Monday, December 15, 2008

gingerbread house tutorial

Myy awesome friend Raven sent over another fun idea. Check out her detailed tutorial on making a real homemade gingerbread house:

Gingerbread House Making 101

Welcome to Gingerbread House Making 101! Here's everything you need to know to make a fun gingerbread house this holiday season.
Step 1: Find A Pattern
You are going to need a pattern to cut out the different pieces of your gingerbread house. If you are feeling ambitious, you can make up your own pattern. You could even try to make one that looks like your own home. However, there are also a lot of patterns available online. I used this one as my starting point and made my own modifications. I added a chimney and made the roof a bit longer so it would hang down over the house a little more. I also rounded the top of the door and took that same shape and used it to make a window on the back. If you add this window on the back, I would suggest making it a bit bigger. I didn't on this particular house, but I did on a later version of it and the bigger window is a nice touch. Also, on a later house I decided to cut out a round window right above the front door. This adds some extra interest to the front of the house. Your house can be as simple or as complex as you want. Coming up with your design is half the fun!

Step 2: Cut Out Pattern
Once you've found your pattern, print it (or draw it) according to scale and then cut out your pieces.

Make sure to label each piece with what it is and how many you need to make. For example, on a side piece I would write "Side (2)". To allow for the most flexibility, I cut out the basic shapes and then cut out separate templates for my windows and door.

Step 3: Make Gingerbread Dough

1 C Molasses (I use the mild flavor variety)
1 C Shortening
1 C Sugar
4 C Flour
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 Tbsp Ginger
A dash of Cinnamon

Combine the molasses and shortening and microwave until the shortening is mostly melted. Add the sugar.

In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Combine the wet and dry ingredients.

Step 4: Roll the Dough Out
If you roll the dough out on foil and cut your pieces on the same foil (making sure to leave enough room in between pieces to allow for some spreading during baking), then all you have to do is slide the foil on to your cookie sheet when you're ready to bake. This is much easier than trying to move the individual pieces. Also, gingerbread rolls easiest when it is warm. So, if your dough isn't rolling well (cracking or not sticking together), try sticking some in a plastic baggie and microwaving it until it is warm.

Step 5: Cut Out Pattern Pieces
Once your dough is rolled out, it's time to take your pattern pieces and cut around them.

Remember to cut out windows and doors. If you want to make shutters for your windows, just take the dough that is removed when you cut out a window and cut it in half vertically. Ta da! Shutters! Make sure you allow enough space around each item when you bake it.

Step 6: Add Candy to Windows
One of my favorite tricks is to add broken up candy to your windows to give it the look of glass.

Have fun with your colors and don't be afraid to experiment. I sometimes like to combine two different colors in my larger windows.

Step 7: Bake Pieces
Bake on foil-covered cookie sheet at 375 for 8-9 minutes or until edges are brown.

Another suggestion is to bake your smaller pieces (chimney, shutters, door) separately from your big pieces. The little pieces won't need as long in the oven and this will prevent them from burning. Let the pieces cool completely.

Step 8: Make Royal Icing
I use royal icing to decorate my houses.

Just combine 3 C powdered sugar, 3 egg whites, and 1.5 tsp cream of tartar. Beat until the icing is getting stiff and isn't runny. I tried using meringue powder instead of the fresh egg whites (that's why it's in the picture), but it just didn't work for me. So, I would suggest sticking to the fresh egg whites.

Step 9: Decorate!
Here's where the real fun begins. You can use whatever you want to decorate your house. Get creative and don't be afraid to experiment! It's hard to go wrong with decorating your house. To pipe my icing, I used some cake decorating supplies (a piping bag, a number 3 tip, and a tip coupler). However, if you don't have these items, you can also just use a plastic baggie. Just snip off a bit of one of the corners of the baggie after you've put some icing in it.
With this house, I tried decorating all the pieces first and then assembling the house. This made the decorating part a lot easier, but it was a little tricky when it came time to assemble the house. In a subsequent house, I decorated certain elements (like drawing on the window panes), assembled the base of the house, finished decorating the base, assembled the roof and chimney, and decorated the roof and chimney. Just do whatever you find easiest.

When decorating, adhere your candy with the royal icing and don't skimp on it. A little extra icing around your candy just looks like snow, so don't hesitate to put plenty on! The possibilities for decoration are endless, so do whatever you think will look the best. You can pipe shingles on the roof like I did or cover the whole roof with red and green starlight mints--the options are limitless! I like to cut gumdrops in half vertically and use them as greenery around the house. Just adhere the cut side of the gum drop to your house. I've also heard of people taking inverted sugar cones and covering them with cut gumdrops to make trees. Just have fun!

Step 10: Assemble the House
As I mentioned before, you can assemble the house before you decorate, in stages as your decorate, or after you decorate. I assembled this house on a 10 inch round cake board. Cake boards are nice and sturdy and provide a simple base for your house. Some people like to bake a large piece of gingerbread and assemble the house on it. If you go that route, make sure this base piece is thick and sturdy and consider adhering it to a piece of sturdy cardboard.
Another of my favorite tricks is putting lights inside the house.

This really enhances the look of the candy windows and creates a nice glow. For this house, I used a strand of battery-operated LED lights. I bought them at the grocery store for $3.99 in the holiday aisle. Make sure to adhere the battery pack to the base (I used tape) and position it so that it will be easy to turn the lights on and off once your house is assembled. I put the switch right by the front door.
To assemble the pieces, I start with the front piece. Decide where you want it and then either pipe icing on the bottom of the piece or on the base itself. It's up to you. Use plenty of icing. This is your cement that will hold it all together. I do the sides next. Pipe icing on the inside of the front piece where the side piece will adhere and then pipe in a straight line back as far as your side piece is long. Place the side piece, making sure it forms a 90 degree angle with the front piece. Hold the two pieces together for a minute to make sure they are adhering. Repeat with the other side. Then, pipe along the back, just beyond the side pieces. Pipe along the inside edges of the back piece where it will meet the side pieces and place the back piece. At this point, adhere your front door (I like to leave it open--looks cosy and allows you access to your battery pack) and any window shutters. Next, it's time to put on your roof. I like to pipe a generous amount of icing along the top edges of the front and back pieces and the sides. Then, just place your roof pieces. Make sure to hold them in place for a minute or so to allow the icing to start to set. Finally, adhere your chimney pieces if you made a chimney. I usually do the front piece of the chimney, then the two side pieces, and then the back piece. You're done! The icing will get nice and hard and you shouldn't have any problems getting the house to stick together.

Although I usually make plenty of mistakes when I make a gingerbread house, all of the fun decorations help cover those up. That's the great thing about gingerbread houses--they almost always turn out looking cute, no matter how you make them!

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