Yesterday and today have been snow days for Rachael. We had sleet and freezing rain on Monday and a couple of inches of snow that hit during rush hour today. Since the government is closed, Mike is working from home. So we were able to all go outside as a family and play in the snow for a bit.
They named him Olaf.
I am unbelievably sore from playing outside. It was not helped by the fact that Mike tackled me to the ground during a snowball fight. Yes. He tackled the woman with fibromyalgia to the ground.
I decided that yesterday and today would be perfect days to make gingerbread houses with the girls. I wanted to make them from scratch, rather than using a store bought kit, for a few reasons.
1) Store bought kits can be really expensive.
2) The “gingerbread” in the kits is stale and gross.
3) The candy in the kits can be stale, too.
4) The pouch the icing comes in is really difficult to use.
5) A kit a friend bought ended up having a couple of maggots crawling inside the box. Just..eww.
Now, I’m not going to lie and say this process is quick and easy. If you really just don’t care about eating the house and want to make the house in quick order, (although putting together a kit isn’t a super fast process either) then just get a kit. But if you want to inhale the wonderful warm smell of orange and spices as you assemble your house, knowing that you’ll have a fantastic snack for later, a Christmas party centerpiece, or even a gift, this is for you.
It’s a Christmas-themed snack.
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp + a tiny pinch kosher salt
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup dark molasses
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
Sift together into a separate bowl the dry ingredients, flour through salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, molasses, and orange juice. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and orange zest. Beat until smooth and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
Mixing on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Scrape the bowl to fully, making sure to check the bottom of the bowl, as necessary. Add the molasses mixture to the bowl. Mix until all ingredients are fully integrated, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Take out one portion of dough from the refrigerator at a time. Flour a clean surface and knead some flour into your dough. When you take the dough out of the fridge, it will be firm, but still wet. Kneading some flour into the dough will make it manageable when you cut out your pieces and lift them off of the counter. Roll out the dough to approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. (The thicker the dough, the more difficult it will be to bake it uniformly and use for assembly.) Cut your pieces using a sharp knife with a smooth blade. I used these templates from Martha Stewart’s website: 1 and 2. Use a metal spatula to lift the pieces. If the dough is really wet and not coming off of your rolling surface easily, knead more flour into your dough and try rolling out your dough again.
Bake your pieces at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Smaller pieces will only need 8 minutes, while larger pieces may need 10+ minutes. If the middle of your large piece still feels extra soft to the touch, it may need some more time. Once out of the oven, allow your cookie sheets to cool on racks for about 5 minutes. Transfer pieces to cooling racks to cool completely. The larger pieces will be fragile, and require the use of a very large spatula, (I used a pancake spatula) for the transfer.
So, you’re going to need some glue to hold this all together. Enter royal icing. It’s super simple to make.
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp meringue powder
5 Tbsp water, plus more for thinning
Combine the ingredients in your mixing bowl, fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low for 5-7 minutes, until the icing is no longer shiny. At this point, your icing is going to be too stiff for decorating. Add a small amount of water, about a teaspoon at a time, until you are able to pipe it through a piping bag and tip. If you add too much water, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it back up. When not in use, keep the icing covered in a air-tight container. If the icing is already in a bag, wrap the tip with a damp paper towel and place the bag in an air-tight container. The icing will keep on the counter for 1-2 weeks. If you want a color other than white, you can tint it with gel food coloring. Liquid food coloring will thin the icing out.
You’ll need to pipe a line of icing and settle the front piece into the icing. Have a can ready to keep your pieces standing until the icing hardens. Allow the bottom pieces to set before attaching the roof pieces. Use your candy of choice to decorate, using the royal icing as glue.
Gingerbread recipe adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli, Food Network.
Royal icing from Annie’s Eats.