The smells and tastes of the winter holiday season wouldn’t be complete without the classic taste of gingerbread. The spicy, sweet flavors of the gingerbread cookies combined with sweet vanilla or chocolate frostings is a seasonal favorite that has the power to evoke memories for many. Gingerbread is traditionally baked during the holiday season; it’s firm dough bakes perfectly to be used in stamped or cut cookie shapes. Gingerbread also makes itself useful in crafting gingerbread houses and other fun creations.
The art of baking is a deliciously creative outlet. The best part about baking is that anyone can do it. Thanks to the food network, Pinterest and numerous other media outlets baking and creating beautiful, tasty creations has become a popular art form. The art of baking, building and decorating gingerbread houses and other creative structures has allowed confectioners to become sculptures.
This article would hardly be complete without including a favorite recipe for gingerbread. The classics are hard to beat and so we turn to the Betty Crocker Cookbook for the yearly gingerbread fix. This recipe is great for building houses and it’s tasty too. There are doubtless many other recipes available on the web or in other cookbooks so use what works for your needs. Not all recipes are created equally. Some recipes focus largely on taste and are hardly useful for creating a gingerbread masterpiece.
Making Gingerbread Dough
1 ½ c dark molasses
1 c packed brown sugar
⅔ c cold water
⅓ c shortening
7 c all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Mix molasses, brown sugar, water and shortening. Then mix the remaining ingredients in. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Bake at 350 degrees 10-12 minutes.
Tip: In the Betty Crocker cookbook they suggest rolling the dough to ¼” before cutting. With this recipe ¼” is a tad on the thick side and the cookies tend to puff up and change shape during the baking process. If you are just making cookies to decorate and enjoy then the thicker dough is best. Also butter is a great substitute for shortening if you plan to eat your cookies and aren’t going to build with them.
If you’re more into architecture than baking you can just buy a Betty Crocker Gingerbread Mix from Amazon.com and skip the measuring.
Some gingerbread artists are capable of creating anything they want. If it’s your first time making a gingerbread sculpture without a kit bought at the store it can be a little intimidating. The hardest part of creating with gingerbread is getting the design right. You have to measure and cut out your gingerbread and then bake it in the oven. This can cause two problems from a design perspective.
First problem: if you don’t take the time to build a scale model ahead of time out of cardboard or a similar material you can run into mistakes. For instance, in the gingerbread barn in the example photos the front and back pieces of the barn were cut squared off and the roof would never have gone on. Thankfully gingerbread is a little bit forgiving and rather than having to re-roll and bake new pieces for the barn the corners could be cut to correct the problem. It’s easy to think that you can just draw out your building concept and then use measurements to cut out your dough. This was the approach we took when building the example structure and it obviously didn’t work in our favor. Without having cut out and built our design ahead of time we made mistakes and struggled when we started to assemble our sculpture.
Second problem: when you bake it, the gingerbread can be a little unpredictable. If you roll your dough too thin it can shrink or crack after baking. If your gingerbread is too thick it can puff up and spread in the oven. Once your pieces are baked they need to be completely cooled and hardened before you assemble your sculpture. If you don’t wait until the gingerbread is hardened then it will sag or bow and your creation won’t turn out.
Assembling the House
Pick your stick… in order to assemble your gingerbread creation you’ll need to choose an adhesive. Here are some great options for you to choose from.
Frosting: Using frosting to assemble your creation is one of the most common, go-to binders and is safe and easy to use. It’s kid friendly too. The drawback is that it takes a long time for the frosting to set and can leave room for disaster to strike.
Hot glue: if you, like many others out there, aren’t interested in eating your creation afterward then hot glue is a great option. It’s quick and holds firmly with few drips and a smaller margin for mistakes and accidents to happen. It does have an inherent danger to it; let’s be honest, most hot glue gun users have been burnt at least once.
Melted sugar: This option is by far the most dangerous of the bunch. All you need for this option is to melt a small to moderate amount of sugar in a pan on the stove. Start with 2-3 tablespoons of sugar and heat it until melted. Then you can use a spoon or simply dip the edges of your gingerbread pieces into the molten sugar. And, like hot glue, it cools quickly and has a firm hold. This method is more dangerous than hot glue because there is far less control and a drip of melted sugar on your fingers is an instant recipe for burns and blisters. The appealing thing about this method though is that it cools quickly and you get a firm hold. It’s also edible if that is a concern or criteria.
Assemble your building without adhesives first to make sure that all the pieces fit together correctly. It’s very hard to cut off or correct pieces once your structure has been assembled. After you are satisfied with the way that each piece will fit then start with a sidewall and a back wall. A common mistake is glueing your sidewalls to your base. This can lead to uneven walls that narrow or widen.
Choose a theme or design that you want to create. There are a ton of really fun ideas out there, so if you are feeling creatively clogged take a quick minute and look through all the fun stuff on the web.
For the example project we decided on making a barn. Decorating options were fun and easy for this one. Think of food items and candies that go along with your theme. The Pigs in a Blanket baking mold made perfect pink piggies for this project. Frosted Mini Wheats made excellent bales of hay. Pretzels come in many shapes and sizes and are fun to use as fences, piles of chopped wood and anything else you can dream up to make with them.
Decorate from the bottom up. It’s always a temptation to start with the roof of your structure but it’s all too easy to drag your hand through frosting or knock candies off as you are trying to decorate.
Frosting: Store bought frosting is such an easy choice and quick too. If you plan to assemble your creation using a frosting glue it’s best if you make your own though. Finding a good recipe should be easy there are lots of options online or in a cookbook. If you don’t have decorators bags for frosting you can fill a sandwich bag with frosting and cut the corner. For little helpers you might consider buying squeeze bottles that are a little easier to control. Change it up, food coloring is a fun and easy way to add a little pop to your creation.
Keep your designs clean and simple. Don’t crowd the gingerbread with too many candies. If you aren’t creating a show piece and are just having a good time then forget all the decorating tips and just have fun. If you don’t want to focus on architecture you can buy a simple Gingerbread House Cookie Cutter Kit. The best part about gingerbread creations is that you get to be creative—and don’t forget to sneak a taste.