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How to make a gingerbread house
Editor's note: Thanks to Martha Storey for sharing her gingerbread recipe and tips; to the Hilton Atlanta & Towers for sharing their expertise in the "how-to" department; and to CNN Interactivity Editor Helyn Trickey for her photography and help in illustrating how to make this holiday project.
This is a wonderful project to make with or for children. They love to help add the decorations and to fantasize about living in such a fairytale abode. The house makes a fabulous centerpiece or decoration for a holiday party, too.
1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until softened. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy, at least 3 minutes. Add the molasses and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Alternately add the flour mixture and the water to the batter a little at a time, mixing in each addition thoroughly. Use only enough water to hold the dough together; you will have to use your hands to work in the last additions.
2. Divide dough into thirds and shape into balls. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours, preferably overnight. The dough must be sufficiently chilled before rolling to prevent stickiness.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F. On a piece of aluminum foil, roll out one ball to approximately 3/16-inch thick. To prevent pulling, lightly flour the foil, your hands, and the rolling pin before rolling, or roll dough between the sheet of foil on the bottom and a sheet of wax paper on top.
4. Position pattern templates on top of the dough at least 1 inch apart to allow for a little spreading of dough during baking. Carefully cut out the pieces by using a pastry wheel or paring knife. Gingerly lift the scraps away from the cutout shapes, and return them to the refrigerator.
5. Carefully slide the foil with the cutouts on it onto a baking sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, until just firm but not browned. In ovens that do not produce even heat, bake one sheet at a time, centered in the oven. Once all of the dough has been used, form the scraps into another ball and roll out again. Avoid rolling the dough out more than twice if you plan to eat your gingerbread; the extra handling makes it tough.
6. When the pieces have finished baking, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly on the baking sheets. As soon as the pieces come out of the oven, check the edges to be sure that the sides are square with those of the template. Lay the corresponding templates over each piece and, if necessary, trim with a sharp knife, so that the pieces will fit together. The dough will have spread somewhat, but the basic shape should be the same. The dough hardens as it cools, making it more difficult to trim later.
7. Transfer the pieces to racks; cool completely. If you can't start construction right away, slide the fully cooled pieces onto foil-covered cardboard or back onto the baking sheets, wrap with foil or plastic wrap, and store flat.
1. Prepare the egg whites as package directs and beat until frothy. Gradually beat in sugar until icing reaches the desired consistency. The more you whip the icing, the fluffier it will get. Icing that is less fluffy is best for piping out details, such as siding, roof and window designs; fluffier icing makes good glue for holding the pieces of the house together. Add food coloring a few drops at a time, or smudge a little if using the paste type, and mix thoroughly. Immediately wrap and refrigerate leftovers.
Note: Powdered egg whites are used to avoid the possibility of salmonella infection from uncooked eggs.
Gingerbread House Decorating Ingredients
Putting It All Together
1. Build a firm foundation. You will need a sturdy base to act as a steady anchor, to define the limits of your display, and to make moving and storing easier. Cut plywood or heavy cardboard to the size and shape desired. Cover with wax paper or aluminum foil taped in place on the bottom. Frost the entire base, or only where the walls of the house will contact it.
2. Ice first. Except for the roof of the house, most decorative icing should be applied before putting the house together. It is easier to create straight lines (such as for clapboards or bricks) and to pipe fancier icing on gingerbread that is lying flat than on an assembled house. So ice first, and allow plenty of time (several hours or overnight) for the icing to dry before piecing your house together.
Tint icing to any color you desire. Use a metal spatula or butter knife to spread the icing as evenly as possible over the surface of each piece. Pipe on contrasting icing for trim and other effects. Cake-decorating tips, even in the most inexperienced hands, can turn plain into fancy. Edge doorways and windows with a fancy tip to create the look of exotic molding.
3. Put up walls. Start with the biggest walls of the house. Pipe a generous line of icing along the meeting edges of two walls and press together. Ice the bottom edges of the walls before setting them in place to help secure them to the foundation. Position side walls between the front and back pieces to make the front of the house more attractive. Place canned goods on either side of the walls to hold them in place while the icing dries.
Run icing along the meeting edges of the next two pieces, press them together, and settle into position, making sure that all iced edges fit squarely together. Again, use cans for support.
As you press the iced edges together, icing will ooze from the seams. Before the icing dries, run a metal spatula or butter knife along the seams to tidy up. Later, you can pipe an even line or a decorative edging along the seams to hide any unevenness where the walls meet.
4. Build bay windows, chimneys, dormers and towers. As the major walls of your gingerbread house dry, the smaller structures can be I pieced together. When the -- icing holding them together is dry enough that they can safely be handled, join these structures to the house. Apply icing to all edges that will touch and gently ease them into place, holding for a moment or two. Support with cans as needed. Chimneys and dormers will be added once the roof is in place.
5. Ice again. After the walls are thoroughly dry - from 1 or 2 hours to overnight -pipe a line of icing along the seams from the inside. This extra bit of glue helps make the house more solid, Let it dry again.
6. Add the roof. Ice along the top edges of the walls and edges where the roof pieces will meet. Set one side of the roof in place, then the other, Carefully adjust the two pieces until they meet at the top, Press firmly so that the icing is smushed together; smooth icing along roof peak. Add dormers and chimneys.
Be sure to allow the icing plenty of time to dry before adding snow, shingles, reindeer and so on. To secure shingles or roof ornaments, first frost the roof with snow, then gently press the objects into place. If laying shingles made of slivered almonds, cereal or fondant, apply a strip of icing a little wider than a row of shingles to the bottom of the roofline. Press the shingles into place. Then frost the next row up, press the next row of shingles into place so that they overlap the first row a little bit, and continue on to the top of the roof. If the shingles don't match up perfectly at the peak of the roof, cut smaller shingles or camouflage the peak under a blanket of snow.
7. Finishing touches. From whimsy to realism, the finishing touches are what make your gingerbread house spring to life. Icing details, landscaping, figurines, snow and roof decorations are the last features to add to your edible art.
The Gingerbread Factory in Leavenworth, Washington
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