Gingerbread Houses

My mother was fairly adventurous about food and recipes, back in the day. One of her culinary adventure involved a subscription to the Time-Life series "Foods of the World." While we never really got into experimenting with Moroccan cuisine, the more accessible and familiar varieties got a good work-over.

One of the wild successes from this series was a recipe and patterns for making gingerbread houses, which was came from the volume on the cooking of Germany. We did gingerbread houses for some years thereafter: most as gifts, and very elaborate. It is possible to make the house entirely of gingerbread, and held together with icing only - but the directions must be followed exactly.

Gingerbread for House: Must do three batches, or triple this recipe, if you have a set of ginormous saucepans and batter bowls, and three jellyroll pans. Each single batch will fill one 11 x 17 inch rimmed jellyroll pan. Butter each jellyroll pan with 1 TBsp soft butter and sprinkled with ¼ cup flour, being careful to butter and flour every square inch. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine in a large bowl: 6 cups all-purpose flour, 6 TBsp baking powder, 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground cloves, ¼ tsp each ground nutmeg and cardamom and 1/8 tsp salt.

In a large saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat: ¾ cup honey, 1 ¾ cup sugar, ¼ cup butter, until butter is melted and sugar dissolved. Remove from heat and mix in 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice and 1 TBsp grated lemon peel. Allow to cool, and add 1 egg, and one egg yolk, and two cups of the flour & spice mixture. When combined, add remainder of the flour mixture, flouring your hands and kneading it, until the dough is smooth, pliable and still slightly sticky. Place lump of dough into the prepared jellyroll pan, and roll it out level, being careful to fill every corner of the pan. Bake for 35 minutes, until cake is firm, and the top is brown.

While the cake(s) are baking, prepare templates for the pieces to be cut, from heavy cardboard, according to the diagrams. The sides of the house are 6 inches long by 4 tall. The end walls are ten inches long at the peak, and 6 inches wide at the base; the sides are cut from a single pan of gingerbread. Two chimney sections are also cut from that pan. The roof pieces are 8 by 10 inches, and there are four corner support posts, each about an inch wide and 4 inches tall, all cut from another single pan. The base for the house is 9 x 11, cut from the last pan, with a large square left over for other uses. As soon as each pan is cool enough to be firm, lay the template pieces down on the cake and cut with a sharp knife. The gingerbread hardens as it cools, so this cutting must be done at once. You may also cut out doors and windows - we used to experiment with "glass windows" made from colored melted sugar poured onto a piece of tinfoil, and attached to the inside of window openings.

For the icing, beat together in a large bowl: 2 egg whites until frothy and slightly thickened. Sift into the egg whites, 2 ½ confectioners sugar, one half-cup at a time, beating thoroughly until combined. This will make a very stiff icing.

The house is assembled as soon as the pieces are hardened. The sides of the house fit inside the end walls, braced by the four support posts. The icing, once applied, will harden enough to be quite strong. The only potential difficulty is the roof, which may have to be braced into place, until the icing hardens enough to hold fast - the pitch being so steep that the roof pieces are apt to slide off.

This produces a gingerbread house as solid as a concrete brick. Go to town, ornamenting with sugar candy, gingersnaps, candy canes, gumdrops and whatever. Enjoy looking at it - because it actually isn't very good-tasting.