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Let’s bake gingerbread houses, share your photos

Houses made by the kiddos using the house pattern from Christina Banner's book.

Houses made by the kiddos using the house pattern from Christina Banner's book.

Holidays are about traditions. In our family, it has become a tradition to make and decorate gingerbread houses every holiday season. Part of our ritual includes breaking off the first bite to eat on Christmas morning (which was instituted because I couldn’t bear to see my kids’ precious houses demolished before then).

Each year, I also make at least one house, trying new patterns, dough recipes and decoration styles. I’ve collected several house-making books, two of which I’ve shared below. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced gingerbread house maker, one of these selections can help guide you through that process.

Get ready to bake your own dough and create a masterpiece! And, we want to see it! See the bottom of this post for how to send us photos of your gingerbread houses. We will share our favorite reader photos on this blog next week.

Here are a couple of books from my collection:

“How to build a Gingerbread House: A Step-by-Step Guide to Sweet Results” (Penny Publishing, $19.95)

Author: Written by Christina Banner, a former grand prize winner of the National Gingerbread House competition and winner of Food Network’s Gingerbread Challenge.

Overview: This guide teaches you to make just one simple house style and demonstrates ways to decorate houses seasonally. You’ll find pictures of holiday-themed houses including ones for Valentine’s Day, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day and birthday.

Recipes: Banner encourages you to consider the color of your gingerbread dough as part of your design scheme. Therefore, the book includes recipes for both regular and “blonde” gingerbread dough. The traditional one incorporates coffee for deeper color and flavor.

The traditional dough recipe in this book is one of my favorites. It isn’t too sticky, rolls out with ease and the baked pieces are sturdy. It has a balanced ginger-molasses flavor.

The royal icing recipe is perfect for use on houses decorated by children. Thick and slightly pasty, it’s the perfect cement for precariously placed garnishes. It’s also a good one for construction because it’s so solid, limiting slippage.

Patterns/Assembly instructions: Because this book makes a standard-sized house, the pattern fits on 8.5 x 11” paper and does not need to be enlarged, which is a bonus. Both the patterns and photo-illustrated assembly instructions are well designed.

Best feature: In addition to theme decorating, this book details a number of ideas for adding distinctive features to your houses. There are sections on chimneys, side joints, pathways, siding, roofs, greenery, snow and more.

How I use it: This is the basic house that I make for my kids to decorate. Before beginning, we browse the book’s photos for ideas to make the houses unique. Next, we shop for goodies and I let them loose. This book was especially helpful for my seven-year-old daughter this year, who, for the first time, moved out of the slap-on-random-candy phase (which we love, too!).

Tips:

  • The best tip in this book is to remove your dough from the oven about halfway through the baking process and recover it with the pattern to trim any areas that expanded during baking. This helps to keep the pieces with flat edges so that the pieces fit snugly when assembling. It can be difficult to trim edges once the pieces are fully baked because they become too brittle.
  • Make sure that you use fresh brown sugar because little rocky lumps of the sugar in the dough cause dark spots and weaknesses in the structure.

Experience level: Novice

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“The Gingerbread Architect: Recipes and Blueprints for Twelve Classic American Homes”

Victorian farmhouse in progress using pattern from "The Gingerbread Architect."

Victorian farmhouse in progress using pattern from "The Gingerbread Architect."

Authors: Written by architect Susan Matheson and pastry chef Lauren Chattman. Matheson specializes in renovating and rebuilding homes in historic districts.

Overview: Contains patterns for twelve classic American homes including those to make a Cape Cod, Victorian farmhouse and antebellum plantation. Each home includes notes about how the pattern was developed. Insight into the trial-and-error development process helps you understand how to make the structures more stable.

Recipes: The basic gingerbread dough provided contains eggs, unlike some recipes. It’s a very sticky dough, requiring lots of flour during the rolling-out and pattern-tracing process. It also bubbles and spreads during baking and the finished pieces are slightly brittle. I would recommend using the tip from the first book to trim the pieces with the pattern midway through baking.

Patterns/Assembly instructions: The patterns contain all of the pieces and require enlarging by 400%. Measurements are included on the patterns, which are helpful. However, the footprint of the houses do not correspond with the labeling of the pieces, requiring a little mental exercise. To complicate matters, the detailed written instructions are confusing. Your best bet is to look at the blueprints and create your own construction plan.

Best feature: I love the unique gingerbread house designs found in this book. Additionally, if you hope to venture beyond the basics, it teaches new techniques, such as how to make stained glass windows from melted candy. I can overlook the frustrating assembly instructions because there is such value in the rest of the book.

Tips:

  • Roll out dough and cut out patterns right on parchment paper so that the pieces don’t stretch when you try to lift and move them to the pan.
  • Don’t try to complete a house in one day. Break the job into tasks over several days, taking one day each for shopping, making the dough, cutting templates, baking the pieces, assembling the house and decorating.
  • Tint your icing brown so that you don’t have the stark white lines on the side joints.

Experience level: The book indicates that it was written for beginners to advanced house makers and each house’s difficulty is rated. I’d say the book is best for moderate to advanced makers.

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Ready, set, bake!

We want to see your gingerbread houses! Help us create a parade of houses by adding your photos to our Facebook page by Dec. 13. Add a note to give us a little information about your house and design. If you’re submitting your child’s gingerbread house, let us know your child’s name and age.

Our team will choose our favorites and share them on the Food and More blog on Dec. 16. Those who submit a photo will be entered into a drawing for a prize.

If you aren’t on Facebook but would still like to share a photo of your house, email your photo to Jenny.

And, don’t miss our Holiday Guide with lots of recipes and info. to help you plan and celebrate your holiday!

–by Jenny Turknett, Food and More blog

7 comments Add your comment

[...] Let’s bake gingerbread houses, share your photos [...]

Kat

December 6th, 2011
7:39 am

Slight correction. “Before we beginning…” (begin)

Thanks for the book suggestions!

Reds

December 6th, 2011
8:32 am

Cute idea. Wish I had the time this season!

donna

December 7th, 2011
12:39 pm

I emailed a photo to your fb page of our gingerbread house. Everything is completely eatable on our creation with the exception of the board and cotton batting used as a base. We’ve been making gingerbread creations fas a family for about 30 years. On Epiphany, when our children were young, they would smash and eat the house! My husband brought this custom to our marriage. As a 6 year old living in Germany (Air force family), his German nanny taught them how to make gingerbread houses.

I wouldn't eat it . . .

December 8th, 2011
11:06 pm

This sounds like so much fun for a family. I don’t think I could eat any of it though . . .I don’t trust overly handled food.

Christmas

December 9th, 2011
1:19 am

@I wouldn’t eat it…
No one asked you to.

[...] you need help building a house, here are a couple of books to get you started. And, don’t miss our holiday guide with lots of recipes and info. to help you plan and celebrate [...]