Monday, December 19, 2011

custom homemade Gingerbread Baby house

If you haven't noticed, Whitney and I adore Jan Brett.  We're always blogging about her books... and guess what?  that's not going to stop because after the New Year we are going to be featuring some of our favorite authors and... you guessed it, Jan Brett is first on our list!  I know it's not January yet, reguardless

Today's book:
Gingerbread Baby

Jan is at her best in this fantastic twist on the traditional gingerbread man story.  Matti is hard at work baking a gingerbread man when he peeks into the oven too soon... and out pops the gingerbread baby!  Uh Oh- all kinds of chasing and mischief ensues.  The story ends with a happy twist.  Of course the pages are filled with Jan's magnificent illustrations (including all of her beautiful detail and hints about what comes next in the story found in the intricate border illustrations).  btw I have two editions of this book: the original full story (with all of the wonderful details) and the board book version with it's more concise story- which can be helpful when reading to a younger audience.

Last year when we made gingerbread houses at Christmas time my boys made connections to this story on their own.  I love how good books become interconnected in our everyday lives.  This year I wanted to take the connection to the Gingerbread Baby a little bit further.  I decided to give the boys a chance to design their own houses just like Matti did in the story. 
 First I handed them a crayon and some paper and asked them (4 & 6) to draw what they wanted their houses to look like.

From there I took their sketches and made them 3D.  I used their artwork as a base for the patterns, though I did use straight lines and exact measurements when cutting them out. To make the patterns I used the good old quilting mat, ruler and rotary cutter.

Here we have the sketches and the 3D models.

Now I'm going to share my Grandma King's Gingerbread recipe... an old fashioned recipe similar to one Matti used, I like to think.

Gingerbread Recipe
1 egg
1/3 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. molasses
1/2 c. vegetable oil

2 3/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
3 tsp. baking powder

Cream egg and sugar together, add molasses, mix well, add oil, mix well.  Add mixed dry ingredients and mix until smooth.

Roll approx 1/8" thick on bottom (back) of a cookie sheet.

Bake 350' 15- 18 min, cut patterns while cookie is still warm with a sharp serrate knife.  If cookie pieces are still soft when cool they may be dried further in a warm oven.

That's exactly as my grandmothers recipe reads, and here are some photos from me to further explain...

... here I've mixed all the ingredients up with the help of kids.


We rolled the dough out on the bottom of a greased cookie sheet, and I thought it was pretty darn thin... but it could have been thinner.

Here's the still slightly warm gingerbread ready to have the pieces cut out. 

We had to make two batches for two houses.

Once it was cut out (see below) I simply used a spatula to remove the pieces from the cookie sheet, then placed them on a wire rack to cool.  It's really important that you cut the pieces out after the gingerbread is baked because the dough raises so much during baking.  Your pieces simply wouldn't fit together correctly if you did it the other way around.  I even prefer my gingerbread men cut out after baking.

Here they are cooling.

Now for my Grandmas frosting recipe (just so you know my grandmother was amazing when it came to frosting/decorating, anything from gingerbread houses to wedding cakes- which she made hundreds and hundreds of throughout her life).

Royal Frosting

2 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tarter
approx 3 cups powdered sugar

Beat egg whites until they peak (this takes a while, believe me... like 10-15 minutes.  Until they peak means that when you lift the beater up the whites stay up in little peaks).  Add cream of tarter, mix.  Add powdered sugar 1/4 c. at a time til desired consistency.  (You are going to be adding a LOT of sugar- the desired consistency for this kind of project is VERY STIFF frosting, if it's too soft it won't hold your house together very well at all.)

Once again I've added some photos to help explain what you'll be doing.  Here's a photo of egg whites beaten till they peak.

Now we've added powdered sugar till the frosting is very thick and stiff (we could have added more sugar, though it worked pretty well with the amount we added).

To keep the frosting in the bowl from drying out while you're working you'll want to cover it with a slightly damp dish towel.

We used some nifty pastry tools my sister picked up at pier one, but you can use traditional pastry bags & tips, or a plastic bag with a corner cut out, or whatever you want for frosting.

I assembled the houses for my boys... here they are before I sent over the decorators.

And now the fun REALLY begins...

My 4 year old insisted on having a chimney on his house (we don't have one on our actual house and he's slightly concerned about that).  He really enjoyed decorating (and stuffing stuff in) his gingerbread chimney.

I love that look of concentration.

But not as much as I love this look... ha ha

And here we have our beautiful finished Gingerbread Baby houses.  We had a great time in this whole (long) process.

Notice we've even got a Gingerbread Man, a Gingerbread Baby and a Gingerbread Santa included with our houses.

Here's my 6 year olds completed home...

...and this one was designed and decorated by my 4 year old.

Wow!  What a project!!!  you know, I'm kind of doubtful that anyone will even read this post in it's entirety (it's just so long) but you know a project like this takes a while to do (from start to finish).  And though there's something to be said for simplifying instead of complicating at this time of year, there's also something wonderful and gratifying in doing a project from start to finish and connecting to a bygone time when everything was made from scratch and designed at home.  I also feel a special connection to my grandma (who's been gone 5 years now) when I do things the way she always did.

That all being said... if you decide to go out and buy a Gingerbread house making kit this year...
That's cool too!

Here's hoping you get a chance to make a home for your Gingerbread Baby this holiday- Robyn

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