Working on homes is one of my skills. Mark and I have always worked on the homes we've bought and sold. I'm pretty good at setting windows, putting up cedar siding and so much more. So it's only natural for me to take this home building skill into the kitchen....for Gingerbread Home Building! I organized a party for 10 to build away, with sugar and spice, and everything nice! I had to limit it to ten becuase more than ten kids (big &/or small) was all I thought I could handle eating so much candy simultaneously! I invited family, friends and very special neighbors. My only instructions were for them to bring candy of any sort and any amount. That's what really added to the fun. I had a huge tray of candy and various pretzels, etc. What the guests brought added to what I had made for a gold mine of building supplies! (Note: this is one way to use up saved Halloween candy! One guests brought a big bowl full and it all worked wonderfully!) I realize it's now after Christmas, but I wanted to post about it and I just know this post will be read again for Christmas 2011!
My "Gingerbread House Making Party" was one of my favorite events this 2010 Christmas season. I'm thinking now that a "Love Shack Making Party" might be fun for Valentine's Day. What do you think? For privacy reasons I'm only going to show photos of my family here on my blog, but there were others here as well.
Remember, you can click on any photo to enlarge....to see every sugar crystal and gingerbread crumb!
Here's where I started packing the pounds, I ate all the trimings....oops....
I ended up making batches of gingerbread dough, each batch making 2 houses. The houses were cut from cardboard cutouts I had drawn up from my gingerbread house making party last year. They seem to be the perfect size, not too small and nothing like Martha Stewart's grand masion! If you decide to do this, do not double the recipe, it really does turn out better if you just make one batch at a time. Immediately after taking the pieces from the oven, re-trim them, using the original cardboard cutout as a guide. My Mark is going to make a set of cookie cutter cutouts for me, which would make it fast than hand-cutting each piece. Oh, did I mention you can eat the trimed pieces as you go? Yes, I do...yes, I did.
Can you just smell how good my kitchen smells?
I had to use every inch of counter space for my productions....it sure smelled good in my kitchen!
I loved "building" the houses...
Next step is to "build" the houses. I make mine simple, no windows or doors cut out, so the framing of the house is easy. Using royal icing, (made with merangue powder, powdered sugar, and warm water), I "glued" the houses. This is very fast and easy when the icing is a good consitancy. If it's too wet, the pieces slip around, but at that point you can use long pins to pin the pieces together until it dies. But, as I said, easier than that is to get the icing to the correct consistancy!
A clean table....not for long!
I covered pieces of cardboard with aluminum foil to set the houses on, that way the guests could have "grass" or "snow" around their house bases. Last year I used all white plates, but I think the covered cardboard works best. And I don't loose any of my white plates!
Gather supplies, candies, dyed coconut (for grass) and anything you can find,
these houses look great with any food items! Gather up books for guests to get ideas from, too.
I gathered up my gingerbread house books from my collection, and also check a couple out at the library. The very best book as far as directions is the "Gingerbread House" book by Christa Currie (1992). She has only included hand drawn illustrations, but the information she presents is great. The other book that's pretty old (1984) is "The Gingerbread Book", which is packed with ideas for creations even beyond the houses. There are color photos in the is book, so I also highly recomment if you're doing any gingerbread house making research.
You can see the tray filled with some of the goodies I was beginning to set out. Once all the guests arrived it was overflowing like crazy. The tray is an old metal refrigerator tray that I "picked" off my brother's inherited junk yard years ago. I spray painted it white and it works for so many things. For this party I layed some Christmas napkins on it. (Oh, and my brother's property is all cleaned up now...I brought home more than my fair share of "treasures", though, to help him out!)
Ellie worked long and hard at decorating her house. She's three and I thought she did very well.
Then she spent the rest of the day pulling her candy off just as meticulously to eat it!
I had the tubes of white royal icing ready for each guest. I made yellow, red and green as well. For next year I need to find better coloring for red. When I set the "red" on the table one little boy said, "hey that's pink". You see why I need better red coloring paste for next year! At that point I said, "I think I should make "spring" themed gingerbread houses, as I 'm better at making pastel colors!" Hum, and "Easter Gingerbread House Making Party" sounds like fun!
John Mark also worked long and hard on his house. He is 4 1/2, and talked non-stop the whole party. It was funny, he told us all about how he and my son-in-law built their house and barn (he really did help with the barn!).
Melissa even had Claira in on the building. Melissa made a darling house. Last night she had us over for a turkey dinner and there on her kitchen counter was the house....ALL goodies had been picked off and eaten! I'm not sure who ate all that candy....maybe all 5 of them did!
She was very serious...
This sweet guest had piped on "PEACE" and "JOY" on her rooftops.
A neighborhood of gingerbread houses. The one on the far right was Ellie's, she packed so much on her house that a sidewall caved in. At that point she just started loading the house inside with candy!
Melissa inspecting the homes. The tree in our kitchen was one Mark grew on our property. When one young guest first saw it he said, "Wow! I've never seen a tree like that before!" It made me realize we've had homegrown trees for so long I had forgotten what the lot/store bought trees even looked like.
Here's the gingerbread recipe:
GINGERBREAD RECIPE FOR HOUSES
1 cube margarine (or butter)
1/2 cup brown sugar (dark or light, but dark will make the dough darker)
1/2 cup molasses
3 1/2 cup sifted flour (it really does help to sift, but don't worry if you don't)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp baking soda (make sure it's fresh, not old!)
1 1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon1/4 tsp. cloves
1/3 cup warm water
Mix up the margarine, brown sugar and molasses. Add all the remaining dry ingredients, alternating with the water until nicely mixed into a dough that sticks together. You may need to add a little more water, or possibly a little more flour. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for about 20 minutes, if you chill longer the dough gets too stiff.
Lightly flour work surface, rolling one half of dough at a time. Cut out house shapes, re- left over dough pieces. Dust flour off pieces as you place on cookie sheet. The best way to bake is to use Silpat baking mats. If you don't have those, use parchment paper. If you don't have that, lightly spray or grease cookie sheets before placing cut-out pieces on it.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Don't under bake, as you need them to be solid enough to hold their own shape. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Then re-cut the shapes, so they are all the original size. (The dough often expands a little as baking.)
Note: A lot of people recommend rolling the dough and cutting it out right on the back of a cookie or baking sheet. I didn't find success that way. My best success was cutting on the work surface and then transferring to a Silpat mat. Those mats are worth their weight in gold!
Here's the royal icing recipe:
ROYAL ICING (Meringue method)
4 cups powdered sugar
3 Tblspn Wilton meringue powder
6 to 8 Tblspn warm water
Mix and beat for 6 to 8 minutes. Put tips in Wilton disposable decorating bags, screw on sealing cap outside (okay--just follow the directions on decorating tips package!) and away you go! Set your filled decorating bags in tall cups, with damp napkin on bottom to keep tip moist.
Here's an alternative royal icing, this works just as well if you don't have meringue powder:
ROYAL ICING (Egg white method)
Begin beating 3 egg whites in mixer,
then slowly add (or your kitchen will look like a snow storm) 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar.
Beat 6 to 8 minutes, until thick but not too stiff. It's an art...you learn it as you go!
That's it. Please have fun. Please make sure you have a couple days to do it all, as this is not a fast kitchen crafting event! :) You will be rewarded with BIG smiles and HAPPY hearts!
Here's Melissa's completed gingerbread house: