Christmas Traditions

My husband grew up making real gingerbread houses every Christmas.  It was just something his Dutch mother did and when we married, our very first Christmas, he introduced me to the tradition and we adopted it. In over 20 years of marriage, we have never missed a Christmas where we did NOT make gingerbread houses.  We make a ton of them.  Ok, maybe not a ton, but a dozen is usually what comes out of my kitchen.  Even in our poor college student days, we made the houses and we have always given them away as gifts.

This year was no different.  For the first time, however, one of my sons, who is away at college, asked me for the recipe so he did not miss out on the gingerbread treat. So, since this is such an ingrained family tradition, I thought I’d preserve it here on my blog.

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We go all out when we make our gingerbread houses. The above picture is the Gingerbread Church we constructed last year. Part of the tradition is that all the family joins in on the creation of these little structures and then we all drive around and deliver them throughout the month of December.  In fact, our first “Batch” went out last night.

I usually do all the baking early in the day and save construction, decorating, and delivery for the afternoon and evening.  That way the gingerbread has plenty of time to harden.

Here’s the recipe that I use:

Gingerbread

  • 2 3/4 c. sifted flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • 2/3 c. molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. oil

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, minus the flour, and beat until creamy with a mixer.  Then add half the flour and mix, adding in remaining flour slowly until dough forms.  Dough should look crumbly but should hold together when compressed.  If your dough is too dry, add in an additional TBS of molasses.

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You should be able to mold the dough into a ball without any problem.

 

 

 

 

Place the dough ball on a greased 10×16 cookie sheet and press out by hand.  DO NOT forget to grease your fingers as the dough will be VERY sticky.  For this reason, using a rolling pin is NOT recommended.

Bake at 300° for 25 minutes and promptly remove and cut.  Do NOT let the bread sit or it will harden and be impossible to cut.  I use a ruler and follow the pattern below**

 

 

 

After cutting, remove immediately from pan and turn over so the undersides will cool.

 

Allow to cool for at least 45 minutes before constructing.

 

 

You can stack the pieces after 45 minutes and they will continue to cure without sticking to each other. 

As you can see here, I generally cook 4 batches at a time.

 

** Gingerbread house layout

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While the pieces cure.  I cut out my cardboard and cover them with foil, making sure I tape down the edges so the foil can’t shift during construction.  I also unwrap what ever candies we’ll be decorating with and set them aside in bowls so they are ready when we are. This is a great time to get out your cake decorating tools and make sure you have the proper tips.  I use the leaf tip for “cementing” and the writing tip for fine drawing.  The leaf tip makes great “snow covered” windows.

Once we are ready to begin construction, I mix up a double batch of frosting.  Like I said, I do 4 houses at a time. if you are only going to construct one house, follow the recipe exactly and do NOT double it as I do.  You will have frosting left over since the recipe easily covers two houses.

Frosting

  • 1 lb confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 egg whites (room temperature)
  • 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

Mix with a mixer and cover with a damp towel.  The frosting hardens quickly so to keep it workable you need to keep it moist.

When you’re ready, with the house pieces, frosting, decorating tools, foil covered cardboard, and candies in front of you, fill the icing bag with frosting and using the leaf tip, begin cementing the house together.

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I begin by gluing the two chimney pieces together, then I draw my windows on the sides, back, and IF I’m feeling creative, the front panels. The frosting will dry quickly but you should still be careful about where you place your fingers as you put the house together.

Draw a bead of frosting on the bottoms, and sides where the bread will touch the cardboard and other pieces. Allow the sides to sit for about five minutes before you draw a bead of frosting around the tops and set the roof on. Be sure to frost the center connection of the roof pieces to hold the roof together and give the structure added stability. At this point, I always use a candy cane in the roof seam.  It strengthens the frosting bond.

ImageNext, attach the chimney, the door, and run an extra reinforcing line of frosting along the base of the house.

Once the roof has set, you can start decorating.  I never do the same roof twice and as it’s the largest sheet of gingerbread, I try to at least cover it in frosting shingles.  some years, my kids have covered the roof in Red Hots. That’s “tasty” too.

Be sure to use your thicker frosting to cover any cut or exposed edges of the gingerbread.  This keeps the panels from crumbling .  To create “icicles”, add a 1/4 tsp of milk to the frosting to thin it out.  It takes a little longer to dry but the effect is so worth it.

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It’s the decorative candy touches that make the house special.  NOTE, always unwrap the candy before you put it on the house.  The frosting is like cement and will leach into any plastic or foil wrapping.  Better just to use “naked” candies.

 

 

Use the fast setting frosting to adhere candies quickly, especially those that hang on the roof line or on the walls. The thinner frosting won’t set up quick enough and your candies will slide or fall off, leaving smear marks behind.

 

 

Lastly, I like to create the illusion of falling snow on my houses.  A lite dusting of powdered sugar does the trick.

 

I hope you enjoy adding our family Christmas tradition to your own holiday traditions.  happy building.

 

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