Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mini Gingerbread Houses

You know that saying, "If you build it, they will come..."?  Well, if you do a gingerbread decorating party, it will get bigger every year!  The first year it was two friends, last year it was four and this year there are around eight and two different days!

The little houses are personal sized with the original template but it will work for whatever design you choose.  If gingerbread making is a tradition for you, here is a good recipe to add to the repertoire.  It makes nice firm gingerbread, good for construction, but it will mellow over time and stay edible for weeks.  And it's a very tasty gingerbread!  Everyone seems to like to nibble on it, especially the trees.  I don't use spelt for this recipe because it stays too soft.  The recipe is from an old Christmas cookie book given to my mom, Better Homes and Gardens Cookies for Christmas, 1985.  I finally had to give it back and get my own copy!  Lots of yummy goodies in there.

It is now possible to find corn free candy much more readily.  Of all the candies shown, only the gumdrop stars have organic corn syrup in them.  Surf sweets make lots of candies with tapioca or rice syrup.  And many things now have tapioca dextrin instead of corn malto dextrin.  Whole Foods had corn free malted milk balls!  Good source for corn free candy.  Trader Joes and other stores carry the candy coated sunflower seeds in various colors.  The soft peppermint sticks are a British import and simply sugar and peppermint oil with a little food color.  And even Fred Meyer was carrying the corn syrup free candy canes!  Major treat for R, she looks forward to them every year.  For bases, the first year I did the foil covered cardboard route.  Now I just head to the local cake supply store and grab some rectangular foil decorated cake boards.

And yes, this dough absolutely works for larger projects:

Tiny Gingerbread Village
Better Homes and Gardens
makes three houses plus eight trees

5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add molasses and beat well.  Slowly beat in the flour mixture.  You may have to work the last bit in by hand.  The dough will be firm and maybe even a bit crumbly.  Don't worry.  Turn it out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a log.  Wrap it up and let the dough hydrate itself for a bit.
Once you have your patterns chosen, divide the dough into thirds and work with one bit at a time.  Roll onto an ungreased cookie sheet, about ¼" thick.  Place your patterns and cut around them with a  knife.  Lift off the scraps and place in a plastic bag or covered bowl so they don't dry out.  If you want to try this pattern, the scale is such that the roof piece is 3¾" in length.

 For the trees, cut half of the pieces in half lengthwise.  For the church steeple, cut the short piece in half lengthwise.  If you want to add score lines or texture to the walls or roof, do it before baking.

Reroll scraps to cut remaining pieces as needed.  There should be enough for some mini gingerbread people as well.  Bake the pieces at 375º F for 10-11 minutes until done.  I find they turn out best for construction when there is the barest hint of browning on any edge.  Trim if necessary while still hot.  Cool on sheet until firm enough to move, then finish cooling on wire rack.  Here is the cookbook photo, showing the assembled houses and trees:

The snow frosting recipe that is included for the houses, is not a royal icing and just barely adequate for assembly.  It does not get rock hard and the houses could be damaged if really knocked about.  I like it for decorating though.
Here is the royal icing recipe I used:
Royal Icing

16 oz powdered sugar (4½ cups)
1/3 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F) 
3 tbsp meringue powder (I use 6 tbsp dried egg whites instead)
1 tsp vanilla 
½ tsp cream of tartar
Food colors, if desired

In large bowl, beat all icing ingredients except food colors with electric mixer on low speed until mixed.  Beat on high speed 7 to 10 minutes or until very stiff.  Divide and tint as desired with food colors.
Snow frosting:
1½ cups shortening (unhydrogenated organic palm shortening is the best option)
1½ tsp vanilla
3½ cups powdered sugar (we use a brand with no corn starch)
3 tbsp milk
3½ cups additional powdered sugar
3-4 tbsp additional milk

Beat the shortening and vanilla for 30 seconds.  Slowly beat in the first 3½ cups powdered sugar.  Add 3 tbsp milk.  Slowly beat in the rest of the powdered sugar and enough additional milk to make frosting piping consistency.

Use soup or veggie cans to prop the walls while assembling.  Let dry before adding roof.  Pre-assemble houses if planning a decorating party.

It's so fun to see the different takes the kids have on their creations.

Some of them are super meticulous and careful...

And some decide that the more frosting there is, the better.  And who cares how it falls.  Regardless, they have fun and enjoy their creations!