Initially we would invite a family from church to join us, but as the children grew over the years and added significant others, we now limit the crowd to immediate family members.
Each “child” receives his/her own gingerbread house and cardboard base. Currently that would be my three children, their spouses, and one grandchild. One double batch of the recipe makes approximately three houses. So this year I will plan to make three-double batches and have a bit of leftover dough for gingerbread men and women to decorate as well.
I try to make the dough a day in advance so the pieces have a chance to firm up. You don’t want soft walls to cave in as you assemble and decorate. Once all the people have gathered, they begin distributing the various candy decorations into individual bowls, while I make the royal icing. LOTS of royal icing.
Each child will get their own plastic pastry bag with a #16 tip (I’ve learned that is the best size for our needs). I fill each bag about half-way with icing and let the kids begin. Most bags are refilled at least once throughout the evening. While you can color the icing, I find white works best for the traditional look.
Once the houses are assembled on the base, the fun and creativity begins. Over the years we have learned some candies serve specific purposes; others are multi-functional. I will share a few ideas here, but of course there is no limit to the possibilities.
- M&Ms – useful for any decoration
- mini M&Ms – make great “lights” around the house
- Shredded Wheat – an awesome thatched roof
- Tootsie Rolls – logs in back of the house
- Jelly Beans – useful for any decoration, but the neutral tones make a great walkway
- Small green gumdrops – bushes around the house
- Necco wafers – a tile rooftop
- Green Gumdrop circles – decorated with a bit of red royal icing make a great wreath
- Sugar Cones – dipped in green tinted “chocolate” make an adorable Christmas tree
- Red Licorice – good all around decoration, but also makes a nice red-tiled roof
- Stick Pretzels – a wooden fence around the “yard”
- Candy Canes – make great fence posts – or put together a nice heart decoration on the side of the house
A typical gingerbread decorating session lasts about two hours. We have carols playing in the background, and lots of lively conversation in the foreground. To this day it remains one of the highlights of our Christmas season.
When the kids were younger, we would leave the houses up through December. Then on New Year’s Day they were allowed to eat them. Any leftovers were thrown away (except for the gingerbread… I would save that and nibble on it with a cup of tea through February).
The recipe I use is one I received at a holiday cooking class back in the ’80s (my age is showing…). The dough is easy to roll and the flavor is perfect. As it bakes in the oven, the entire house smells like Christmas.
I typically use the Royal Icing recipe found on the Wilton can of Meringue Powder.
Gingerbread Dough (single batch)
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup butter ( I use butter flavored crisco as the cookies are less likely to break)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1 egg yolk (if I make a double recipe, I add a whole egg)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients (flour, salt, soda, powder, and spices)
- Set aside
- In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter (or crisco) with sugar and molasses until light and fluffy
- Beat in the egg yolk (or whole egg)
- Slowly beat in the flour mixture
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into shapes
- Place on un-greased cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes
- Remove from sheet and allow to cool completely on wire racks before assembly