I believe in the power of love and the joy of giving, and it is a creed that I strive to instill in my little ones. For the last five years around the holidays, my kids and I have forged a tradition that we hold dear. We build a gingerbread house each weekend in December and choose various charities to donate them to. The rule in our house is that they can have treats to enjoy while building the house, but once it’s done, it’s donated to a worthy cause. The particular one in this recipe was made with the utmost love and donated to a local domestic violence shelter which houses the most brave women and children you will ever meet.
A beautiful holiday season to all, and may peace, love and the aroma of delectable goodies baking fill your homes all the year through.
Around the holidays, I am always baking and relying on large quantity recipes. This recipe is enough for a gingerbread house and at least two dozen cut out cookies depending on the size of the cutters and the thickness of your dough. This is recipe is meant for sharing, however, it may easily be divided in half. Although, once you smell the heavenly scent of spices baking and taste these scrumptious cookies, you will want to make the entire batch!
6 cups (780 grams) all purpose flour, preferably unbleached
3 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) (339 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups (315 grams) brown sugar
2 eggs, preferably organic free-range
1 cup (11.5 ounces/340 ml) molasses
How to Use Them:
When incorporating many different types of spices, as in this gingerbread cookie recipe, I will often sort them first by labeling the parchment paper and measuring them out.This technique allows me to keep track of my spices and measurements. In a medium size bowl, sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt and baking soda by passing through a fine sieve.Whisk to blend completely and set aside.
Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat using the creaming method until light and fluffy, for approximately 3 minutes.Add the eggs one at a time to the creamed mixture and beat on medium speed until light in color, approximately 3 minutes. Stop half way through and scrape down the sides to reincorporate. Note, when you add the eggs, the mixture will initially look like a curdled mess. Don’t fret, just scrape the bowl to incorporate and beat until it all comes together. I promise it will. Add in the molasses and beat until incorporated.
On the stir or lowest setting of your mixture, gradually add in the flour until just incorporated. You do not want to over beat the mixture.Divide the dough into two disks, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, at least two hours. This dough can also be refrigerated for up to 48 hours.When you are ready to roll the dough, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and only take enough dough for one batch at a time. I usually take one half of a disk. The best baker’s advice I could possibly offer for any roll out cookie is how to roll it as easily and efficiently as possible. The majority of frustration comes from the rolling of the cookie dough and then attempting to transport the cut-out to its final cookie sheet destination. This process is where most of the sticking and misshaping occurs. The following method eliminates all of that anxiety.
Lightly flour a silicon baking mat such as a Silpat. You may also use parchment paper if you do not have a baking mat, however the mats works best.Place the dough directly on the mat and lightly flour it. Lightly flour your rolling pin as well. Begin rolling the dough to an 1/8 inch thickness. If during the rolling process, your dough begins to feel tacky or sticky, lightly flour it.I like my cookies more on the crispy side and therefore, I roll them out thinner. If you prefer a thicker, softer textured cookie, then by all means, roll it thicker. At this stage your dough is ready to make any cookies you’d like, whether it be cookie cutter cookies or the building blocks of a gingerbread house.
For the sake of full disclosure, I am a baker and a lawyer, I do not engineer gingerbread house designs. For that reason, I always defer to the internet for gingerbread house patterns. A great basic template that can be made as simple or ornate as you would like, is this one that I use in this recipe: http://www.documents.gingerbreadbydesign.com/Gingerbread-elfhouse.pdf. Feel free to search for a pattern that speaks to your own individual skill level and aesthetic.
Cut the pieces of the template as instructed, lightly dust them with flour and place them directly on the dough. Using a small spatula, place it directly flush with the edge of the template, press down cutting through the dough while simultaneously pushing the extra dough away from the piece as you see here.Lightly knead the leftover pieces of the dough and repeat this process with the remaining dough, only using the amount you need and keeping the rest refrigerated.
For the stain glass effect, break up pieces of Jolly Rancher hard candies and sprinkle them a singular layer in the places where glass would be such as windows. Pulverizing the candies is a great task for the kids to help with. Place the candies in a closed baggie, wrap in a towel and hit with a mallet to break up the pieces.For the smaller cut out pieces, use a toothpick to gently lift them off.For the larger pieces of the house, I bake them each separately. Note, as a general rule in baking, you always want to bake similar sized pieces together so that they may cook evenly.
Bake the cookies for 8-12 minutes until the edges are lightly browned. The baking time will vary based on the size and thickness of your cookies so make certain you keep an eye on them. Allow them to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet to set, prior to transferring them to a baking rack to cool completely. Once the cookies with the candies bake and cool, they will resemble colored glass. After ensuring I have all of the pieces of the gingerbread house baked, the kids use the remainder of the dough for cut-out cookies in their favorite shapes. They love doing this part themselves.Building the gingerbread house:
Prior to beginning the decorating and building, I always lay a large sheet of parchment paper down. Not only does this make for an easy clean up, but is also allows you to lift your house off without sticking. As far as the decorating goes, it’s much more manageable and less prone to breakage to decorate all of the pieces on a flat surface before building the house.
To decorate, first gather all of your favorite edible decorations and candies. It is essential to have all of the steps ready prior to beginning as the royal icing you will use dries extremely quick. I use this Royal Icing recipe for both the decorative elements and as the glue that holds the house together.Royal icing is perfect for piping details and can also be tinted with food coloring to create such elements as garland. You can tint a small amount of royal icing with green food coloring and use a leaf tip to pipe out the garland on this house.To glue your house together, use a small round tip on your piping bag and pipe royal icing on the edge of a wall piece. Now pipe more icing on the corresponding wall and hold the two piece together for at least 1 full minute. Allow to dry for at least 15 minutes before adding another piece. Use a glass or can to gently prop the pieces against to allow them to set up straight.Once all of the foundation pieces have dried and set for at least 1 hour, then add the roof in the same manner and allow it to dry completely, for another hour. Finally add the chimney and any final decorations. Do not be concerned with the royal icing on the edges, once dry, you can easily cover the corners with decorative candies.
For the foundation of this house, you can use a flat cake stand or cake board that you spread a thin layer of royal icing on using a small offset spatula and then sprinkle on white sugar crystals to resemble glittery snow.The most important thing to remember is to have fun! This bake is as much about building memories with your precious ones, as it is about building a gingerbread house.