A Gingerbread Fit for Hansel & Gretel
It's mid December and 'round these parts, that means it's time for constructing, and subsequently destroying, a tiny dwelling made of gingerbread. Now I know you can buy pre-made houses at the store, but riddle me this: How long have those cookies been in a box? Are they even meant for human consumption? I wonder because it's not unusual to find my kids getting all Hansel and Gretel-ish with our gingerbread house. And by that I mean that they actually gnaw on the house and eat the cookie cottage.
So despite not being a huge baker, I do like to bake my own gingerbread. It extends the whole process and the kids really love helping. You can buy the gingerbread house cookie cutters or you can simply roll out your dough and cut it yourself with a knife. Here are my cutters (and a few nautical cutters to make our gingerbread house beachy looking).
The actual cookie recipe is from Baking Bites and the addition of the pumpkin puree really helps to take that rock-like quality out of the gingerbread but still leaves them firm enough to serve as the walls of your house. You can decorate your house with everything from pumpkin seeds to candy canes. Our little house is a tad over the top because I think my kids believe that more is more when it comes to decorating.
Here is the recipe from Baking Bites for the cookies. The royal icing is super easy as well. That recipe is from Martha Stewart.
PUMPKIN GINGERBREAD COOKIES
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, very soft
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
2 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in molasses, pumpkin puree, egg, spices and vanilla extract until well blended. With the mixer on low speed or by hand, gradually add in the flour mixture, mixing until no flour remains.Divide dough into two pieces. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.Preheat oven to 375F. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll out to no more than 1/4-inch thick on a lightly floured surface and use a floured cookie cutter to make desired shapes. Transfer cookies to a parchment lined baking sheet. Reroll reaming dough, chilling for a few minutes if it becomes too warm to handle easily. Repeat with second piece of dough. Dough can be rolled out two to three times. Bake for 7-9 minutes at 375F, until the edges are slightly firm to the touch but cookies are not browned (The bottom of the cookies will be light brown). If your cookies are exceptionally large or small, the baking time may need to be adjusted.
Cool completely on a wire rack before icing. Makes 4-5 dozen cookies, depending on cookie cutter size.
To assemble the house, simply use the icing as glue (you know glue is always fun to eat!) and channel your inner architect to build your gingerbread cottage.
2 pounds confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons meringue powder
Scant 1 cup water, plus more if needed
With an electric mixer on low speed, beat ingredients until fluffy, 7 to 8 minutes. Use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container (royal icing hardens quickly when exposed to air) and refrigerate up to 1 week. Stir well with a flexible spatula before using.
Thin icing as needed by stirring in additional water, one teaspoon at a time. For piping designs, add just enough water that icing is no longer stiff; for floodwork, add water until icing is the consistency of honey.