You know, if we're talking from-scratch, it's been at least 4-5 years since I've made the gingerbread house and frosting. Since that time, it's either been graham crackers or store-bought kits. It's easy for my mind to get mentally lost in all the holiday to-do's, want-to-do's, and therefore, leave little or absolutely no time for things that are really quite meaningful in tradition and fun as well!
This year then, I decided to call upon a person who has made gingerbread houses since before she was my age and beckon her expertise: my madre. Since 198-something, she has held on to the original gingerbread house recipe and templates that a friend taught her all those many Christmas's ago. I mean, sure, I could get a book, look on a website, find a template, find a recipe that is suitable, for any gingerbread house, but for me, it was a bit more significant to have a recipe that has years of history behind it. Perhaps in the future when I get a bit more skilled I'll attempt a gingerbread village or a gingerbread cathedral. Who knows.
As for the experience itself, I loved it and always have and the primary thing I learned is that no matter if the gingerbread house is made from a store-bought kit, graham crackers, or from your own hands, and no matter if you're an amateur (i.e. me), pro, or somewhere in between, it's a tradition worth making some time for.
... because then your two-year old gets to salivate and lick his chops every time he walks by it in the kitchen!:)
Okay, without further adieu, here are some little pointers that I learned about gingerbread house making and decorating- they ensure a smooth and successful experience (some I did well, some I did very poorly, but good to learn from mistakes!).
Top 10 Lessons Learned in Gingerbread House Making
1. Immediately upon removing your gingerbread from the oven (it should be cooked in jelly roll sheets), take a kitchen table knife and trace your templates out while it's still soft. Allow then, to sit in the pan for 10 minutes and then carefully remove the traced-out pieces from the sheet pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack (30-50 minutes).
2. Use only royal icing for gingerbread houses. Any other frosting that contains butter or oil will only disintegrate within days. Royal icing is a powdered sugar/egg white (or meringue powder)/cream of tarter combination that acts as a wonderful adhesive for putting the house together and as a glue for all additional decorating.
3. Make the royal icing when your gingerbread house is cool enough to frost.
4. When putting your gingerbread house together, make sure each side of each part has a strip of icing on it- hold each piece in place with your hands until the frosting has hardened (a minute or two).
5. Place a well-damped cloth over the bowl of royal icing or else it will completely dry out.
6. Do gingerbread house making and the decorating of it in two days if you have small children- i.e. make gingerbread house one day during naps and allow to cool overnight. The next day during naps, frost and decorate (on the contrary, we did it all during one nap and I felt way too rushed, hence my gingerbread house looks like a first grade project!).
7. Have a plan and VISION of where and how you want to use the candies and materials needed in decorating!
8. When you're done with one frosting tip, immediately wash it out so that the icing doesn't dry inside.
9. Have a foil-wrapped, sturdy piece of cardboard all ready to put your gingerbread house on BEFORE you do anything else.
10. Listen to some favorite holiday songs while working; I recommend Wham's Last Christmas and Peter Brienholt.
Sum up of this entire post?? There are no real rules to how a gingerbread house ought to look, so, for crying out loud, have some fun!