When Hansel and Gretel get lost in the woods, they stumble upon a house made of cookies and candy. The base of the house was lebkuchen, or soft gingerbread, a favorite German Christmas treat. The practice of making gingerbread houses grew from the story of Hansel and Gretel and today, we see them throughout the holiday season. They have become so popular that you can purchase kits to assemble and decorate your own gingerbread house. Or you could make your own!
This recipe comes to us from eHow. Making a gingerbread house is more complex than making cookies or other gourmet desserts. This is meant to be a centerpiece or decoration more than a confectionary delight.
The first step is to make your house’s template. You can find templates online that you can print and cut out or you can create your own. A basic rectangular house is fine, especially for your first attempt. Also keep in mind that larger houses are harder to put together. For a basic house, make the following templates:
Cut these out and have them ready. Now you’re going to work on the dough.
Roll your cookie dough so it is about ¼ inch thick. Put your templates over the dough and cut around them with a sharp knife. You may have to stop and re-roll the dough; that’s perfectly fine. If you have dough left over after you’ve cut all the templates, roll out a square that is about 2 inches bigger on each side than the house. This will be your base. You can also make a base using a piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil.
Bake the sugar or gingerbread pieces until they are hard. These are not nice, soft, warm treats for dessert. You’re building a house here! Let them cool completely before you begin to build your house.
Now comes the royal icing. It would be easier to use frosting or icing, but it’s not effective. To keep your cookie house together, you need royal icing. This stuff is like cement. To make this recipe from Joy of Cooking, you’ll need:
Beat the egg whites with the lemon juice. An electric mixer is optimal, though a hand mixer works as well. Add the sugar and beat until it is combined and smooth. Now, this needs to be put into an airtight container because it will harden very, very quickly. When it’s not in use, make sure to cover it. When you’re ready, put some of the royal icing into your pastry or zip top bag. If you’re using a plastic bag, just snip a hole in the corner.
Now you can start assembling the houses. Use the royal icing as the glue to attach the sides and front and back pieces onto the base. Hold them in place until the icing hardens. This is the benefit of royal icing – it won’t take too long. When it can stand alone, reinforce it with more royal icing. Don’t be shy with the royal icing. Attach the triangles to the front and back pieces, hold, and let dry completely.
Pipe a layer of royal icing along the top edges of the triangles. Hold the roof pieces in place for several minutes. This is the basic structure of your home. If you need to, reinforce with royal icing. Let the house dry for 24 hours before you start to decorate.
Now comes the fun part! You can use the royal icing as glue and attach candies, sprinkles, sparkling sugars, and other sweet treats. Soon, you’ll have a house that looks good enough to eat! These are wonderful for display or as a candy gram!