Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gingerbread (Updated)

Update at the end of post!

It's gingerbread time! I don't know how gingerbread, gingerbread men, and gingerbread houses got tied with Christmas, but they are a Christmas tradition in our family.

Part 1: The Dough

Blend together:
½ C butter, softened
½ C sugar
¼ C molasses
¼ C corn syrup

Add and beat well:
1 egg

Stir together and add:
2½ C all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cloves

You mix the dough and then refrigerate it at least 2 hours. I tripled the recipe because we're going to make 3 gingerbread houses.

You may have noticed that there isn't a trace of whole-grain flour in this recipe. Since this dough is going to be used to make gingerbread houses, I am opting for the strength of the starch in the white all-purpose flour rather than trying to work in any nutrients with whole-grain flour.

Part 2: Rolling Out the Dough

After refrigerating, I divided the dough into 3 parts for easier handling, wrapping each part with plastic wrap. I took each part of the dough out of the refrigerator for about 10 minutes before rolling it out.

First I pushed the dough together to make a ball; then flattened it out somewhat. I floured both sides and then rolled it out on floured wax paper and covered with plastic wrap. I rolled it out to about 1/8th of an inch thickness.

I made a template years ago that I keep in an envelope. There are many online. Here are the dimensions that I used for the gingerbread houses:
2 sides: 4" X 6" rectangles
2 ends: 4" squares, each topped by a triangle that peaks 2" above the center
2 roof pieces: 3-1/2" X 7"  rectangles
2 rectangles 3/4" X 1-3/4"
2 rectangles 1-1/2" X 1-3/4", with a triangle cut out of each that peaks in the center 3/4" above the bottoms
Hooray for geometry!

I use my pizza cutter to cut out the pieces. An exacto knife would be helpful, but you can use what you have.

For spaces between the house pieces, and for re-rolled dough, use cookie cutters to cut out little men (and women if you have them), snowmen, angels, Christmas trees, etc., etc. I squish together and re-roll the dough a few times, until I can't stand it any more!

Part 3: Baking the Pieces

Parchment paper is your friend here. So are baking pans that don't warp in the oven. I don't normally use cooking spray for baking, but here I do. I lightly spray the pans so the parchment paper lays flat, and I lightly spray the parchment paper because I don't want the gingerbread to stick.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Let the pieces cool in the pan for at least a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. First, this helps the pieces to be crisp. Second, if they don't feel crisp enough, you can put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes (since they are cool, they have to heat up again before baking more). This will work. Remember--for gingerbread houses, sturdiness trumps taste. But don't worry, this gingerbread is very tasty, regardless!

Fresh out of the oven.
Lots of gingerbread baked; more to come!
Part 4: Building and Decorating Gingerbread Houses

Baking the gingerbread is my main contribution to the project. At this point, others take over. But first, the Decorator Icing, a.k.a. Royal Icing. This is the glue--quite literally--that holds the house together and sticks the decorations on.
Decorator Icing

Beat together:
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
2½ C powdered sugar
½ tsp. cream of tartar
tsp. salt
How much you need depends on a number of factors, such as how skilled you are at piping the icing and how much decorating you are doing. By the way, you can use a knife to spread the icing on the pieces to glue them together--that's how we started--but it is much easier to use cake decorating equipment. Even if this is your first time, you can learn on a gingerbread house. It's okay if it isn't perfect. It will still look good. For our three gingerbread houses I quadrupled the recipe.
Tip: It's best to use fresh AA eggs for meringue-type stuff like this.
As I turned to baking pizzas for the hungry masses, Karlyn and Will glued together the houses:
Here's Will. Between my baking pizzas and Karlyn also taking care of her 15 month old, I didn't get a picture of her here. But Karlyn and Will are the experts for this step. They are happy to have others join in, but most of us are happy to let them do this part!
The houses will be ready for decorating after the icing hardens up.
While waiting, children and adults decorated--and ate--gingerbread cookies.
Here are the completed houses!
While it will be fun for the (Joe M.) Downings, the Flansburghs, and the Nguyens to have these gingerbread houses decorate their homes this Christmas season, and it will be fun to eat them (they even taste good stale!), all 21 of us gathered here tonight had a great time! It was worth making gingerbread houses just for that.

Update 1/7/2013: Go here for more photos.

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