Holiday traditions create memories for our children and revive memories for us grown-ups. And nowhere was that more apparent than when Columbus Parent set to work on a gingerbread house landscape last month.
We wanted to work with children to make this iconic holiday treat, so we enlisted the help of a few grown-ups. Baking instructor Judy Tipton and her friend Cynthia Adkins provided the guidance in building and decorating the gingerbread houses, ice-cream cone trees and royal-icing snowdrifts. The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Lori Kingston arranged for us to use the beautiful AEP Education Pavilion on their campus for the lesson.
And then we asked Columbus Blue Jackets center Antoine Vermette to come along for the fun. Part of the landscape included a “frozen pond” made from crushed, melted and then hardened Life Saver candies. We figured who better to help the kids — 10-year-old Abby Jung and 13-year-olds Alex and Leena Todd and Colin Hawes — than someone who grew up playing hockey on the frozen ponds of Quebec?
Now make no mistake — building a gingerbread house landscape from scratch is a complicated process and Tipton advised that parents tailor their projects to reflect their children’s ages and capabilities. Frustration can easily set in if you expect too much too soon, Tipton said, so it’s best to find small parts of the process to share with young children.
Our kid helpers were all self-professed foodies and love to cook. It also became apparent, as they assembled their houses, they were all very meticulous. At one point, we asked what their favorite subjects in school are. Was it any surprise that math and science were the answers? “But really more math,” Abby noted, as the others nodded in agreement. Alex and Colin also bonded over the fact that both are LEGO enthusiasts.
Our photographer Alysia Burton has created a photo slide show to go along with the full instructions, and it all resides on our website, ColumbusParent.com. But to tempt your palates and inspire your creativity, we’re sharing photos here from the entirely edible landscape construction, plus instructions for making the frozen pond. And we’ve included Antoine’s memories of growing up on the outdoor ice.
Making the a Gingerbread Landscape
Sure, you can head to the store and buy the pre-made pieces to put together a gingerbread house, but where’s the fun in that? As the holiday season continues in full swing, try your hand at making a gingerbread house with from scratch with your family. With the help of baking instructor Judy Tipton, we’ve got instructions (and photos to go along with it!) that show you how to make your own gingerbread, icing and ice pond. And don’t forget to pick up a December issue of Columbus Parent, where Columbus Blue Jackets center Antoine Vermette assisted us in creating some of the festive, decorative houses. Happy baking!
Gingerbread Recipe, from Judy Tipton
6 cups flour
1 T. cinnamon
2 t. ginger
1 ½ cups corn syrup (light or dark depending on color desired)
1 ¼ cups packed brown sugar
1 cup solid vegetable shortening
In a large bowl combine the flour, cinnamon, and ginger. Place corn syrup, brown sugar, and shortening in a 2-quart saucepan and cook on medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the shortening has melted. Pour this liquid mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix on low speed until combined. If you do not have a mixer, you may knead the dry ingredients into the liquid, gradually adding the flour mixture until everything is completely combined. Divide the dough into smaller portions while it is still warm and easy to handle. Keep the container of divided dough covered with foil to keep it warm while you are rolling out the dough. Roll the dough between sheets of parchment paper. Roll the dough to at least a thickness of 1/8”. The thicker the dough, the longer it needs to bake. Place the rolled out dough onto a cookie sheet and place in freezer for about an hour. Repeat with remaining dough. Cut patterns out while the dough is frozen, return to freezer for a few minutes if it becomes too soft while you are working. Remember to cut out any doors, windows, etc. from the dough before baking. Reserve the window cutouts, cut in half, bake, and you have shutters for your windows! Reserve the door cutout which you may use as the door on your house.
Baking instructions: heat oven to 275 degrees and bake on center rack for 20 to 25 minutes – do not burn the dough. The longer it bakes, the stronger it gets, just be careful not to burn it! When you remove from oven, place the baking sheet onto a protective pad. You may trim the gingerbread if it loses a bit of its shape while baking. While it is still soft and warm from the oven, you may also cut window and door openings if you did not do so before baking. Cover the gingerbread with a sheet of parchment paper and place another baking sheet on top of the gingerbread. This will keep the gingerbread from warping while it cools.
Note: If you are building a structure that is large and needs to remain sturdy for an extended period of time, I recommend cutting and baking 2 pieces of each pattern and sandwiching them together with confectioner’s coating. This will add strength and stability to your structure.
Royal Icing Recipe
This is a smooth, hard-drying icing that is great for making long-lasting decorations. This icing can also be used as a "cement" to hold decorations together. Royal icing is edible, but do not use for icing cakes because it dries very hard.
3 T. meringue powder (can be purchased at craft store)
4 cups (1 pound) confectioner’s sugar
6 T. lukewarm (not hot) water
Yield: approximately 3 cups of icing which may be colored according to your needs
Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer). This frosting starts out glossy and will lose its sheen when it is ready.
Note: Keep all utensils completely grease-free for proper icing consistency. To remove grease from utensils that will come in contact with Royal Icing – place utensils for a minute or so in a pot of boiling water and then dry the utensils completely before using.
For stiffer icing or when using a large countertop mixer, use 1 tablespoon less water.
I prefer to use confectioner’s coating (can be purchased at craft store) to “glue” the gingerbread structure together. Confectioner’s coating sets in a few minutes and is very stable and secure. Instructions for melting are on the back of the bag.
IMPORTANT: Water cannot come into contact with confectioner’s coating. Heat the confectioner’s coating until just melted so that it will “set” faster.
Start with an ice cream cone and royal icing tinted green. You may also want to have some cake sprinkles to decorate your tree. A disposable chop stick or wooden skewer, along with some floral foam or an inverted Styrofoam cup placed into a heavier cup or mug will prove useful. Use a small amount of royal icing to attach the ice cream cone to the chop stick. Using a decorator’s leaf tip and bag, pipe leaves onto your tree, starting at the bottom and working up. When finished, decorate your tree with sprinkles and push the chop stick into the floral foam. Allow the tree to dry for at least two days and then gently turn to remove from the chop stick. Attach your tree in the desired position on the cake base using royal icing or confectioner’s coating.
Your gingerbread structure will need a sturdy base. For our house, we are using a cake board. Cake boards may be purchased at a craft or baking supply store. They come in different shapes and sizes. You may layer them to different thicknesses depending on the size of your house. We are using 3 cake board circles today. The corrugated lines on the cake circles should be placed perpendicular to one another for added strength. Tape the cake circles together and then cover with aluminum foil. Cut the foil into a circle large enough, so the foil will cover the edge of the circle. Snip the foil so that it folds easily and tape in place on the bottom of the circle. If desired, you may glue a decorative ribbon around the edge of the cake board.
Gingerbread House Assembly
At least two days prior to assembly, lay out the baked gingerbread pieces. Decide if you need to bevel the inside edges of your baked pieces to allow for easier assembly of the house (and to make the joints square). To bevel the edges, use a serrated knife with a gentle sawing motion. If the joints of your house will be covered with decoration, this step will be unnecessary.
Use the royal icing tinted in the colors of your choice to decorate the gingerbread house. This is much easier to do before assembling the house than after. Just be sure the decorations are dry before you assemble the house.
Have the base covered in foil as instructed above and ready to accept the gingerbread house.
Coat the edges where the house will join together with a generous amount of confectioner’s coating and press the edges together. If using royal icing for this step, you will need to allow for more drying time (a couple of days). You can use a variety of items to hold the house in place while it is drying (soup cans, boxes of macaroni and cheese, etc.) Be careful not to bump the decorations on the house while you are working as they are fragile and can break off – then you will need to repair them. Add the roof and allow to dry, but do not decorate.
Once the house is assembled and dry, you can attach it to the prepared base using confectioner’s coating or royal icing. At this point you may decorate the roof, either by piping on royal icing or attaching “shingles” to the roof. Use your imagination for shingles! You may use wheat cereal for a thatched roof, or you may prefer to use various candies or even sticks of chewing gum for your shingles. Spread royal icing or confectioner’s coating on the base to look like drifts of snow. Secure the other items you are using, such as trees, fences, snowmen, etc. to the base using additional icing or coating and then stand back and admire your beautiful gingerbread creation!
Photos by Alysia Burton