The tradition of making decorated gingerbread houses started in Germany in the early 1800s, with some researchers positing “Hansel and Gretel” as the impetus for the modern day gingerbread house. As the construction of gingerbread houses poses its own unique set of challenges, here are a couple of tips and tricks you should know when you make your own house.
Sacramento Convention Center
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As a pastry chef, Andreas devises a pastry and dessert menu that compliments the day’s savory items. Working with pastry requires practice, accuracy and technical skill, especially for displays that require a show-stopping presentation. A lot of what Andreas does revolves around the creation of new recipes and innovative desserts for the convention center’s guests. Andreas prepares all of the pastry items in house, which includes cakes, cupcakes, tortes, soufflés, custards and ice creams.
What particular ingredients do you recommend for someone building the perfect gingerbread house?
“My favorite is a traditional gingerbread house from a recipe that is more than 200 years old, passed onto me from someone close to me. It takes a long time to make, but the results are worth it (and delicious when you actually get to eat the house)!
The basic ingredients are honey, flour, sugar, eggs, and spices; but you want a nice, firm dough that will hold up when you cut it. I recommend having your templates already planned and cut ahead, so that when the dough is ready, you just need to ‘place and trace.’
But there’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple; the holidays are busy and there are demands on your time. So, any brand of extra large graham crackers (8 total) will work for a smaller house.
The icing is really simple: egg whites, powdered sugar and a little lemon juice; that’s it! You want it nice and stiff, and clean-tasting.”
Do you have any tips and tricks for building the initial gingerbread house?
“These are built for fun, so go ahead and challenge yourself. It helps to draw out each side first on cardboard, to get your shapes and structure down, then cut them out and assemble to see it realized in 3D.
Figuring this part out is actually part of the fun for a family; the planning project takes on a life of its own. My advice is to take your time, don’t rush to the pastry part and involve everyone in the design, right down to what candies you might use to decorate. Then, make sure you have some wooden dowels, popsicle sticks and toothpicks to help you support and hold the structure. Do it up! Make it totally yours.
If that level of engineering is too daunting, a premade kit is a fine substitute, and you can still have fun with the assembly. It saves a lot of time, and you can always go over the top and individual with your decorating.”
What are some things you can do to ensure that your gingerbread house won’t fall apart after sitting a couple hours or days?
“The icing is a really important part of this. You should aim to keep it on the stiffer side (shouldn’t be runny).
Adding a little bit of cream of tartar helps to give it structure and firm up the icing.
When you’re building, make sure that you support the inside walls with wooden dowels or skewers, so the “walls” aren’t free-standing.
If you’re making your own gingerbread, keep in mind that it helps to make the roof pieces thinner. If they get too heavy (or you add too much decoration), they can get too heavy and collapse.”
In your experience, are there some uncommon tips and tricks you’ve used in assembling the perfect gingerbread house?
“Time is my biggest friend when assembling a gingerbread house. I like to bake off all the parts and then let them sit overnight to totally cool. Then, I build my house and let it rest for at least two hours before I start decorating (that ensures that the icing on the house is set and can support the rest of the candy and decoration).”
Are there any other tips and tricks everyone should know when they set out to build the perfect gingerbread house?
“Think outside the house! Really striking presentations include a setting or scene. So, bake some smaller parts like trees, fencing, chimneys or other design elements ahead of time.
And always make sure you have extra icing. You can always keep the extra in the refrigerator to use as needed, but it’s better to have it than to run out.
Whatever you do, make sure that it’s fun and unique. As a holiday centerpiece or just a family activity, the time that you put into the presentation is what makes it special and memorable.
My best piece of advice is to have fun with it!
Paulo Acoba is a California native raised in the Bay Area and living in the Central Valley. He enjoys distance running, cycling and grassroots motorsports. He holds a degree in management from the University of California Merced. Paulo has been writing for Examiner.com since 2012 and covering the Fresno area.