It so happens that I love Christmas. Especially here in Maine, where every coastal town is like I would imagine Santa’s workshop to be. The interior of Maine, well that’s a place along the lines of how I would picture the North Pole. I’m not interested in the holiday sales or the pastries, but I enjoy dressing up for holiday cocktail parties, the colorful balls of lights hanging outdoors, decorating my own tree – while sipping eggnog and watching classic holiday films, and sending out holiday cards. I also really like gingerbread houses and here goes total honesty – snow globes. Is it terrible that one of my most treasured possessions I brought back from Paris is a snow globe with a polar bear in it purchased for $12 from a children’s shop? For the longest time I’ve wanted one and when I saw this one it seemed worth the trouble of transporting it (really it’s not that big – about the size of a baseball) back home in my luggage. Aren’t I a bit old? Oh, heck it’s just so fun. Now though, to gingerbread houses…I haven’t gone to the trouble of making my own, because I have been gifted one the last couple years by pro cake designer Patricia Moroz, owner of Starlight Custom Cakes in Rockport, Maine. In the future though I can definitely see making one, wouldn’t that be fun?
Moroz has been Mid-Coast Maine’s authority on gingerbread houses for years, creating 100 – 150 gingerbread houses annually for a sale to benefit the Rockport Garden Club and at one time decorating the Camden Opera House’s holiday window displays.
Last year she shared her tips on building a gingerbread house with me for a post when blogging for the Portland Press Herald. This year, I’m sharing her tips with you…
Gather the family, pour the eggnog, and get ready to unleash your inner Frank Lloyd Wright. No architecture degree needed. To design your house or barn, search online for free gingerbread house or dollhouse patterns. Also check out Pinterest for pictures of gingerbread houses (these could come in especially handing when decorating).
Day One – Bake the pieces for the house(s).
Gingerbread House Dough – Patricia Moroz of Starlight Custom Cakes http://www.starlightcustomcakes.com
Her gingerbread recipe is considered to be a “construction dough” which means that it is technically edible but is not one that you would really love to eat because it will be hard as stone.
¾ cup vegetable shortening
½ cup molasses
½ cup corn syrup (light or dark)
5 Tbsp warm water
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
1. Combine the “wet” ingredients in a mixer bowl (using the paddle) and mix well for several minutes. Depending upon the humidity and type of mixer you are using, you may have to add a little extra water in order to give the dough a “Play Dough” like consistency. Just add one Tbsp at a time until you achieve this.
2. Mix together the “dry” ingredients in a separate bowl.
3. Change mixer paddle and attach a dough hook. It is very important to use the dough hook when mixing wet and dry ingredients.
4. Add a few cups of dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Mix until all ingredients have been combined using the dough hook. Add small amounts of water (a Tbsp at a time) to dough mix, as needed. The dough should have the consistency of thick Play Dough. You should be able to roll a ball of dough in your hands without it sticking or without it being so dry that it is cracking. If you cannot easily roll out the cracks, then your dough is too dry and you need to add more water. If you add too much water, then you will need to use extra flour on your roller and hands when rolling the dough out.
5. Once mixed, place dough in a plastic bag and let sit on counter for an hour before rolling out to use.
6. Preheat oven to 325.
7. Roll dough onto parchment paper cut to fit the size of your baking pans and use a template of the house or shapes you wish to create. Remove excess dough from the parchment paper instead of lifting the gingerbread. Cut windows, doors, or any openings with a knife before putting the house pieces in the oven to cook.
8. Bake pieces at 325 F until edges are light brown (approximately 15-20 minutes depending on your oven, check after 10 minutes and then every few minutes). Even if the pieces are a little underdone, they will dry hard and be usable. Set aside until cool and ready for assembly and decorating
9. Baked pieces should air dry overnight (at least 24 hours) on parchment paper counter or table. Do not wrap in plastic or refrigerate.
This construction dough bakes exactly how it is placed into the oven and does not puff up like softer doughs, which is why the windows and cut outs come out so clean.
If you were making a barn, you may want to cut out a square shape in the upper level like many barns have for the loft area. All cut outs would happen before it is placed into the oven to be baked. You can also make doors and trim pieces etc. and bake them separately and glue to the large house pieces after all has been baked. Any impression that is left on the cutout pieces before they are baked will show up on the final piece so if you want a wood impression, you can simply use a knife to make light slices in the gingerbread or a brick pattern etc. People should use their imagination and look to see what they can find around the house.
Buy a cardboard circle for cheap at Walmart or a art supply store, or make one at home reusing thick cardboard. Glue two to each other and cover in foil. Put house on top and then decorate. *Just cut to size of house making.
Day Two – Decorate the house(s).
Royal Icing (the “glue” or “cement” that holds the pieces together)
2 lbs. Confectioners sugar
6 level Tbsp of meringue powder (egg white powder – can be found at Michaels Arts & Crafts or Walmart) *Patricia prefers Wilton
6 Tbsp water
Add food coloring if you want a color other than white.
Mix the ingredients for at least 10-15 minutes using a mixer. The longer you beat it, the thicker it gets. If too thick, add a Tbsp of water at a time till get consistency you want (a thick peanut butter consistency). Icing should be ready when it holds a peak.
Tips from Patricia Moroz on Creating a Gingerbread Farm
Fencing – One could use pretzels, crackers or actually cut strips of gingerbread and bake just like you would the actual house pieces.
Animals – Can be made of gingerbread. Use cutters or just trace a pattern. Cut the gingerbread about a quarter inch thick and then can be decorated after baked and attached to the board with royal icing. Most people cover the board after the house has been placed on it with royal icing. This would be a good time to sit the animals where you want them because they will dry into the icing and will never come off again! Cookie cutters can be found at baking stores online (e.g. Beryls, Pfeil). However, to save time and money, you can trace them from a book or image and cut them from a pattern without a cutter. One way for first timers to figure out how to make pigs, chickens, etc. is to use some clay books (e.g. Modeling Clay Animals: Easy-to-Follow Projects in Simple Steps by Bernadette Cuxart) as guides. They are available at craft stores and will show you step by step how to make a pig figure, chickens etc.
If someone wants very colorful animals and figures, they can always purchase a small container of fondant and color portions using cake coloring paste (hobby stores, Walmart, and the above mentioned online sources). If you buy white fondant, you can color by mixing with cake paste colors. Keep in mind individual pieces once shaped can be glued together just by using a dab of water, fondant stick to fondant with just a little moisture.
Animals can be attached against the house with a couple dots of royal icing behind each piece (animal) or put at the bottom and stick onto the board and it will stand up.
Trees – Patricia’s trees are made of chocolate and sugar, but to simplify things for the homemade/fun with the family experience just use sugar cones (ice cream cones) and waffle cones for larger trees. Cover with green icing, texture however you might want to, and glue on any decorations. When the base for the house is being covered with the royal icing, you can simply place the trees where you would like them into the royal icing and they will dry in place. Sift some snow onto them once they are dry.
Snow – When sifting confectioners sugar onto the house, be sure to use a fine sifter and wait until the royal icing is dry to the touch. If you use a sifter that has larger pores, it will dump the sugar on much to heavy. If there is too much in a spot, just use a soft paint brush to brush it to where you want it.
These houses are made for the season, but can keep for a number of years. Store in a cool dry place for them to last as long as possible but really, enjoy it for the season and make a new one the next season. Do not try to preserve with a spray lacquer. It will turn the white parts yellow and you never know when a child or someone will sneak by and break a little bit off for a nibble.
Do not use candy canes as part of the decoration if you want to keep the house. According to Patricia, as soon as they are opened and glued onto the house or base, they will start to melt within about two weeks or so.