Tomorrow is Gingerbread House Day and a perfect time to gather your family to begin an annual tradition of creating this unique and impressive centerpiece for Christmastime. Our family made a gingerbread house each year when our children were home using a different theme and our gingerbread always had to taste great because we would break and eat the house on New Year’s Day!
An Armenian Monk brought gingerbread to Europe in the 10th century and taught the skill of baking the treat and monasteries were one of the first places to sell gingerbread. Once it found its way to Britain, it was decorated, but not until after the publishing of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm was it made into houses. This well-known German tale also resulted in German settlers bringing gingerbread to America, where it continues to be popular today.
Gingerbread houses are not as difficult to make as they might appear and if you don’t have time for baking, you can use cardboard for larger houses or graham crackers for a more petite version! You can get some great instructions and ideas here.
Gingerbread is a sweet that can be a cake or a cookie which is flavored predominately with ginger and honey or molasses. Here is my favorite cookie and icing recipe for houses:
1 3/4c sugar
1/3c lemon juice
1Tbs lemon zest
1/4c plus 2Tbs baking powder
1 1/2tsp ginger
1 egg yolk
Combine sugar, honey and butter and bring to a boil stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add lemon juice and zest then mix well. Cool. Combine dry ingredients and then add 2 cups of the flour mixture to the liquid mixture with the beaten egg and yolk. Mix well, then add remaining flour and mix well again. Shape into a ball and knead until dough is smooth.
Place ¾ of the dough on a greased and floured backside of a cookie sheet and roll to 1/4” thickness, covering the entire sheet. Cut out pattern with tip of a knife and then remove excess dough. Combine with remaining dough and refrigerate. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 mins. or until firm and golden. Carefully slip a spatula under gingerbread to loosen and slide onto a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough until all pieces are baked.
3 egg whites
1/2tsp cream of tartar
1lb sifted powdered sugar
Beat egg white and cream of tartar until frothy, then gradually add powdered sugar until mixture is very stiff. Place into piping bag to use to assemble and decorate. Keep additional icing covered with a damp towel, because it dries very quickly.
Once you have your house baked and assembled, then the fun begins! Of course you can use anything to decorate including candies, cereal, nuts, dried fruit, etc., but here is a list of some herbs and spices with shapes, textures and colors that can be used in a variety of ways to decorate your gingerbread house:
- bay leaf: roof shingles, shrubbery, shutters
- mint: dried sprinkled on thinly iced roof
- cardamom pods: strung in garlands, bundled into little topiaries
- star anise: roof peaks, fretwork, circular windows
- carob pods: rock foundation wall
- red pepperberries: Christmas tree ornaments, strung into swags and wreaths
- rosemary: trees
- sage: dried as moss
- ginger: slices for stepping stones
- cinnamon: window boxes, fences, structural accents, arbors
- allspice: rocks, outline doors/windows, tree ornaments, berries
- cloves: roof tops, door knobs, “nails”
- thyme: mini wreaths, garlands
- nutmeg: stones lining walkways, rock gardens
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart,
as working for the Lord, not for men.”