Please welcome my friend, Lani, who is visiting us from Anytime Science. She’s here to share a great Christmas activity for the whole family!
At my house, it’s nearly impossible to keep the children, and my husband, from eating too much Halloween candy. Especially my husband. So, when my kids were small, I thought of an ingenious plan. We could each pick 10 pieces from our trick-or-treat loot and save the rest for a more worthwhile purpose – gingerbread houses!
And, since I’m so sneaky, I figured I might as well throw a little cookie science and engineering into the mix and have them design their own houses. This has turned out to be our favorite longstanding family tradition.
Now, don’t think this whole production can be done in a day. It takes planning, rulers, floury hands, and imagination. This equates to 3 or more days in our house.
Day 1: Make the Gingerbread Dough
On the first day, we make tons of gingerbread dough. Yep, you literally need a ton (well, it seems like) to make a good sized house, and have leftovers to eat. Our houses end up about 7-9″ tall. Recipe below. Grandma’s Original Molasses, like in these gingersnap cookies, is a must for the most delicious taste! Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, flatten into 1/2″ thick discs, and store in the refrigerator.
Day 2: Design
On the second day, we each engineer our own house templates. Here is an easy formula that we use. Sometimes, we don’t use the formula and have more “unique” houses. Sometimes, they end up with only 3 sides or a flat roof (both of which are much easier to put together on house-gluing day!).
Use a file folder, or any thick paper, to cut out the 3 pieces of the house.
First, draw the front of the house. This same template will be the back of the house. It doesn’t matter how tall or wide, as long as the longest side is less than 8″, for one recipe of dough. (The dough will grow in the oven, up to another inch.) Make it pointed on top if you want a pitched roof. Remember, the more angled the roof, the more patience you need when gluing the whole thing together.
Next, draw the side of the house, making it the same height as the side of the front piece. It doesn’t matter how wide, but we prefer to make it rather narrow because it’s just not as fun to decorate the side of a house as it is to decorate the front and back.
Lastly, make the roof of the house, by cutting it the same width as the side of the house. Make the height a bit longer than the sloped portion of the front template, if you want the roof to hang over the sides of the house.
Cut the Dough
Gingerbread dough is extremely sticky and soft once it warms up, so have the oven preheated and lots of flour ready. The magic of your gingerbread house is about to begin!
What you need before you get the dough out of the refrigerator:
- 3-part house template
- bag of flour
- rolling pin
- pizza cutter
- 2 spatulas
- baking pans
Sprinkle a good amount of flour on your kitchen work surface (don’t be skimpy here, or you’ll regret it). Take only one piece of gingerbread out of the refrigerator. Roll out to about 1/4″ thick and fit your 3 templates on the dough. Cut around all of the templates with the pizza cutter. Smush, refrigerate and re-roll if they don’t all fit the first time.
Slide a spatula under each piece and place on the baking pan, reshaping if needed. Cut the leftovers into random shapes and fit on the baking sheet. If they don’t all fit, use another pan because the gingerbread magically grows and spreads out in the oven. Bake away. Use 2 spatulas to lift large cookies off the pan as soon as they are done. Repeat.
Eat hot pieces of gingerbread that are not part of your house. Cool house pieces overnight on the counter or in the cooling oven, so that they dry out more and don’t break when building.
Day 3: Make Royal Icing
Mix royal icing according to the directions below. This is the science part, as the consistency depends on the humidity, measuring accuracy, and all sorts of scientific stuff. It should be about the consistency of toothpaste so your candies don’t slip off your house! Place in a gallon Ziploc bag – zipped and twisted at the top so the icing won’t escape.
With a partner holding the pieces, glue your house together with the royal icing. Use a lot of glue! Put the sides of the house on the outside, not between, the front and back. Glue the whole thing to a plate for more stability. Once that is standing by itself, glue on the roof.
The great part about being a gingerbread house engineer is that you can glue the pieces any which way you want. It’s your design!
Eat some candy to get your energy up, then start decorating your house. Squeeze icing glue onto the candy, then place on the house while holding for a few seconds. When you’re done, step back and admire your masterpiece. Take lots of photos. Then, vow never to spend this much time baking something again… until next year!
Print the recipe below!
A great-tasting family activity. Makes enough for one house.
For the gingerbread
- 1 cup butter softened
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 cup molasses
- 2 eggs
- 5 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
For the icing
- 3 tablespoons meringue powder
- 1 pound one bag powdered sugar
- 6 tablespoons water
For the gingerbread
In large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add molasses and egg and blend well. Set aside.
With another bowl, mix all dry ingredients. Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients, beating until just blended.
Split dough in half, wrap each in plastic wrap, flatten to 1/4", and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll dough and cut out house pieces.
Bake approximately 18 minutes, depending on piece sizes, until lightly brown around the edges.
For the icing
Beat all ingredients on med-high 10 minutes. Add more water, a little at a time until toothpaste consistency.
Place in Ziploc bag immediately. Cut off a small corner when you are ready to use.