Okay, I know I made a recent promise about doing short posts.
I may have said it a bit too soon.
This is not one. But wait!  It's more a tutorial if you will.

Ever wanted to make one of those super cute and tasty looking gingerbread houses?  No - not like the one I posted the other day.  Better.  Much better.  Well, I have just the person to introduce you to this chat.

My cousin Paul blogs over at The Ossington Kitchen, and makes the most fantastic gingerbread houses for our family Christmas gathering.   (My kids cannot wait to dive into them.  Put them up high Paul!)  So I invited him over to do a guest post on the tastiest of holiday traditions.   Yes, it's a long one....so grab your coffee, then come back, and then go visit Paul for more fantastic Recipes

N.B:   Linky will be after the post.  Why not link up your own favourite holiday recipe? 

My cousin, Rorybore asked me about doing a guest post (my first, Hurray) about.... wait for it..... my favourite part of Christmas, making gingerbread houses. Sharing tips and tricks on how to make these delicious and fun treats. My gingerbread recipe is so old it has yellowed, that's how long I've been making them. How to condense all of that ginger scented wisdom?? It just isn't going to happen. I'm nothing if not verbose. I go on and on and on and on and on and with pictures too. You've been warned. Grab a coffee, martini, sit back and relax. This is a long one. ( I swear I really did try to shorten it up but??)

Oddly enough, my aunt wanted to do a demo with me on the same topic. She wanted to make some for a charity at work. Kits had been made previously, now it was time to move on to the big leagues. My cousin, who happened to be coming up to the Big Smoke for a conference, joined us. Five hours of gingerbread, candy and family. I can't think of a better way to spend a Sunday.

Where to start? A disclaimer. I have never made one from a kit. I can't comment on quality, instructions etc. The whole idea doesn't appeal to me, besides, I like gingerbread. I started making this recipe because I liked the cookies, undecorated. The houses came later for all the younger cousins when I was home for the holidays. It started as a bit of a joke, gingerbread houses for my aunts when they became grandmothers. That's right, we're all getting older. Judy, Karen, Marilyn, you're time is coming.

How to start? You need a pattern. I make mine out of construction paper. Keep it simple. Make two 4"x4" squares. One will be the side, the other the front and back. The one for the front, draw a line dividing it in half and extend the line up. Measure from the corner 4" until you hit the line, this is your slope for the roof, repeat and you now have a pattern for both sides and a front and back. The roof is two pieces, with an inch on three sides for overhang, for the above dimensions, 5"x7". This gives you a little room to play with when you assemble because the baked cookie rises. These fit nicely on a 9 inch cake board.

The recipe for the cookies and the royal icing is here. The dough is stiff so I roll mine out at room temperature. I find it easier even though it is recommended to chill it. Do what ever works for you. I roll mine directly on the parchment paper it bakes on. No trying to transfer pieces, no floured board to clean up. Out of the oven, the gingerbread is really soft. Cut the parchment paper to size. Even a little bump, fold and the cookies will warp. Not a huge deal, just makes assembly a little more challenging.

A lump of dough ready for rolling

Rolled out
The flour in back is for the rolling pin if/when the dough sticks

Pieces laid out, roof and a front
Trimmed with a paring knife
Excess just peels away

Ready for the oven

When I lay mine out for cutting, I cover the baking sheet. The photo shows a lot of wasted baking space for the sake of a clearer picture. I don't worry about the cookies spreading or not getting a clean edge. They can be easily trimmed with a knife and the "raw" edge, especially on the bottoms of the side, front and back pieces make it easier to assemble later.
I assembly line mine. I have six baking sheets and just rotate through them as I'm baking. By the time the last is in the oven the first has the cookies cooled enough to transfer to wire racks. I re use the parchment paper. Brush off any crumbs and ready for the next batch.

The cookie needs to cool at least an hour, usually two. It gives it a chance to harden up so you can work with it with out breaking or cracking it. I've done both, so be patient. If you want to do this with children, bake the gingerbread the night before. It is how I do mine.

As well as the pattern pieces, I cut out cookies to decorate the eaves of the houses. They are what takes up the space around the pattern pieces.

Now it is time for the glue, the royal icing. I've never made it from scratch, I use the meringue powder. No salmonella worries using raw egg whites. Use the same technique you would if you were making it from scratch. Combine the water and meringue powder and whip it for several minutes until it is fluffy and stiff. Add the icing sugar, 1/3-1/2 cup at a time until you get the consistency you want. Ideally you are looking for an icing that will hold a stiff peak. It takes about 10 minutes from start to finish.

My original recipe said to combine all three, then whip. Don't do that. The icing is grainy and awful. Whip the meringue first, then add the sugar. You end up with a silky, smooth icing. To thin it, add water a teaspoon at a time, to thicken, add more icing sugar. Don't add more meringue powder.

Meringue powder and water, whipped up and ready for the icing sugar.

The icing can be coloured with gel or regular food colouring. Regular food colouring is water based so a little thicker icing is best. The icing will dry so keep any unused portions covered with a damp cloth or in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator. I've kept it for a couple of days that way.

Now comes the fun part, decorating. The possibilities are endless. I have six large coffee cans of different candies, licorice, gummies etc. I make about a dozen houses a year. The houses weigh in at about 4 pounds, roughly 36 pounds of candy a season. (a pound for the gingerbread and icing)

Wendy using fuzzy peach hearts for shingles

Susan using sour grapefruit slices

To decorate the roofs, you can put the icing on with a knife or off set spatula like you would butter a slice of bread, then attach the candy. OR With the icing in a piping bag you can put a blob on each candy and attach it separately. I use the "buttering".

Chimney stacks are piped in outlines filled with malted milk stones

Almonds or hazelnuts also make great fake stone work

Windows and door frames are piped outlines filled in with licorice, smarties, jujubes etc. Another way to do these are with separate cookies glued to the house. It gives a more three dimensional feel. Windows can be created by using stained glass cookies that are attached or by cutting them out of the house pattern pieces. Stained glass is created by grinding hard clear candies (Life Savers are ideal) then filling the holes, then baking. The candy melts, creating opaque windows. Sorry no pictures of those, just yet.

As you may have noticed, I do and recommend decorating on the flat. My houses are candy heavy. Trying to affix everything on an assembled house is asking for trouble. The icing is soft so the candies slide and fall off. It takes about two hours for the icing to dry enough that the candy won't move. Enough time for lunch, a short nap, a run around the block to combat the sugar rush.

As you may have noticed from the pictures, the candies are all in bowls. It makes it easier to work with them and helps prevent sugar all over everything. It is easier to clean dishes than the table, your kids, the dog... That's why dishwashers were invented.

The candy is stuck, the icing is dry, time to put these bad boys together. Most things I have read suggest propping the pieces up with cans, bottles etc. Not a chance. I nail mine. Let me show you.

Piping bag ready for action

Start with an end, the back or front.
A line of icing on the bottom and one on the inside edges

Icing on the bottom of a side piece
Then pin it together
I've always used millinery pins but..
My aunt couldn't find any but got great floral pins

Just work your way around,

Pinning as you go.
Nice shot of my nose don't you think?

All pinned and ready to start on the roof
The "raw" edges on the ends will be covered with candy canes or icing
No need to worry about them
Make sure the side pieces are on the inside
The roof won't fit properly otherwise

Getting ready for the roof,
Lots more icing

Lots more pins
The roof pieces should meet but don't worry if they don't
That space will be filled with gumdrops, chocolates...
It provides a more stable place for candy than trying to balance it on on overlapping roof

I used an undecorated house so you could see things more clearly. If you are decorating with icing only, you can go ahead and assemble the house then decorate. There are some beautiful pictures of houses done that way online. Me, I want candy, lots of candy.

It takes another two to four hours for the assembly icing to dry before you start taking out pins. While you are waiting you can put the gum drops, whatever to decorate the peak of the roof. Cookies to decorate the eaves can also be pinned on. I let mine sit overnight to dry before the finishing touches.

The only things left to do are a generous dusting of icing sugar and decorating the cake board. I always dust the entire house with icing sugar. It makes it look more finished.

Dusting finished pieces

I don't do this on individual pieces, only the finished house.
This is just to show what it looks like and how I do it

The finished product ready for wrapping
I don't normally decorate the cake board
I stick things around the edges of the house
Mine travel and decorations on the board don't survive the car ride

These aren't mine, just pulled from the web
Icing covered ice cream cones make perfect trees

To decorate your board, coloured sugar paths, pretzel fences, marshmallow snowmen or an amazing array of marzipan decorations will complete your house. You'll be the envy of the neighbourhood.

It isn't easy or fast but something I truly enjoy. There is nothing like the look on a kids face, big or small, when they see these. The fact they are meant to be torn apart and eaten is just a bonus.

If all of this is a bit too traditional, feel good and sappy, there is always this site. I can think of at least one person I'd send those cookies to.

One last piece of advice, there is no right way to make or decorate your house. Who cares if the walls aren't straight, some of the candy is a little off to one side. The little imperfections or full on building code violations are what add to the charm and uniqueness of your creation. The whole point of making these is to have fun, then eat them.

There you have it, a not so short post sharing some of my gingerbread secrets. Only some?? It's true. I'm competing in " Get your ginger on 2011" over at Movita Beaucoup.  I'm hard at work designing an awesome entry.  I'll do a post on the 19th showing the trials and tribulations of that. That's right, the 19th, the day judging starts. I'm not giving those Rutherfords any ideas.

Seriously, if you have any questions or suggestions feel free to leave a comment.  I'll help if I can, even those Rutherfords.  Enjoy.

The pins!  Why didn't I think of that?  You know how hard it is to find a soup can that will fit into the gap of your lopsided house?!   Thanks so much Paul for sharing your gingerbread wisdom!   See you and your creations very soon!  I will try to hold the kids back until at least after the main meal.

live signature