Your mug is full of hot chocolate, the lights are twinkling on the Christmas tree and now it’s now time to build that gingerbread house. Sandra Kugenieks, last year’s second place finisher in the gingerbread house contest at the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Glow event, takes us through the steps of baking, making and decorating your own gingerbread mansion.
What does a cookie do? It crumbles. To keep your cookie shack from falling apart the second you pick it up, add structure by avoiding anything that would make the dough rise, such as eggs, baking soda or baking powder. “I found out the secret was not to use any leavening agents,” Kugenieks says. Let the dough cool for more than a half an hour before baking to allow the ingredients to properly commingle.
Before putting your dough in the oven, create a template for the pieces of your house. “By using this structural dough, when you bake it, it won't spread,” Kugenieks says. “It'll pretty much keep the shape. Whatever you put in the pan and bake, you're going to get.” Once the dough is out of the oven and cooled completely, remove the baked cookies from the pans and put on your construction hat. Using royal icing, glue the pieces together to create your house. Use soup cans to support your walls as the royal icing firms up to solidify your base structure.
Once your house is built, it’s time to for the most important part: the pizazz. But before you start decorating blindly, spend some time practicing what you’d like it to look like by drawing out your design on paper first and thinking about what elements and decorations you’d like to use. “Plan ahead,” Kugenieks says. “It's going to take more time than you think it's going to take, and use the internet for inspiration.” Let your creativity take over and make use of store-bought candy and foods as your decorations. Some pro tips: candy canes make great light posts, black licorice look like ropes and pretzel rods can add beams and texture to your roof.
For the sake of your dentistry, don’t try to bite into your gingerbread house. “It’s aromatic, ” says Kugenieks. “It’s not like you’re going to eat this.”
In a microwave-safe bowl, heat 2 cups of corn syrup (dark for darker dough, light for lighter dough), 1 ½ cups of firmly packed brown sugar (darker for darker dough) and 1 ¼ cup of margarine until margarine has melted and sugar is dissolved. In a larger, separate bowl, mix 9 cups of all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon of ginger and 2 teaspoons of cloves. Add the syrup-sugar-margarine mixture to the flour mixture and stir until stiff. Knead with hands. Let it sit and cool for a half an hour at least or overnight. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the dough into pieces shaped as you’d like. The shape will stay in the oven. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until the pieces are firm and lightly brown around the edges.