Making gingerbread houses before Christmas every year is a tradition for a lot of people. My kids don’t get into the construction of the houses but they have always LOVED to decorate them with all types of candy and colored royal icing.
Their houses were always cute and colorful but, I’ll be honest…The first couple of years it took all I had to not take over and make each house fit my idea of perfect! I wanted the icing piped in straight lines and the roof ’tiles’ neatly and perfected lined up. The front entry should be symmetrical and beautiful and the whole thing should be lightly dusted with powdered sugar.
It took along time for me to realize that their houses were already perfect. They had expressed their own ideas and creativity. They had fun and built memories along with those houses. And they ate a lot of candy and gingerbread along the way!
This year, my kids decorated ‘gingerbread houses’ with their cousins on Thanksgiving. I made the houses out of graham crackers instead of gingerbread since I had to make 14 of them! They may not be gingerbread but all they loved it!
My birthday is on December 3rd, which is right after Thanksgiving break every year. Honestly, I usually forget that my birthday is coming until it is a day or so before because we are so busy with traveling and family fun over Thanksgiving.
This year my birthday fell on a Sunday and I was ready for a break to do something fun but relaxing. My husband took care of cleaning the house and making dinner, etc. (bless his heart!) so I had all day to do whatever I wanted. Every girls dream, right???
I decided to take my day to make a gingerbread house replica of the first house that my husband and I lived in. We were lucky enough to meet and fall in love in Scotland. We were both active duty Navy and were stationed there (I know, awesome, right???) We rented the Old Lodge at Lauriston, a very large, very old hunting lodge not far from Lauriston Castle in St Cyrus, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. We were up high on a cliff that overlooked the North Sea. Yeah, pretty much perfect, right?
Ahhh, so many memories in that house. I made my first turkey for Thanksgiving there and we spent our first Christmas together there. We hosted a bunch of friends and I made a traditional American Christmas meal in the middle of Scotland.
One of the most vivid memories were the carpets. Oh, those bright, multi-colored paisley print carpets! They were loud and awful and I will never forget them!
And the house was COLD. Most older homes in Scotland have divided rooms that can be closed off by doors to allow you to only heat the rooms that are being used. We got the full brunt of the powerful winds off the North Sea, which made the house cold all the time! Around the back of the house was a vented door to a small room that housed the furnace and the water heater. When the winds really kicked up, the pilot light on the furnace would be blown out. I remember time and again, waking up early in the morning and it was so cold in our room I could see my breathe!
Well, my night in shining armor would bundle up and go out in gale force winds to trudge around the house to the back and try against all odds to get that pilot light lit again. When I decided to build the Old Lodge out of gingerbread, I KNEW that door had to be one it! It doesn’t mean anything to anyone else and, to be honest, if you didn’t know the story, you would think the door was completely out of place. But it was the first thing my husband looked for when I told him to come look at the completely house!
See the vented door on back…
Yeah, my hubby will never forget (or let me forget!) about the numerous times that he went out there in the cold!
I really love this house. It was so much fun to build!
No matter what you want to build, this gingerbread recipe is perfect. It doesn’t taste like most construction gingerbread AKA cardboard! It is spicy and sweet with a hint of orange. It bakes firm enough for construction but still tastes great.
You can even change the color of the dough by varying the ingredients. I wanted some darker dough for the roof tops and windows on the front of the house so I used all molasses and not honey. For my second batch of dough, I used half and half. You could even go all honey for a much lighter colored dough and more mild taste!
Give it a try and let me know what you make with this dough!
Yield: About 3 pounds of dough
For the crust:
- 5 cups all-purpose flour*
- 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup molasses**
- ½ cup honey**
- 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
**For a darker, more robustly flavored dough, you can use 1 cup of molasses. For a lighter colored dough with a lighter flavor use half molasses and half honey. You can also use 1 cup of honey and no molasses for a lighter dough that does not have the typical bitter flavor from the molasses.
- Whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the shortening and sugar until well combined. Add the egg and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl at least twice during mixing.
- Add the molasses, honey and vinegar and mix well.
- Turn off the mixer and add about half of the dry ingredients. Mix on low just to combine. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
- Gather the dough together into a ball and then flatten the dough into two disks. Wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate for about 3 hours or until firm enough to roll without sticking.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 3/16-inch thickness. Cut out shapes with your favorite cookie cutters or cut according to gingerbread house template. Carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets with an offset spatula or dough scraper (I like to use a wide dough scraper to keep the cut dough from losing it’s shape.)
- Baking time will vary with cookie size and thickness. Bake until the cookies are firm to the touch and lightly browned around the edges. A three-inch round cookie will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely before frosting and/or assembling with royal icing.
- 2 pounds powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 5 large egg whites (5 1/2 ounces of pasteurized whites*)
- Gel food coloring
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the powdered sugar and cream of tartar and whisk together to combine. Add the egg whites and stir gently with a rubber spatula until the powdered sugar is moistened.
- Put the bowl on the stand mixer and, using the whisk attachment, whisk for 1 to 2 minutes until smooth and bright white in color.
- At this point, you can use the icing to assemble a gingerbread house. To use the white icing, you will need to thin the icing as directed below.
**To outline shapes or cookies for flooding, put about 1 cup of the royal icing in a small bowl and add about ½ teaspoon water. Add another ½ teaspoon if needed to allowing piping. Stir until smooth and combined.
**To flood cookies inside the dried outline, put about 1 cup of the royal icing in a small bowl and add about 1 teaspoon of water. Add another ½ teaspoon water to allow smooth spreading. Stir until smooth and combined.
**Color as desired.