I don’t remember too many classic “family traditions” when I grew up. Of course, I have fond memories of certain favorite meals, and my mom’s homemade goodies, but no “every Christmas Eve we _______”.
When we had Junior, I vowed to have at least one tradition around the holidays, and my choice was one I had always wanted to do as a kid — Gingerbread Houses. The decadent kind, with lots of icing, and at least 20 kinds of candy.
We’re on our third year of Gingerbread Houses at the DINKs, and we’ve learned a few things along the way — like
Can you tell that the hitch in all of this usually has to do with the caramelized sugar glue? That said, we finally worked out the sugar kinks and this year was the smoothest yet. Dough on Sunday. Rolled and baked on Tuesday. Assembled Thursday. Decorated Saturday.
The Hows and What-Nots:
Dough Recipe c/o Epicurious.com
Keep in mind that I don’t normally cook with Crisco. And had I known that so many families would actually eat their houses, I woldn’t have chosen this recipe. That said, it is the easiest to make and roll. I should know, since I have made 18-20 houses over the last 3 years…..but look for a recipe change next year!
* 6 3/4 cups all purpose flour
* 4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
* 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
* 1 1/2 cups solid vegetable shortening
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 3 large eggs
* 3/4 cup robust (dark) molasses
Sift flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and cardamom into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat shortening in large bowl until fluffy. Add sugar and beat to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add molasses and beat on high speed until well blended. Add dry ingredients in 4 additions, beating at low speed until dough forms. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Flatten each piece into rectangle. Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, at least 6 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)
While Epicurious does give basic template instructions, this year we relied on our friend Sean….an architect…to provide us with some fancier models – a New England Saltbox, and a modern wonder. I’ll keep you posted on the book of Gingerbread House Plans we want him to publish in time for next season!
If you want to get fancy, use a knife or cookie cutters to make doors, windows, and skylights. If you want to get really fancy, crush up some butterscotch candies (or assorted jolly ranchers for a stained glass effect) and put them in the windows after the cookies have baked. Return the cookies and candy (on parchment paper) to the oven until you see the candy melt. Remove it promptly, and you’ll have some pretty snappy windows!
Rolling the Dough
Years of Experience leads to these few pieces of gingerbread wisdom:
Caramelized Sugar Glue
While a colleague of Mark’s confesses to pulling out her glue gun to assemble her Gingerbread Houses, I’ve spent too many years, and sacrificed too many fingertips, perfecting Caramelized Sugar to succumb to modern technology. To use sugar glue: