With the holidays coming, kids have two things on the brain—presents and sweets! When I think of the holidays I always think of a gingerbread house. We made one every year when I was growing up, and we always looked forward to it. It was an elaborate plan of blueprints and time. This year I am thinking of making a much healthier and simpler version—a rustic gingerbread cabin, if you will.
Are the kids sighing in the background? (Just wait kids, this can be fun.) I understand that the thought of a gingerbread house conjures up visions of candy canes, sugary gumdrops and gobs of frosting, but why not build one with some healthier, but still tasty, ingredients?
Remember, a gingerbread house can be any kind of house—a tiki hut, a ski lodge, a trailer, a mouse house or a train. When you make a traditional gingerbread house you end up with bags of sweets left over and, let’s face it, no kid wants to get old, stale candy for Halloween next year and tossing it out is so wasteful. Go against the grain and forgo the candy this year! Challenge the kids to use items you already have in your cupboards and try not to go out and buy a ton of new ingredients. The great thing about this project is that the “decorations”—foods such as nuts, cereals, and crackers— are healthier, easy to use, and you could make a fun cereal trail mix with your leftovers. This gingerbread house will be different, and still just as fun to look at and eat.
An easy way to make a small gingerbread house is to use graham crackers. If you are more adventurous or want to make a larger structure, you can purchase a readily available gingerbread house kit or bake your own.
You will need:
· Graham crackers: 10 per house to allow for mistakes!
· Royal icing for mortar (see recipe below)
· Piping bags and tips or gallon size freezer bags (make sure your bags have a nice square corner, not a pleated one)
· Decorative items such as: nuts, seeds, dried fruits, chocolate-dipped dried fruits, candied ginger slices, banana chips, marshmallows, pretzels, crackers, cereal of any kind, and cookies
· To color your royal icing “mortar” for a more rustic look, add a drop of black food coloring during mixing.
· To fill a zip top bag with the royal icing, stand the bag up in a tall glass before filling.
· Cut a tiny hole in one corner of the zip top bag after filling it. You can always cut a bigger hole, but you can’t make a big one smaller!
· Keep your icing bag in the refrigerator for touch ups or other projects during the holidays.
To build the house:
Use a large plate or sheet pan as a base so you can also create an amazing landscape around your house. Attach the graham crackers to each other with the royal icing by piping a line of frosting along the edge of one piece, pressing it against the adjoining piece, and holding them in place just until the icing sets. Prop up the pieces with cans of food or other heavy objects, if necessary, while they dry. Allow the house to dry for several hours before decorating. A graham cracker cut in half diagonally works well for the sides of the roof, or make yours a flat-roof house.
3 egg whites *
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 (16 oz) box confectioner’s or powdered sugar Yield: 2 cups Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth and thick, about 7 minutes. When a knife blade drawn through the icing leaves a clean cut, it is ready. Chill in a tightly sealed container if you are not using it right away.
· Purchase pasteurized egg whites if you are concerned about using raw eggs.
IDEAS TO SPUR YOUR CREATIVITY
Firewood pile: mini Tootsie Rolls
Shutters: sticks of gum
Rustic stone siding: chocolate cereal
Sand: brown sugar
Roofs: Oreo thins, Wheat Thins or Shredded Wheat cereal
Fences: pretzel sticks
Lamp Posts: pretzel sticks with marshmallows on top
Trees: green gum drops shaped like leaves (sold as “Spearmint Leaves”)
Pile of presents in a sleigh: decorated sugar cubes
Barnyard: animal crackers
Walkways: flat cookies or dried fruit
Snowmen: marshmallows with pretzel sticks for arms
Bamboo siding: pretzel sticks
Chimneys: sugar cubes or marshmallows
Snow: shredded coconut (can be sprinkled on for a snowy look on roofs and trees)
Photos: Matthew Carden—www.350degrees.com