Crafts For Kids: Make And Decorate A Gingerbread House

Everyone sees gingerbread houses at Christmas. They are often on television "" elaborate, fantasy creations that boggle the mind and excite the imagination. With a little work, a small scale gingerbread house is a realistic project, and fun for kids and grown-ups. Parents can buy the kits at a hobby store, or can have the old-fashioned fun of doing the project from scratch. With a little advance planning, anyone can have a great time making a gingerbread house.

A pattern for the house will need to be made first. This can be made from paper or posterboard. There will need to be a pattern for the front and back, the side walls and the roof. The cook will need to cut two of each pattern.

The front and back pieces will have a peaked top, and square base. A good size is 5 inches from the base to where the peak begins, and 4 inches from there to the tip of the peak. Side walls for a front and back this side should measure 5 inches by 8 inches. The roof will be two rectangles, 7 inches by 11 inches.

Now it's time for the gingerbread dough. This is a basic recipe that should produce a good, sturdy result.

1 cup butter, softened to room temperature

1 3/4 cups brown sugar

1 1/4 cups white sugar

2 tablespoons molasses

6 eggs

6 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon allspice

Preheat the oven to 325 and line a couple of cookie sheets with foil. Butter and flour the foil.

In a big bowl, cream the butter and brown and white sugars. Mix in the molasses and eggs.

In another bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together. Combine the sugar mixture and dry ingredients until they form a dough. Knead the dough into a smooth ball. Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least half an hour.

Liberally flour a working surface and roll out a small amount of dough to a 1/4 inch thickness. Place one of the paper pattern pieces on the dough and cut around the edges with a butter knife or small spatula. Using a spatula, gently lift the pattern piece and place it on the buttered foil on the cookie sheet. Repeat until two pieces of each pattern have been made.

Bake pieces for 15-20 minutes or until slightly firm. Let the pieces cool on racks until they can be easily handled. Peel the foil off the sections, if necessary, and set the pieces aside to dry, preferably overnight.



Once the gingerbread pieces have been made, it's time to tackle the icing and part of the construction process. For the base of the gingerbread house, cut two sturdy pieces of cardboard, as from a packing box, and tape them together, or use scrap plywood, if available, and cover completely with foil, taping it to the underside of the base. The base should be level and smooth. It should provide at least four inches on all sides of the house, but can be larger, if desired. The most important thing is that it is sturdy enough to lift with the weight of the gingerbread house without buckling. Set aside the base.

Now for the icing. The following recipe will make the royal icing that will be used to "glue" the pieces together. This icing can also be purchased as a dry mix that will make larger batches where cake decorating supplies are sold. The icing dries rock-hard when made properly.

Royal icing

This recipe makes between three and four cups of icing. Two or more batches may be necessary (depends on the size of the house and how much decorating the cook wants to do), so if the cook prepares more than one recipe in advance, he should keep the remaining icing in another bowl in the refrigerator, covered with a damp washcloth and a piece of plastic wrap, since the icing dries out and hardens so quickly.

3 egg whites

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

3 to 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Water

Beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and 2 teaspoons water until the mixture is frothy. Mix in sifted powdered sugar and beat on high speed until icing is stiff -- about 5 to 10 minutes. The cook may need to add powdered sugar or water, as needed, until the icing reaches spreading consistency. The icing should ideally be about the consistency of toothpaste.

Icing can be placed into a sandwich bag with the corner cut out, or placed in pastry bags and used with a standard round writing tip. The pastry bag should be filled about halfway, and the top twisted around and secured to keep the icing pressed toward the tip opening. Icing bags and writing tips can be purchased anywhere cake decorating supplies are sold.

Assembly

The cook will need to get a couple of soup cans, spaghetti sauce jars or cola cans to support the walls. Place the base on a flat, large surface, and pipe icing along the bottoms of one wall and on the base where you want the house to sit. Pipe icing on the bottom of the front of the house and on the base, and pipe icing along the joining edges. Press the wall and front together at the corners and hold gently for about 30 seconds. Place a can on the inside and outside to hold the wall and front up. Repeat the same procedure with the opposite wall and back of the house, making sure icing is piped into all corners. Set the cans on either side, to hold up the walls.

Allow the walls to dry at least 30 minutes until the icing is firmly set. Remove the cans and pipe icing along the peaks of the front and back walls and along the insides of the roof where it will join to the roof, and press gently for several seconds. When the first roof section dries, carefully join the opposite section to the roof alongside the other section. Ice in the join at the roof's peak and allow to dry completely.

If, by chance, a piece breaks, a "mend" can be done by gluing the broken pieces together with icing. The decorators can then just decorate over it.

Now for the fun part "" decorating. The cook should get several kinds of sweets for this job: multicolored gum drops, M&Ms, round peppermints, small round multicolored candies, candy canes, LifeSavers, macaroon cookie bars, butter cookie flowers, Cheerios, and frosted mini wheat squares. Almost anything can be pressed into service for a gingerbread house.

The cook can cut a door into the house, or can simply pipe one on with icing. Windows can also be piped on, in any configuration the kids or cook want to do. Candies should be pressed onto a dot of icing.

If the roof is a bit uneven looking, the decorators can always ice the entire roof and dot it with multicolored candies, or leave it plain. Round peppermints are excellent for camouflaging the space where the roof pieces join, and so are large candy canes. Gumdrops can be rolled out flat to create glass panes for windows, and also make excellent ledges when cut in half and pressed with the flat side against the window.

Cheerios, wheat squares or butter cookies are great for roof decoration. The wheat squares create a thatched-roof look. Macaroon bars are wonderful for roofs, as well as fences and brickwork.

Icing can also be spread on the base, flat and with drifts and peaks, to simulate a snowy scene.

There are few limits to what can be done with a gingerbread house and candy. Only the imagination limits the d├ęcor. Even if the result is less than perfect, a project done with a child is well worth the time and effort.

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