I had this great idea.
That’s always how I get into trouble.
But in any case, I had this brilliant idea. I would make some more hot chocolate bombs (hopefully not football shaped) and put them in mugs. Then I would make adorable mini gingerbread houses that hang on the rim of the mugs. wrap it all in crinkly plastic, tie it with a bow and you have a Christmas gift for a teacher or co-worker or dog sitter!
And I did it! Well I made the gingerbread houses. Okay, I made this gingerbread house.
Yes! THIS house! I actually made it!!
That’s my mug, and there are no hot chocolate bombs inside. Because I got to this point in my project (finished tiny house, felt like a mini gingerbread house boss!) But then my pragmatic daughter commented that if anyone gave her anything home-made during a pandemic, she would throw it away. I raised my eyebrows questionably and she said, “Immediately.”
Then she said I shouldn’t take it personally. And ate one of the four houses it took me approximately a billion hours to make.
Of course, my husband had tried a little less bluntly to steer me away from sweets for gifts. But I reasoned that Covid probably died on surfaces after a few hours, right? And added that this was really just as much about the fun of making it anyway, and the gifting part was gravy! So who cared if they got thrown out?
But then I thought about the billion hours they take to make and how pesky those hot chocolate balls and also where was I getting mugs and crinkly plastic?! And maybe I would care if they got thrown out. It was starting to feel as if it would be tone deaf to give food as gifts.
So, no gifts. But I still wanted to make the gingerbread houses. So I did. And I can share with you how it went, and you can decide if you want to gift them. And I wouldn’t throw them away if you gave them to me. I’d get Covid just to eat one!
Step 1: The Gingerbread
Okay, I used the recipe in The Joy of Cooking. I looked around and found that there are a lot of ideas about how to make a gingerbread cookie dough out there, and since this one had to be structurally sound, I would go with tried and true. I have adapted it a little bit.
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsulfered molasses
5 cups of flower, divided (see recipe)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add sugar and molasses and stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is no longer gritty. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to lukewarm. Cooks note: it never doesn’t feel gritty. Also, if you have molasses that takes longer than one holiday song to be poured into the measuring cup, don’t use it. Trust me.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 4 1/2 cups of flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Make a well in the center (If you feel like being extra) and pour the butter mixture in. Then, even though you’ll think I’m joking, stir in another 1/2 cup of flour. Beat until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Remove the dough and knead a few times until you feel like Daisy from Downton Abbey. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely cool. Some may say that you can keep it in the fridge for days, but in my experience, after any more than 3 hours, it dries out and hardens into a crumbly rock which cannot be saved under any circumstances, even if you google it.
Remove dough from refrigerating and divide into thirds. Get out your cookie sheet with no rims (you have one of those, right?) Roll out one third to about 1/4 inch thickness right on the pan! (If not you can roll out on the counter and transfer onto the pan). Keep the rest of the dough wrapped in plastic. I used a template, which I printed onto card stock and cut out. Then I used it as a guide to cutting out the cookies with a sharp knife.
I found this template on this blog. Remember the clever blog names of the twenty-teens?
4. This whole template business turns out to be a giant PITA. I saw this cookie cutter on etsy that would be way easier and just as cute. That you can google.
5. Bake the cookies for 12 minutes at 350 degrees. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool completely. I promise the cookies will keep at this point at least for a few days if kept, once cooled, in an airtight container.
Step 2: Assembly and Decoration
The real trick of gingerbread houses is using royal icing to put it together. I always make mine with powdered egg whites, which used to be readily available at Stop and Shop, but seem to have been replaced in the baking aisle for some reason ( I also can’t find powdered buttermilk). I have been able to order it on amazon and also it may be found at another grocery store but not Whole Foods in my experience. The recipe is pretty basic. 2 and 2/3 cup of confectioner’s sugar, 2 tablespoons of powdered egg whites and 1/4 cup water, stirred together. This stuff hardens like glue, so you have to work with small amounts and keep the rest covered with plastic wrap.
I usually use just a ziplock bag to pipe the frosting on, cutting a small corner off. You could do fancy pastry tips, but I keep telling myself that the “rustic” look keeps it cute. I also added some winter an holiday themed sprinkles I have picked up over the last few months, either at Michael’s or in the holiday themed sections of Stop and Shop or other local grocery stores.
Ok, so I made four houses.
This dough will make about 15 houses with enough scraps to have a few real gingerbread men and also eat a bunch of either dough or baked off scraps if you’re into that.