Gingerbread is believed to have been introduced to Europe by an Armenian monk named Gregory of Nicopolis in the 10th century. Gregory brought the necessary spices back from the Middle East and taught the art of gingerbread making to French Christians until his death. By the 13th century gingerbread made its way around Europe–and to Sweden where it was baked by nuns to help soothe indigestion and where it slowly became popular to paint the cookies and use them as window decorations as well.
The best way to celebrate Gingerbread Decorating Day is to bake your own gingerbread cookies and decorate them.
· 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
· 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
· 1/4 cup light molasses or dark corn syrup
· 1 tablespoon cinnamon
· 1 tablespoon ground ginger
· 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
· 1 teaspoon baking soda
· 2 cups all-purpose flour
· 2 tablespoons water
For assembly and decorating:
· Melted white chocolate or Royal Icing
· Gumdrops, licorice and peppermint and candies or your choice
For Royal Icing:
· 1 pound (3-3/4 cups) powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy
· 1 to 2 large egg whites, or substitute 4 teaspoons packaged egg whites and 1/4 cup water
· 1 teaspoon almond extract, vanilla or lemon juice
Directions for Royal Icing:
Using an electric hand mixer, mix all ingredients together until icing is smooth and thin enough to be pressed through a pastry bag with a writing tip. You can add more lemon juice, if icing is too thick.
Directions gingerbread dough and assembly
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and baking soda together until smooth. Blend in the flour and water to make a stiff dough, then chill for 30 minutes or until firm.
3. Cut out the following paper patterns for the gingerbread house template:
· 2 – 3x5 inch rectangles for the front and back of the house
· 2 – 3x5 ½ inch rectangles for the roof.
· 2 pieces that are 3 inches wide at the base, 3 inches to the roof line, and slanted to a peak 5 1/2 inches from the bottom for the end pieces of the house.
· 4 – 1 ½ x 1 inch rectangles for the roof and sides of the entryway.
· 1 piece that is 2 inches wide at the base, 1 ½ inches to the roof line, and slanted to a peak 2 ½ inches from the bottom for the front of the entryway.
4. On a large, rimless cookie sheet, roll gingerbread dough out to the edges, then place paper patterns onto the rolled out dough and cut around each of the pieces with a sharp, straight edged knife, leaving gingerbread dough pieces in place on the cookie sheet.
5. Bake at 375° F for about 15 minutes until dough feels firm.
6. Allow the gingerbread to cool on the baking sheet and then trim shapes, cutting edges with a straight-edged sharp knife and using patterns on top of gingerbread again for guidance.
7. Fill pastry bag with royal icing and with a writing tip, press out to decorate parts of the gingerbread house, doors, windows, etc. Allow icing dry until hardened.
8. Use royal icing to glue sides, front and back of gingerbread house. You can place an object against the pieces to prop them up until the icing is dry.
9. Next, glue the two roof pieces to the pitched roofline of the house. Do the same for the sides and roof of the entryway. Then attach the entryway to the front of the house.
10. Continue decorating your gingerbread house with gumdrops, licorice and peppermint.