Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Nothing evokes the holidays quite like the smell of freshly baked gingerbread. The warm, spicy scent fills the home, drawing friends and family to the kitchen where they can decorate gingerbread houses made with this classic recipe.

White House Gingerbread
One batch of dough makes three small houses or one large house

250 ml shortening 1 cup
500 ml granulated sugar 2 cups
250 ml + 30 ml brown sugar plus 1 cup + 2 tbsp
4 eggs
45 ml molasses 3 tbsp
15 ml salt 1 ½ tsp
10 ml baking soda 2 tsp
15 ml ginger 1 tbsp
15 ml cinnamon 1 tbsp
1.5 L flour 6 cups

Cream the shortening and sugars in a large stand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until fluffy. Add the molasses, salt, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon. Mix completely. Add the flour, one cup at a time. The dough will become very stiff, and the bowl will be quite full. Once the flour is incorporated, turn off the mixer. It is a very stiff dough, and the object is to incorporate the flour, nothing more.

Roll dough to a generous 1/8-inch thickness directly on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Trace around paper stencils to cut out the walls and roof of a gingerbread house (patterns are available on the Internet). Lift away the excess dough on the cookie sheet with a spatula or knife. Be sure to leave some space between the pieces — the dough does expand while baking.

Bake at 190°C (375°F) for 10 to 14 minutes. Slightly overbaked (short of burning) is better than slightly under-baked as you need rigidity for constructing gingerbread houses. Let the cookie pieces cool completely before assembly (even overnight). When cooling and storing, do not stack the pieces more than three high. If you do, the pressure will cause warm cookies to cement together.

Sweet, Edible Cement (Royal Icing)

6 egg whites
1 kg powdered sugar 2 lb
5 ml cream of tartar 1 tsp
2.5 ml clear artificial vanilla ½ tsp

Pour egg whites into an impeccably clean mixing bowl, free from all traces of grease. Add the sugar and cream of tartar and vanilla. Mix on medium speed for 10 to15 minutes, until the icing is stiff. A stand mixer is also very helpful here.

To prevent crusting over, keep the bowl covered with a wet cloth at all times. Be sure all utensils used to mix and store royal icing are free from any traces of grease. This is critical, as even the smallest trace of fat means that the icing will not set.

Notes on Assembly and Decoration

Place royal icing in an icing bag. Disposable plastic bags are available at craft and cake decorating stores, and are fast and easy. Cake rounds, also available at craft and cake decorating stores, make great bases for your gingerbread houses. You can also easily make your own by cutting cardboard and covering it with freezer wrap, dull finish side out.

Use the icing to cement the house together. Use cans of food to help support the walls while they dry, and let the walls dry for several hours before you attach the roof pieces.

Decorate by cementing any kind of candy to the gingerbread with the royal icing. Inverted ice cream cones covered in icing make great trees, and caramel can be used as a sculpting medium. Use your imagination and have fun!


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