The older we get, the more the Holidays seem to get stressful. Doesn't matter which Holiday you celebrate this time of year, there's so much pressure to have the "perfect party," get the "perfect gift(s)," "get everything done" and of course get stuck in traffic, especially on weekends near a shopping center. The Holidays are supposed to be a break from the stress of our "real work." So do something different and fun, like build your own gingerbread house.
The Gingerbread House is typically associated with Christmas but I don't see why you couldn't use a gingerbread design to celebrate many of the Holidays we share this time of year. It doesn't even have to be a house, the beauty of gingerbread is you can carve it and make it into just about any design you desire.
Now it all starts with a good, simple recipe that is easy to cut into shapes and holds those shapes well when it bakes. I found this one on Epicurious. This makes plenty of gingerbread to build a good sized design. If you plan to eat the gingerbread, I would add more of each of the spices. It's good as is, but for my tastes, it would be better with a bit more spice. Oh and you don't need to let the dough sit for 6 hours. 1 hour is really all the dough needs. So start out by making your dough and get it into the fridge to chill.
Now create a design. That same recipe offers a great starting point with a simple house. I recommend actually drawing out their house on paper or cardboard and assembling it to give you a sense of scale and how much the gingerbread will build. I felt like I had enough gingerbread to make about 2 of those houses from the amount of gingerbread the recipe made. Now that you know the scale of the original house, design something yourself.
I was inspired by a classic 1970's TV home. No particular reason other than it seemed like a silly, fun thing to build. So I started by drawing and cutting out the various pieces.
You really need to draw it all out AND assemble the house to make sure it all comes together. I highly recommend an Xacto or Sheetrock knife to cut the paper using a straight edge. Just tape the pieces together and make sure it comes together like you want it to. Oh and label all the pieces so you remember what they are when you break the template apart to cut the gingerbread.
The roof was the trickiest part because it's a two piece roof with a long slope on one end of the front of the house with a side roof coming in at a steep angle. I was able to make it work, not perfectly but good enough to cover the mistakes with icing later.
Now it was time to cut the shapes into gingerbread. I put parchment paper on either side of the dough as I rolled it out to keep it from sticking to the board and the roller. Then laid the template shapes onto the dough and cut through both layers of parchment. Remove the top layer of gingerbread, but LEAVE the bottom layer attached to keep it from sticking to the baking pan.
Something to keep in mind is that any pieces that will be inside the house and not seen, such as supports for the roof, can actually be cut out of stiff cardboard. There's no need to bake interior supports. This was my very first gingerbread house so I didn't think of that, but I will next year!
Now you bake the pieces, let cool completely and start assembling. Well actually I recommend you do a bit of the decorating while the pieces are flat as it's easier. The royal icing was always a bit too thick, it really does need to be a bit thinner to be more sticky to hold the pieces. Just cut the corner of a ziplock bag to use for piping the icing. As you assemble, anything that you have pre-attached to the walls may fall off, but you can just stick them back on.
Be sure to have a nice solid platform to build your house on such as a thick cardboard base. I cut a piece of thick cardboard and covered it with parchment paper. This makes it easy to move the house around once it's built.
I'll admit the initial assembly of the house was a bit ugly. Could not get the first three walls to stand up square. I ended up putting a piece of cardboard in as support to help these first pieces stay up and used a few coffee mugs to keep the very heavy "gumdrop wall" from falling forward. Then it was actually fairly easy to get all the walls up. Some of the baked walls didn't quite line up, but that's what icing and decorations are for!
For trimming the baked pieces, you need a REALLY sharp knife, such a straight razor knife and a light touch. Just let the sharp blade do all the work with just a little pressure. It took me about 10 cuts across the gingerbread to get it to cut all the way through, but I didn't break anything and got clean cuts.
So this project took one day. A lazy Sunday afternoon and it was fun. It was a reminder that the Holidays should be fun. So get your hands a little dirty, make something silly and have a little fun! Save the stress for when you're back in the office.
Oh and in case you're wondering, it was "The Brady Bunch" house that was the inspiration for my design. I drew my design from this photo. Why be normal, right?