Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gingerbread and the Science of Butter Cream Frosting

Gingerbread dough is pretty easy to make. Making a gingerbread house is, on the other hand, for the damn birds. It's hard. Especially if you ignore the fact that butter doesn't harden at room temperature. More on that later.

Laura was out shopping, so the kids and I were in charge of making the dough. It seems that I've been thrown into the baking realm these days, in spite of the fact that I am not a baker. Haven't we discussed this? I am a person who throws things in a big soup pot. I am a person who chops, braises, sears, sautées and simmers. I don't work well with baking powder. I make cream sauces and soufflés, not brownies or cookies. Nonetheless, I have children I can blame if anything goes wrong. And things did, indeed go wrong. Though, not with the making or baking of the gingerbread dough.

Cyd measured the spices. Fiona measured the more important ingredients. The hat? I knitted it for her last weekend and she's been wearing it every day and night for the past week. She is insanely attached to it. Which, frankly, warms my heart. Even when a kid at her school made fun of it. She didn't care. It's so "Coat of Many Colors", by Dolly Parton. (If that song doesn't make you weep, well, you are dead inside.)
Everything was going great. We can so do this.

And then they decided they wanted to LICK the counter. I let them because I rock as a parent. Plus, I have disinfectant.
Our dough came together beautifully.
A few hours in the fridge and we were ready to build. Laura was in charge of making the template and cutting out the house.

I would never have thought about labeling each piece. In fact, I would never have made the template to begin with. We could have winged it! But not really.
And then the real fun began. Well, until we realized our mistake.

The recipe called for royal icing, made with egg whites. With Cyd being sick, I didn't think eating raw egg whites was a great idea. Plus, who doesn't love butter cream icing? Nobody. We all agreed on the butter cream. Mistake. When we put the roof on, all the walls started to collapse because the butter cream didn't cement the walls well enough. We didn't give up. We put the half built house outside so the butter could harden in the cold, winter air. This is science. This is baking. This would never have happened with soup.

This gave Fiona time to decorate some gingerbread people. Hello, silver lining.
 Yes, she has green teeth. It's Christmasy.
Finally, the walls were solid.
A few more finishing touches and it was back outside. You can't tell from the photo, but there were snow flurries, which was festive as hell.
 The gingerbread kid's bleeding, but besides that, It turned out pretty good.

 I especially like the chimney.

 It was Fiona's idea to use the ribbon candy for a fence.

Happy, merry.


  1. My former stepson made a gingerbread house one year that sort of slid apart, even with royal icing. (I used the egg white powder, which eliminated the salmonella issue.) He made the best of it, though, and turned the whole thing into what he called a gingerbread jail (yeah, those gingerbread people must have been committing felonies). It was great vicarious fun to read your account of your baking adventure, although I felt bad that you had to learn the butter cream icing lesson.

  2. It turned out just perfect! Loved the fence idea-that Fi is sharp as a tack. You're making good memories! Aunt Ann

  3. Oh, I bet they won't want to eat it...hang on, I know those two little girls, they will eat it up the minute you say "go"! Jan

  4. Fiona is donating the smiley face roof to Santa, in lieu of cookies. She is so sucking up!