There are a lot of wonderful things about being married and living with one person. It’s the perfect amount of socializing for me. I get my alone time, my “productivity time”, while my husband is at work. But he’s rarely gone long enough for me to get lonely or go into “productivity overdrive”, where I start switching from task to task more and more quickly and then eventually collapse on the couch to watch a little New Girl. Living with one person is also great for sharing things. There are so many things you only have to buy one of! And when you’re married, unlike with college roommates, you don’t have to worry about the inevitable awkward time where you decide who keeps what at the end of the semester. There is one thing about living with one person, though, that stands above all the rest. The King of Perks.
It is gingerbread.
Now, this isn’t too say that gingerbread is my favorite thing about marriage. It definitely isn’t (there are too many awesome things about marriage). It is my favorite thing about living with one person though. And that’s mostly for one reason: I don’t have to share. Like I said before, living with one person is great for sharing…. but when it comes to gingerbread, it’s great for…. not sharing.
When I was a young lass, I lived in my home with my four older sisters and parents. My mother did many things for her children, to help them grow and learn and make sweet memories, but there was one thing she, understandably, didn’t want to do. And that was make full gingerbread houses, from scratch, for every member of the family. So, we compromised with graham cracker houses or gingerbread house fronts. All of my childhood gingerbread house memories are filled with a little bit of longing. My young self, longing to decorate a real, full gingerbread house. By the time I was old enough to do so for myself, the kitchen was always a little too crowded to try and bake another Christmas food-thing during the holiday season. I also would have felt a little guilty making a gingerbread house only for myself and then have my nieces and nephews watch me decorate it. By myself. Because I sure as heaven above wasn’t going to make the amounts of gingerbread to satisfy the family that had grown almost twice its size.
But now I’m approximately 3,000 miles away from the family I grew up with. I miss them dearly, but I’m not about to turn away this golden gingerbread opportunity. I now have my own little family of two. I can make enough gingerbread for two… and two meaning one, because I accidentally totally took over the gingerbread scene in this house. Luckily, I have a very kind and understanding husband who let me be a gingerbread dictator (and also didn’t complain ONCE about the fact that our kitchen table was completely covered for six days of decorating).
The gingerbread making itself is very simple, but it takes time. Patience is the key to most good things, and a non-collapsed gingerbread church is no exception. With the smaller houses, assemblage only took one day. The large one, however, took some time. A front and two sides, dried overnight. The back added on, dried overnight. One roof piece, dried overnight, and the next roof piece dried all the next day. I’m sure I could have shaved some time off of that and been fine, but too many horrific memories of collapsing graham cracker castles made me extra cautious. Once assembly is over and done with, your creativity can be unleashed! I kept it fairly simple with mine, as far as candy is concerned. I really only used the peppermints because they came in the same bag as the butterscotch candies used for the windows. I wanted to have more fun with piping.
I realized a little too late though, that piping nice clean lines and perfect round dots is significantly easier when you’re using a good bag and tip, as opposed to a sandwich bag with the corner cut off. Apparently, my cake decorating supplies got left behind in my frenzied packing to come to Alaska. I accepted it though. Flaws make it look more rustic, right?
As far as the actual gingerbread dough goes, I’ll let you in on a secret: it doesn’t taste good. It isn’t bad, I suppose, maybe some people wouldn’t know the difference… but I don’t make it for taste, since it ends up on my mantle and not in my mouth. In almost any recipe I use butter instead of shortening when I can… but not here. It’s all shortening. I do, however, use plenty of spices (because I love the smell).
Another thing to note is that I add a few tablespoons of water to the dough. This may not be necessary for you, but the air in my home is extremely dry, so just watch the wetness as you go along. The dough should not be sticky, but it should hold together in a ball and not crack much when flattened.
For the dough:
7 c. all purpose flour
1 1/3 c. sugar
1 c. molasses
1 2/3 c. vegetable shortening
4 t. ground ginger
3 t. cinnamon
2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2-3 T water
For the icing:
3 egg whites
4-5 cups powdered sugar
Sift together dry ingredients and in a separate bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, eggs, and molasses. Combine ingredients until a smooth dough forms. If it is sticky, add flour and knead to incorporate on a floured surface. If the dough is too dry and cracks, add water a tablespoon at a time, mixing in thoroughly. Refrigerate the dough at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight. (If it does chill all night, it may need to sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes to become soft enough to roll).
Preheat oven to 350 F. Divide dough into four pieces and roll each section into a smooth ball. Place each ball between two sheets of parchment paper to roll out and place on a baking sheet. Peel off top layer of parchment paper and use templates to cut out desired house pieces. (I made my own templates, but the internet is rich with free printable ones if you don’t feel like making your own). Make sure to cut out any windows or doors beforehand if you want to light the finished houses from inside. Re-roll any dough scraps.
Bake 12-15 minutes until pieces are browning at the edges. Pull out of the oven and immediately trim any sides or edges that rounded too much while baking (do this while the pieces are still warm to avoid breakage).
Let all baked pieces cool completely before handling. If you wish, you can crush hard candies (I used Brach’s butterscotch candies), place them in the window holes and bake them until melted at 350. Make sure the house pieces are completely cooled before melting candies in the windows so that you don’t over bake the gingerbread.
To make the icing, use a hand mixer to whip room temperature eggs whites until foamy, then slowly add powdered sugar until desired thickness is achieved. I used about 5 cups. Spoon icing into piping bags (or sandwich bags) fitted with a tip– I did not use a tip, but your piping will look much smoother if you do use one.
Assemble houses as desired, using much patience. 😉 And decorate to your heart’s content!
I recommend a warm fire and a mug of hot chocolate to complete the mood, but alter as you feel necessary. Merry Christmas!