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Gingerbread Construction – Recipes and Tips

On this blog site I have posted multiple projects that teach lessons in ancient architecture via gingerbread. This particular post will offer a “behind the scenes” look at the construction process. Read on for recipes and construction tips.

Tools

As any baker or builder knows, having the right tools cuts your labor significantly and increases the joy factor in due proportion. Here are some tools that we have found helpful.

  • cereal boxes (empty box)

    Tools of the Trade

    • Use these to cut your patterns and designs. The colorful outside has a fine wax coating. Place this side down on the gingerbread, but DO NOT PRESS. You will then be able to lift and reuse this pattern repeatedly.
  • pizza cutter or box cutters
    • Pizza cutters are very handy for cutting curves. Box cutters work best on straight lines.
  • long rolling pin (Hobby Lobby and Michael’s Crafts carries these)
    • Use the kind that round off at the ends and do not have handles.
  • two or more ¼ “ square/rectangular dowels (Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, Home Depot)
    • Place each dowel on either side of a lump of dough. As you roll out the dough make sure the rolling pin stays on top of the dowels. This ensures a uniform thickness throughout your construction pieces.

      Roll dough on parachment paper using wooden dowels to manage thickness.

  • parchment paper
    • Roll out the dough on the parchment paper. This allows you to easily (yet carefully) slide the construction pieces onto a cookie sheet for baking.
  • large edgeless cookie sheets
    • An edgeless cookie sheet allows bakers to more easily slide the construction pieces on wax paper from counter to baking sheet.
  • plywood board (Home Depot)
    • This will serve as the platform for your project. It is the only inedible portion of the final structure (unless you are a beaver).
  • cheap paintbrushes – like the kind that come in a kid’s watercolor set
    • These will be used for any painting you might want to add at the end.
  • good set of frosting tips and bags
  • tall Pringles cans (empty)

    A Pringles can allows you to fill icing bags with ease.

    • These are used to fill your frosting bags.
    • Place a frosting bag inside the Pringles can and fold the edges over the outside.
    • Spoon generous amounts of frosting into your bag.
  • wet washcloths or rags
    • The royal icing used for this project is essentially edible cement, and it dries pretty quickly.
    • Frosting bags and tips left uncovered will harden fast, clogging your equipment.
    • Keep a wet washrag handy to cover tips whenever they are not in use (even for a few minutes).
  • stand mixer (the more the merrier)

Recipes

Caveat: These recipes are specifically created for building, not for eating. The gingerbread should come out very hard and stiff. The frosting is sugar intense, designed to imitate cement. So . . .

Tip #1 – Do NOT eat the building materials! That is easier said than done because it all smells so good. Keep some safe edibles on hand for munching while you work, such as a stack of happy gingerbread men or Christmas cookies.

Grandma’s Gingerbread Recipe

(for building)

5 to 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup shortening

2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp salt

1 ¼ cup unsulphured molasses

2 tsp ginger

1 cup sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

Preheat oven to 375°. Thoroughly mix flour, salt and spices. Melt shortening in large saucepan (or in microwave). Cool slightly. Add sugar, molasses and eggs; mix well. Add four cups dry ingredients and mix well.

Turn mixture onto lightly floured surface. Knead in remaining dry ingredients by hand. Add a little more flour, if necessary, to make a firm dough. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to ¼ inch thickness for cut-out cookies. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet: small and medium-sized for 6 – 10 minutes, large cookies for 10-15 minutes. One recipe of this gingerbread dough will yield 40 average-sized cookies.

If you are not going to use your gingerbread dough right away, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate. Refrigerated dough will keep for a week, but be sure to remove it 3 hours prior to rolling it so it softens and is workable.

*If you plan to eat the cookies, add 1 tsp baking soda to the dry ingredients.

*Roll and cut the cookies on parchment paper, transfer the paper to a cookie sheet and bake on the paper to avoid stretching and distorting the shape.

*Baking times will be longer for larger cookies. If the cookies cool and are not stiff enough, just put them in the oven for a few minutes more. You want stiff pieces for building.

Royal Icing

3 level tablespoons Meringue powder (craft stores, Walmart in the cake decorating section)

1 pound confectioner’s sugar (4 cups)

6 tablespoons water

Beat all ingredients at low speed for 7 to 10 minutes (10 to 12 minutes at high speed for portable mixer) until icing forms peaks. (Yield 3 cups)

Keep covered: it dries out quickly.

*You can double this recipe if you have a stand mixer. Do not try to double it if you have a hand mixer: you will burn your motor out.

Additional Construction Tips

Pavers – ginger snaps, broken; graham crackers, broken randomly or on the lines.

Sand – crushed gingersnaps, graham crackers, vanilla wafers; brown sugar

Water – piping gel (Hobby Lobby, Michael’s Walmart – cake decorating section), mixed with blue food coloring

Greek/Roman Columns – peppermint sticks with gum drops – It is very difficult to get the peppermint sticks to stand upright in place. We use gumdrop on both ends. These provide the needed support and are reminiscent of the base or the decorative tops of the columns. (See Pantheon for example)

Edible paint – icing color mixed with a little lemon extract – The lemon extract is generally colorless allowing the selected icing color to come through.

Fondant or Marzipan – We have used these items to create many special feature such as ships, animals, treasure chests, gift boxes, and even a Celtic warrior. (See Hadrian’s Wall and Greek Theatre for examples)

Trees – ice cream cones, star icing tip, green icing, edible decors for ornaments

Cover a sugar cone with icing using the “star” tip.

Hold icing bag between thumb and forefinger. Squeeze gently from the top, never in the middle.

Frosted tree ready for display!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gingerbread Architecture Projects

Please visit the posts below to see completed gingerbread projects from years past. Each one was created by the students of Grace Academy using the tools and techniques in the above post.

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