It has come to my attention in the last few days that I have become a bit of a food snob. I haven't reached the extreme that many cooking shows and magazines have of using obscure hard to find ingredients in every recipe, but if given the choice I will always opt for something homemade versus storebought, even if it requires a bit of extra effort.
Case in point - gingerbread houses. I can't help but cringe whenever I see those kits in the store that have everything you need to make a gingerbread house including frosting, candy and prebaked and cut gingerbread. Egads, how many preservatives are in those to allow them to last on the shelf for months on end?! And I can only imagine that the cardboard box it came in would be more palatable.
One vivid memory of my early childhood is of my babysitter's kitchen table with rows of gingerbread houses in the assembly process to be given to the neighbors for Christmas. It was a miniature city! She even decorated the yard of each home with Christmas trees made from green dyed rice krispies treats adorned with red hots. Luckily, she gave Ma'am a copy of her recipe which I still have, and is now in a plastic sleeve and hidden from grubby little fingers. I also scanned it "Just"in case.
The cut pieces (notice the extra window hole not on the pattern, cut for "sampling" purposes)Last week, I made this with my preschooler. The trickiest parts of the process were
- adjusting the pattern to fit my pan. I winged it instead of doing the math and ended up with more of a bungalow than a house - no big deal. The last time I did it, I believe I baked it in two smaller pans.
- baking the gingerbread long enough to get hard, but not burnt. I took it out too soon and had to put the pieces back in the oven after I cut it because they weren't quite hard enough, worked fine.
- having enough scrap pieces for a certain little man to nibble on while it cooled enough to assemble and decorate (hence mine has a window cut out of it that is not on the original pattern)
- overcoming my hesitation about beating the egg whites without having cream of tartar.I shouldn't have worried, they came out perfectly!
- keeping the afore mentioned little man from eating ALL of the royal icing before we could get the house decorated.
Otherwise, it is a simple, fun and delicious process. If possible, I would recommend assembling the house first and letting the icing set for an hour before decorating so it holds together while you are fiddling with it. Definately important when working with a preschooler. If you want to up the educational value, read Hansel and Gretel before, during or after making it.
The recipe itself is quite simple and is comprised of basic ingredients that are in most kitchens, or at least easily findable at any grocery store. My little baker loves dumping the pre-measured ingredients, breaking the eggs, fishing the egg shells out of the eggs and mixing anything. [Tip for baking with children: if you want to let them crack the eggs do it in a separate bowl then add it when required in the recipe in case you need to fish out the egg shells.]
Considering he is still talking about it a week after made it, I would saythe recipe is a winner whether you make it with children or on your own.
Until next time, happy eating