Icing on the Cake

Better Homes and Gardens / Published 2007 / By Karen Haywood Queen

Everybody wants to turn out a masterpiece, but family time together is what counts. Wonky walls and sagging roofs are
opportunities to learn and laugh—and often lay the foundation for the fondest family memories. “It doesn’t have to be art,” says Aaron Morgan, executive pastry chef at The Grove Park Inn resort and spa in Asheville, North Carolina. “Just have some fun and let everyone express themselves. Hey, it’s gingerbread. If you make a mistake, you can eat it.”

Plan Your Attack Kids’ attention spans being what they are this time of year, gingerbread house making offers some built-in breaks. Try mixing dough, cutting out pieces, and baking the first day. Assemble the house and set aside to dry the next day. Save the best part— decorating—for last.

Color Up Your Icing Homemade royal icing, a mixture of egg whites and powdered sugar or meringue powder, is strong and works like mortar to hold your house together. Divide icing amounts into smaller portions according to how many colors you’d like to use. Use paste coloring instead of liquid so consistency won’t change.

Build The Walls Assemble your house on a tray, cutting board, or platter. Apply icing like caulk to a house end and a house side. Repeat with remaining house side and house end. Let the icing dry a couple of hours before putting the roof on. Use soup cans or coffee mugs to support the walls while icing dries. Tip: Wrap damp paper towels around the tips of your icing bags so they won’t clog during lulls.

Attach The Roof Attach eaves with icing and secure with pins. Let dry thoroughly. Remove pins.

Bring Out The Goodies “Think of candies as building materials instead of something you eat,” Morgan says. Wafers, mints, and licorice buttons are popular roofing and siding choices, as is shredded wheat. Turn pretzel sticks into rustic fences and upturned ice cream cones into snow-covered pines. “Don’t put the icing on the candy itself,” advises Anita Snyder, co-owner of The Gingerbread Factory in Leavenworth, Washington. “Put it on the house where you want to place the candy, then place the candy. It tends not to get as messy that way.”

The Kits Are OK You can buy inexpensive packaged dough mixes or pre-baked kits that let you skip right to assembly and decorating. A few sources we like:

  • gingerbreadfactory.com
  • kingarthurflour.com
  • elegantgourmet.com.

Have on Hand In addition to basic baking ingredients and cookware, here are other things you’ll want to have on hand:

  • Food coloring pastes.
  • Frosting bags (or plastic storage bags with a corner cut off).
  • Newspapers to cover tables and floors.
  • Soup cans, jars, or coffee mugs to support walls while icing dries.
  • Straight pins to hold roof in place while icing dries.
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