Susan's Blog

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Gingerbread Hausfrau

I swear I am not a hausfrau, but there is something about school vacations that just brings out the Martha in me, or at least the Murtha, except I’m not getting outta Iraq, I’m getting out my cooling rack! (Okay, what do you want? I have been holed up in this cold old house for days!)

What am I talking about? I am talking about baking with my boys. Nat, in particular. What happens is, I sit here waxing witty on my laptop, while watching Nat walking and whispering, walking and whispering. While it adorable and sweet, it also makes my narrow little neurotypical mind crazy! I can’t stand to watch him stimming for too long, no matter how much I think he likes it. So I jump to do the one thing that he likes to do, as much as I do: baking. And the best thing we can bake together is a gingerbread house.

A gingerbread house, you say. Now I know she’s nuts. Well, yes, but that’s not why. It is that making your own gingerbread house takes just the right amount of together-time and tastes much, much better than any store-bought kit you can get. You can make it in stages, and control the amount of time you spend on it. So, today, we made the dough, and that’s all. Took about 20 minutes. Here’s my recipe, btw, with all the parts that Nat likes to do added in:

Gingerbread House Dough*
5 cups white flour: Nat pours the flour and loves to watch the clouds of white shimmer down into the bowl and also float upwards in the light. He loves to touch it where it dusts the counter, too.
2 sticks soft butter: Nat loves to squoosh it in his hands.
1 cup molasses: Nat loves to watch it pour slowly and then to lick the measuring cup (as do I).
1 tsp baking soda: Nat levels off the spoon by rubbing it against the lip of the box, very satisfying to get a sharp edge on the powder.
1 tsp salt: I do this, because it’s boring.
1 tsp each of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves: Nat loves to smell each spice
1/2 cup hot water: me, boring.
Knead it with your fingers, fold it into a ball. I then give Nat a huge chunk to eat. I wrap the rest with wax paper and then saran wrap, and chill for a few hours at least.
*Thanks to Kristina Chew, here is the gluten-free version for those of you with dietary issues.

Saturday, when we’re all home, the whole family joins in (if we can get Max to stand up and walk away from the computer). We have a house template that Ned has drawn, and it looks like a miniature version of our house. We roll the dough out flat and thin, 1/4 ” is what we aim for, and it has to be very cold or it will get sticky. Ned slices the pieces as precisely as his little mathematician’s heart desires; I stay far away because if it were up to me, I would just mold the thing with my fingers and end up with something that looks like a gingerbread cave! We bake the pieces on a greased sheet, maybe even parchment, 350 degrees, about 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on it, because you want it a little pliable, rather than too brittle and overcooked.

Make the icing. (10 minutes, tops)This is very important, because it is your glue. This is the part of the exercise that I recommend is for those who can laugh at themselves, because it is so stressful balancing those $%$! pieces of house together that even the happiest couples can head towards the Precipice of Divorce. Prior to assembly, make the icing, and then, below, the candy glass for the windows.

Royal (Pain) Icing
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 1/2 TBSP meringue powder
Beat until foamy
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar — add a little at a time (again, a job for someone like Ned, not for the impatient types like Nat or me)

Candy Glass (for the windows) You will need a candy thermometer. (another 15 minutes)
Boil 1 cup water, remove from heat
Add and stir until dissolved: 2 cups sugar, 3/4 cups light corn syrup, 1 TBSP butter
Return to heat. When boiling, cover 3 min. so the steam can wash down the crystals. Uncover and cook at high without stirring, to 300 degrees. Take off heat, let bubbles subside. Very carefully pour windows onto flat house pieces, prior to assembly.

After house is assembled and has set, you can think about decorating. Warning: at this point, you will be so sick of the thing you will want to get out a hammer and smash it into bits, before turning the hammer on yourself.

I like to use Hershey’s bars broken up for the shutters, gummi bears for the inhabitants, Droste pastilles for roof tiles, Twizzler porch arch and Twizzler gutters, M &M;’s for Christmas lights (which we do not have on our house, but neither are we gummi bears). All of it held on with the frosting, of course.

We even have a miniature lighting system that we put inside, so that the windows are lit!


You all are so creative! FUnny, but i initially found your site do to one of the fabulous cakes you did this summer…a swimming pool for Nat, i believe. Sounds like you have the right combo of creative thinking and painfully perfect execution.

— added by Anonymous on Thursday, December 29, 2005 at 5:21 pm

Charlie has always been a big fan of the story of the gingerbread boy—and me cooking is a favorite thing of his to watch and, increasingly, to imitate. Someday we will get to the house baking and building when I can get together the gluten and casein free ingredients for a recipe like this.

Great idea—-

— added by kristina on Thursday, December 29, 2005 at 7:16 pm

Your houses are awesome! I thought my Costco houses were cool, but yours are from scratch. Wow! They look too good to eat! But then when you were listing off the candy decorations you used, I would’ve been right there when you eventually dig in!


— added by Mom to Mr. Handsome on Thursday, December 29, 2005 at 7:40 pm

Hi Sue, this was such a fun post! And ironic as I had just posted myself on why I would never in a million years make a gingerbread house! You made me realize that it could be fun, after all! xoxNancy Bea

— added by Nancy Bea Miller on Thursday, December 29, 2005 at 10:51 pm

Hi Susan,

Love the Gingerbread house, it’s so cute:)

— added by KCsMom on Thursday, December 29, 2005 at 11:53 pm

Well done! The twins and I tried assembling a semi-pre-fab one from the supermarket’s do-it-yourself section, only to have it buckle and collapse under the pressure of our high humidity (I live in the redwoods and winter is the rainy season). Of course, this did not reduce its taste-appeal in any way whatsoever, and it did not last long after that!

Perhaps I will someday be brave enough to try one from scratch. (Note to self – download her recipe).

-The Other Susan

— added by Susan on Friday, December 30, 2005 at 5:09 pm

Watch out Martha Stewart! I love how you do things like this with your boys. I need to do more baking with my two, but like Kristina I will need to go the gluten and casein free route which never tastes as good.

— added by Eileen on Saturday, December 31, 2005 at 8:57 am

you can also crunch up lifesaver candies of different colors, then sprinkle them inside the window holes. if you put the window wall pieces back in the oven for a couple more minutes, the candy will melt and then harden into a “stained glass” look when it’s cooled.

i hope you continue your gingerbread traditions!

— added by Jenny K on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 3:15 pm

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