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!
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>