A simple gingerbread house?
*sigh*, the holidays are coming. Which means that my non-cooking friends (who I ordinarily love to help) come rushing to me at the last minute for help in making food gifts. "I need a simple but fabulous pie for my mother in law", "I need something to impress my boyfriend that's easy" or "I need cookies for the kids to decorate".
However, the one that stumps me every year is "Can you show me how to make a gingerbread house?". Most of those who ask don't really want to eat it, they really want to decorate it. I recognize that it's more a time-consuming process than anything else...like scrapbooking. When I tell them to plan to make it over at least two days , they usually stare at me in horror then I gently suggest making sugar cookies to decorate with the little ones instead.
That being said, does anyone have a reliable recipe and pattern? In sheer self-defense, I'd like to be prepared this year... I looked online last night and found everything from four-page recipes from epicurious (with no pattern or picture) to gingerbread house Websites that are more targeted to gingerbread house competitors (did I just say that? Gingerbread house competitors?). I guess Good Housekeeping has a recipe every year, but has anyone tried these? I'd hate to recommend something that I've never made myself, but am not quite sure I'm ready to commit to making one just yet. Any help out there?
Are you looking for a small one that children can decorate? Or is it a centerpiece? I've made different types but never one for eating. I can't imagine any cookie that tastes good if it's been sitting out for a long time. Plus, that royal icing doesn't taste good--it's like sweet cement. If you're looking for something super easy for non-cooks, there are always those pans that are made for gingerbread houses and they're inexpensive. There are some even easier ones for children to make using graham crackers.
Probably a medium-sized one 6"x8" or so that could be a kid project, then become a centerpiece. Where they at least cut out a pattern in the gingerbread.
I've sent them to Trader Joes and Michael's for the kits, but they want homemade. The graham cracker ones seem to be cheating, somehow. :)
How about using the premade pans for the house but not a full kit with a premade house? I just use graph paper and make my own simple house so you can control the size. It's only 6 pieces, but I have to trim it after baking. It's pretty easy but you have to be able to see 3D in your head. It is fun for the kids to see when you use the hard candy for stained glass. If it's 6-8", it shouldn't be hard, even for a novice baker. And, I use any recipe and haven't had problems with any, since I'm not going for taste anyway. We're doing it with the brownies troop this year but we'll bake and put the house together first and then let them decorate because that's where they have the most fun. Sorry, I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know but those Wilton gingerbread house pans look easy and if they're asking you every year, it might be a good purchase for them. Plus, it's prettier than making and trimming, unless you cover the house all in decorations.
I buy the one offered from Trader Joe's and extrapulate. My nieces love it! I add Jordan Almonds or M & M peanuts to create a pebbled door path, neccos for the roof, very thin pretzel sticks for a fence and ? . get creative. And, yes, the house part doesn't get eaten so T.J.'s is perfect. The kids love to nibble on the parts but, not the whole.
We always use Honey Graham Crackers in our classroom. Royal Icing for the cement and an assortment of candies. This was back in the day when we had 30 kids in a classroom. Making 30 gingerbread houses was time consuming, but the kids had a ball. Used cardboard covered with foil for the base and slid it into a freezer ziploc to take home on the bus. We also made cinnamon applesauce cookie cutter ornaments and Reader's Digest Christmas Trees. Fun.
I always just made my own pattern- 2 sides 1 front 1 back and 2 rectangles for a roof. Use royal icing as the glue to hold it all together. Just beware- One year I made over 30 gb houses for family gifts- if the gingerbread is too thin it will absorb all the liquid from the icing and then it will disintergrate. Make sure your gb is at least a 1/4 thick to hold the weight of the icing and candies as well as allowing it to have substance not to crumble with the moisture from the icing.
Thanks everyone for your suggestions and good advice. I think I'll pull the gingerbread cookie recipe from Martha Stewart (because I know that that woman has her staff test everything like crazy) and make a pile of royal icing and go for it.
Then I'll write it all down, print it out and be done with it! That way my friends can see what's involved, I won't have to spend 30 minutes explaining, and they can take it upon themselves if they want to jump in the gingerbread house waters.
Note to MeffaBabe: wow, you're a good friend. I want to be on your Christmas gift list! I don't think I'd even do that for my family let alone 30+ people!
If all they want is the fun of decorating and the visual product many places will have the pre-baked pieces in a few weeks. Target carries such a product and is also a good place to get the candy to augment it.
A ton of simple Royal icing can be made from dried egg whites available in the baking section of the grocery store or meringue powder available at a cake decorating store.
NONE of this requires any skills and they can assemble it in an hour and spend as much or a little time decorating it as they wish.
PS A fun thing to do with gingerbread houses, is to build them around a few tiny wrapped presents for little kids. (Stick them in after the walls are dried and solid and before roof is "cemented" in place.) They get the exquisite agony of waiting until Christmas to nibble at the house and when they do, LOW and BEHOLD, tiny surprises!
All I know about gingerbread houses is that, in my neck of the woods, they eventually sag most entertainingly (well before Christmas), and by the time the actual holiday comes, they look as though they ought to be condemned. Be sure to take "before and after" pictures of whatever you wind up making!