If you are well and truly in the middle of the rush of the season, then things are probably beginning to drop by the wayside. As time gets squeezed, that four day plan to build an architectural marvel doesn’t bring the same happy thoughts. I am going to suggest that building memories is far more rewarding and I want to show you a plan for reducing that four day plan down to a fun afternoon.
6 full size graham crackers, two can be broken in half to make four squares and the other four need to start complete and whole.
Two whole wafers will be the base the house is build on. That way there is room for other fun things like hedges, snowmen or woodpiles. Someone may even built a duck pond.
Two wafers need to be cut like the larger pieces in the picture above and the diagram below. Use a knife with a sharp serrated edge and saw back and forth like you are cutting a tree. Don’t push down or there will be a greater possibility of cracking the wafer. Another helpful hint is to use the part of the knife closest to the handle as it will be flatter than the curve near the point allowing for more even pressure across the sawing motion.
The first cut goes from the middle break line, across the wafer up to the opposite corner. The second cut goes from the middle break line on the opposite side up to the vertical break line in the center.
1/4 cup white chocolate dipping chips. These are the ones I usually steer away from as they don’t contain cocoa butter. The reason they work well now is that they will harden without tempering, strictly melt and use. Place a few in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and repeat until melted.
The traditional way of making gingerbread houses would be with royal icing and you can do that but it will take longer to harden and be safe to move to the next step. Using confectioner’s coating (chocolatey flavoured coating) gives you a simple way to move forward a little sooner.
The next step could be to put the walls together and build the house. One consideration though is that some decorating options are better completed with the wafer flat on the work table so if you want to pipe designs, like windows or tudor work onto the walls and would prefer not to pipe at an angle once the house is put together, now would be a good time to do that before assembling in the pattern shown on the left hand side.
Some things to think about before assembling. If the side walls are on the outside of the end pieces (as shown in the picture), the house will look wider, there will be a line where the pieces come together front and back (easily hidden behind candy or pretzels) and the gap under the roof as seen in the picture (also hidden behind icicles).
If the side walls are on the inside of the end pieces, the house will look narrower, there will be a line where the pieces come together on the sides and no gap under the roof as seen in the picture.
Step one: Put one side and either front or back together with melted and slightly cooled white chocolate. Try supporting them with cups or glasses and then letting them dry for 10 minutes untouched.
Step two: Put the other side and remaining end together with melted and slightly cooled white chocolate. Support if needed with cups or glasses and let dry for 10 minutes untouched.
Step Three: Put the two halves together with melted and slightly cooled white chocolate to form all four walls of the house. Brush the top angles of the pointy tips and the underside of the roof sections. Place the roof sections on the house. You can see in the picture above they are put on sideways to give a little extra width and create an overhang for icicles. Add white chocolate down the line between the roof sections for added hold. Let dry for 10 minutes untouched.
Now comes the creative part. Using a selection of candies, chocolates, glitter, edible gold or silver, nuts, dried fruits. marshmallows or anything else that comes to mind begin the process of cramming every last centimeter with sugar products. Use the white chocolate as glue and if it hardens too much, pop it back in the microwave for a few minutes to soften again,
Okay maybe not every last centimeter. There are all sorts of options and really the point is to gather a group of friends or family, share some time, have some fun and make some memories. There is also truth in the old adage, less is more, although it would be difficult to tell by the pictures.
I would suggest not letting too much nibbling go on while working, that there be an older person to help little ones and that fun creative expression is the point here not perfection.
Even if your intention is to kick it up a notch, being in the moment and playing has value. Finding some you time, to connect with undisturbed personal inspiration rather than planning for next years Christmas issue of Home & Garden.
Gingerbread in some form has been around since the 10th century in China with shapes such as hearts and people popular in Europe before houses arrived in the 18th century. There is a little chicken and the egg thing happening around the story of Hansel & Gretel and the popularity of gingerbread house making. It has been said that Queen Victoria has gingerbread figures made to resemble specific people and that they were sometimes gilded which is where the edible gold and silver comes in.
This house also happens to be filled with left over candies so a little like a pinata, they will all become available as the house gets broken apart.
Recognizing that we all get way too much sugar in our diets, try putting a house together with dried fruits and nuts. Pistachios and cranberries will give you the colours of the season. Try coconut for the snow, Pineapple for bright curtains and dates or prunes as a pathway. There are definitely alternatives to explore.
Something to keep in mind is that melted white chocolate is not like working with a glue gun. Chocolate takes a little time to dry. More is not necessarily better as it will take longer to harden and hold the decorations.
Can you see the duck in it’s pond on the left hand house? Made with candy canes for the banks, edible silver for the pond and a happy yellow duck. The center one has a snow man in the front yard and the one on the right has a chimney built from the extra wafer pieces.
Now, before I close of this post, I would like to cover royal icing. Much of the items on the houses were glued with white chocolate but royal icing was used for things like icicles and some gluing.
Royal Icing is made with egg white and will dry hard for you. You can make it yourself or purchase premixed packages made with dried egg whites in a store. The package we used made three cups and was enough for all twelve houses which is why it sometimes does not make sense to buy it unless you have future uses in mind. We used the premixed package because raw egg whites in a large group can be questionable to some people.
If you would like to make your own from scratch, go here. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/royal-icing-recipe.html Unless you are planning on making a dozen houses or your village is going to sit on the side of a snowy mountain, cut the recipe down.
As the days get colder and the nights continue getting longer, activities turn inside and an afternoon or evening around the kitchen table is a excellent way to gather the people you care about into your sacred space and share a time disconnected from electronic gadgets by creating an opportunity to grow and strengthen personal connections and isn’t that a big part of the season?