Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Keeping traditions

One of my favorite parts of Christmas growing up was when my mother would bake gingerbread houses - one each for me and my two brothers - and then we'd spend an evening as a family decorating them.

Not being home this year, I decided I wanted to keep up with that tradition!

My mom made everything from scratch. She had a cardboard pattern (made from an old cocoa puffs box) for each piece of the house and she would cut out each shape individual. She made her own frosting, but it would take a while to set so we'd have to prop each piece into place with mugs until the frosting dried.

Lacking my mom's patience, I decided to do as much as I could from scratch, but take a few shortcuts where I could. I used a Williams and Sonoma recipe - man that made me wish I had a KitchenAid stand mixer. Last year at the Williams and Sonoma outlet I nabbed this great set of cookie cutters - the pieces are interlocking so they hold each other up until you can cement them with frosting. I tried to make each piece thick so they'd stand up, but soft enough that they can still be eaten. We only planned to make one house together, but the dough was enough for two, so two it was!

The frosting was from scratch, too, and was very easy. Mostly just milk and powdered sugar. I didn't end up using it to hold the house together, though, because I didn't have an icing bag to apply it. I did happen to have a leftover bottle of decorating icing from a batch of cookies I made earlier in the week, so we used that to hold the house together and the homemade icing to apply the candy.

Making the cookie dough -

The before shot -

And decorating

The after shots -

Aren't they fun? We went totally different directions with them but I love how they turned out. Plus we had a blast doing it together on Christmas Eve.

For any of you interested in trying this out, the recipes:

Gingerbread cookies

(Williams and Sonoma)


  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbs. ground ginger
  • 4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (we used dark and this was fine too)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 egg


Have all the ingredients at room temperature.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale yellow, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the brown and granulated sugars and beat for 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and add the molasses, beating until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the egg and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.

Add the flour mixture in 4 additions, beating in each addition before adding more. Beat just until combined, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Using floured hands, form the dough into a smooth mound and divide into 4 equal portions. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Preheat an oven to 400ºF.

Remove 1 dough disk at a time from the refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. Place the dough between 2 sheets of parchment or waxed paper and roll out to a thickness of 1/4 to 3/8 inch.

Dip the cutters into flour just before using and cut out the shapes (see tips below). Using an offset spatula, carefully transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheets. I found it was actually easier to put the rolled out dough on the cookie sheet, cut them, and then remove the remainder so that I never actually had to pick up the cookies after they were cut. Moving them stretch the dough a little bit and messed up the shape so the interlocking pieces didn't fit as well.

Bake the cookies until lightly browned on the bottom, 4 to 5 smaller pieces; 7 to 8 for trees and men; 10 to 12 minutes for sides and roof.

Creamy White Frosting 
(Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book pg. 171)
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (we omitted because we didn't have it and it was still yummy)
4 cups powdered sugar (about a pound)
3 to 4 tablespoons milk

In a medium mixing bowl beat shortening, vanilla, and extract with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Slowly add half of the powdered sugar, beating well. Add 2 tablespoons of the milk. Gradually beat in remaining powdered sugar and enough remaining milk to reach spreading consistency (we added less milk so ours would be a little thicker).

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