. chopped nuts (pecans are wonderful, walnuts also great)
1 C. chocolate chips

Directions: Melt chocolate squares & cool. Grease & flour LARGE bundt pan (or dust with cocoa instead of flour to prevent white residue on cake.) Sift dry ingredients. Beat eggs until thick, add sugar. Gradually add oil and melted chocolate. Blend well.

On low speed, add dry ingredients. Stir in zucchini, nuts & chocolate chips. Pour into pan & bake 1 hour & 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool 15 minutes before removing from pan. When completely cool, drizzle with Chocolate Glaze.

Chocolate Glaze (Optional)
1 Tbs. Butter
1 Sq. unsweetened chocolate
Dash salt
½ tsp. vanilla
1 ½ C. Confectioners sugar
2 to 3 Tbs. milk

In sauce pan, melt butter & chocolate. Stir in salt & vanilla. Stir in Powdered Sugar & Milk until smooth. (Use 2 Tbs. milk for thick glaze, more for a thinner glaze.)

This makes a large bundt cake. If your pan is not the 12 cup size, it may overflow.

Turkey Day Soup!

This weekend I stumbled on a tasty new post-T-Day treat that I wanted to share with those who have a bird carcass left over, and are wondering what to do with it.

Into your favorite soup pot, toss turkey carcass (broken up), 8 cups water or chicken stock, 1 chopped onion, 4 stalks chopped celery, some leftover gravy, a generous splash of wine, 5 chopped carrots, and 1 cup leftover cranberry sauce (or cranberry chutney). Add a Tbls herbs de Provence or a mix of thyme, rosemary, sage. Add 1 Tbls red pepper flakes. When veggies are done, remove bones, take meat off them and return it to kettle. Add 1 can corn and 2 C wide noodles along with generous handful of chopped cilantro. Cook until noodles are done.


Make a Gingerbread House! An Advent Tradition

At the end of November each year (the Friday after Thanksgiving may be a convenient time, since the project can extend an entire weekend), we get started mixing dough, cutting out the templates, and baking each cookie. The next day, we make a batch of royal icing (I cheat and use the powdered kind, but I noticed Danielle Bean (editor of “Faith and Family”) has a good one on her site here).

About cutting out the template for each piece of the house: You can make your own out of posterboard or laminated parchment paper. If you’re not architecturally inclined, you can enlarge and trace a simple pattern here. Or, if you’re a little more ambitious, here.

We like to make two houses … one to keep, one to give. (I’ve found that teachers especially appreciate it if you offer to host a gingerbread decorating party in the classroom … and may even let you tell the story of St. Nicholas and the three bags of gold!). Continue reading