Sturdy and sweet gingerbread houses

  • Store-bought kits make a great base for creative decorating. Charles Bertram

Lexington Herald-Leader
Published: 12/11/2018 11:31:15 AM

Is there anything that speaks to our inner childhood fantasies more than the gingerbread house? It’s a house made of cookie dough that’s covered with icing and candy. About the only disappointing thing is that these goodies usually are for show, not for eating. But Kristine Samuell, author of “A Year of Gingerbread Houses” (Lark Crafts), quashes that myth: Gingerbread houses, especially the candy, are made for eating, she said.

Samuell’s book has great tips for creating your holiday masterpiece. One tip that you might find surprising: There is nothing wrong with starting with a standard gingerbread house kit from the store.

“Factory-made houses tend to be quite sturdy and can withstand mountains of candy,” she says. (Which is good if your little helpers are the kind to eat a piece off the house now and then.)

But ditch the premade icing that comes with it, Samuell suggests, in favor of making your own royal icing. “That stuff you get in the kit is impossible; it’s like squeezing clay through a tube, and it doesn’t usually dry,” she says. “But you can really make a nice house with a kit and doctor it up.”

BUILD TO LAST

Samuell suggests that, if possible, you decorate the walls of your house before you assemble it because it can be hard to pipe icing on vertical walls.

If you don’t have gingerbread, you can make a house out of graham crackers.

Samuell suggests doubling up on the crackers and gluing two together with icing to increase the strength of a tiny house. Or make a big one with graham crackers by “gluing” the crackers to a cardboard box, cut in the shape you like, with royal icing. Any crackers iced to the cardboard shouldn’t be eaten, “but all of the candy is fair game,” she says.

You can even make just a gingerbread facade by decorating the front and bracing it against cardboard triangles. Make sure your house is built on a strong base, such as a cutting board or an upside-down pie pan or cake pan. You can make a house look larger by putting it on a small base.

Samuell recommends using an overturned plate or platter to give some height, and covering the curve with icing grass, snow or candy.

ONLY LIMITS: IMAGINATION AND WEIGHT

When it comes to decorating, your house can be as simple or as fancy as you like. And think creatively. For instance, for chimneys, Samuell uses gray, black and brown jelly beans to give the look of stones. Or use chocolate covered raisins.

Cinnamon sticks make great “logs” stacked up like firewood.

Use icing tips to press holes and make lacy gingerbread fences. Samuell’s creations often have beautiful white piped tracery on them, and to do this, the wall pieces have to be flat.

But if your house is going to be decorated by children, you might want to put the whole thing together beforehand so it has time to dry completely.

Samuell recommends using colored fondant to make decorations for the houses, or cookies if you don’t have the patience to color, cut and paste. Fondant tinted brown and gray can be rolled into rocks that kids love to eat, she says. Roofs are best decorated once they are on the house, Samuell says.

Want it to took like a log roof? Try long, thick pretzel sticks. For roof tiles, use anything lightweight and small, such as Smarties or gumdrops, or candy hearts.

For three-dimensional Christmas trees, Samuell likes to use sugar ice cream cones; for bigger trees, add more cones. For more ideas, check out her blog, GingerbreadJournal.com.

ROYAL iCING

From “A Year of Gingerbread Houses” by Kristine Samuell

5 tablespoons meringue powder

½ to ⅔ cup water (4+ ounces)

1 tablespoon lemon juice (added for acidity; taste will be unnoticeable) or 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 pound bag of powdered sugar (about 8 cups)

2 teaspoons peppermint extract of other flavored extract (no oil-based flavorings, only extracts)

Combine the meringue powder, water, and lemon juice (or cream of tartar). Mix until the meringue powder dissolves completely. Gradually add the powdered sugar on slow speed. Beat the icing on medium speed for 2 to 4 minutes, scraping the sides occasionally until the icing is bright white, light and fluffy. Add extract. Cover with a damp cloth. You can thicken with more powdered sugar or thin with a little water to change the consistency to suit the type of piping you want to put on your house. Use thick icing to stick pieces together. You can color it with paste or gel food coloring.




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