It’s December, which means it’s the time of year when we build houses with gingerbread slices and decorate their hallways with pieces of candy. Before the building boom, we asked pastry chefs and candy connoisseurs for their top tips and tricks for making better gingerbread houses. Not only will their information help you build a stronger gingerbread house that would pass an inspection with flying colors, their design know-how could help you win the ‘Best Gingerbread House’ award. all time”.
Tips for building a gingerbread house
A solid base to support all the candy decor is of key importance to any gingerbread house. Here’s how to make sure your gingerbread is structurally healthy.
- Whichever gingerbread recipe you use, add 1/3 cup of flour for a firmer dough, says pastry chef Pam Nash of Cook Street School of Culinary Arts in the Golden Triangle. “This will ensure that the house is sturdy enough to hold all of the decorations, but the dough will also spread out less and you will get sharp edges that will make it easier to put the house together,” she says. Then roll out the dough to a quarter of an inch thick. Thicker sides will also lead to a more solid house, according to Nash.
- Make the dough and bake the homemade pieces a day in advance. Store the dough (covered) at room temperature, then cut out house shapes before baking, recommends Nash. It is too difficult to cut the pieces while the cookie is hot and you will be wasting too many cookies.
- Before you put your gingerbread house in the oven, cut out the windows and fill them with crushed Life Savers candy and bake for a stained glass effect, says Nathan Potter, the pastry chef at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. This year, the resort used 958 pounds of powdered sugar and 20 pounds of candy canes to build its 10-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide gingerbread castle in the mezzanine level of its main building.
- If you’re using royal icing (i.e. the kind that’s made with icing sugar and hardens like candy compared to lighter, chewy icing), you can also make it someday at the advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator (the frosting will need to be whipped again before use). Make sure the consistency of the frosting is thick like peanut butter. If you’re using store-bought frosting, don’t use a sugar-free variety, Nash says, because the extra ingredients in the frosting will eat away at the gingerbread. Avoid shiny or glossy frosting, as it’s not ideal for building, says Michelle Rasul, owner and pastry chef at Bakery Cakes from Boulevard Speer. Whip your royal icing until frothy for the best result.
- Keep a damp towel over your frosting so it doesn’t dry out while you’re using it, says Sophie Palladino, pastry chef at Hilton Denver Inverness to Englewood, who is building a full-size gingerbread house for his lobby during the holidays. Also add frosting inside the gingerbread pieces for extra strength.
Tips for decorating a gingerbread house
Now for the fun part: it’s time to start decorating. Beyond gumballs and candy canes, here are some fun ways to make your gingerbread house shine brighter than Clark Griswold’s house.
- Your gingerbread house needs a little bit of curb appeal. Marshmallows are great for building snowmen in the front yard, and you can turn sugar cones upside down and drop green frosting for the trees on them, says Linda Sudowkski, owner of My creation workshop at the Edgewater Public Market, which sells cupcake and cake baking and decorating kits. For the holiday season, the studio sells a gingerbread kit ($ 49.99) that includes pre-baked house pieces, a variety of frosting colors, and tons of candy. Tying pretzel sticks is a great way to make your house look like a log cabin, Sudowkski says.
- Use slivered almonds to replicate the shingles on the roof of your gingerbread house, recommends Rich Beyers, executive chef of Hotel & Spa Saint-Julien. The Boulder Hotel spends 100 hours making their three-by-six-foot gingerbread house.
- Beyond candy, Frosted Mini Wheats cereal makes great tiles because it’s already frosted like snow, says Nash. She recommends using square pretzels for windows.
- Want to create the illusion of Christmas lights? Try Nerds Ropes. You can also use Pez candy to create roof shingles, says Stacey Kleinman, co-owner of the Invention chamber, a Willy Wonka-inspired food and drink entertainment venue in West Highland.
- Now, it’s time to proudly display your gingerbread house. But don’t forget to insert a battery operated tea light candle first to give it a nice and cozy glow.
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