We all love the thought of making gingerbread houses–or even gingerbread cookies for that matter. Yet it is a daunting undertaking. The mixing and rolling, then cutting and baking and that is just getting ready to do the structural work. It is a charming gift to cut the work in half and give your favorite families a box packed with everything they need to get going. Here’s what you do:
1. Make the cookies. This is my family’s recipe that has been honed to perfection by my Mother-in-law over the years. Trust me when I say, these are just as good to eat as they are to decorate. We actually like to cut large (about 6 inch tall) houses, trees, boys and girls and decorate those. It saves on structural headaches.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
- In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Mix in the melted margarine, evaporated milk, molasses, vanilla, and lemon extracts. Stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to fingers. If necessary, increase flour by up to 1/2 cup to prevent sticking.
- When the dough is smooth, roll it out to 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface, and cut into cookies. Place cookies on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. The cookies are done when the top springs back when touched. Remove from cookie sheets by lifting the parchment paper and set on counter to cool.
2. While the cookies cool, whip up some royal icing.
Royal Icing Recipe:
- Beat egg whites in clean, large bowl with mixer at high speed until it forms loose peaks. Add lemon juice. Gradually add sugar then beat at high speed until thickened.
Now Scoop into disposable decorating bags or ziplock gallon bags, which work well if you just cut one of the tips off.
3. Round up some good candy. I think red hots are the quintessential gingerbread candy, but that is because they taste so great with gingerbread. Take a walk down the candy isle, the great thing about giving kits as a gift is that you can choose several candies and divide them up into small take and toss containers or bags and give everyone a good variety. Here are a few of our favorites: tootsie rolls make cute firewood, M&Ms, skittles, smarties, and nerds are always good. Licorice is good for many things and taffy can be molded into different shapes. Jolly Ranchers can be melted into pretty shapes or you can make sugar-glass windows with this recipe:
- Place all ingredients in a medium sauce pan. (It will boil up a little, so a bigger pan is better.) Stir on high heat until it reaches hard ball stage. (Use a candy thermometer or drop a little of mixture into a glass of ice-cold water. When it makes a hard ball and brittle strings in the water it is ready.)
- While the sugar mixture is cooking, make a couple of trays out of tinfoil by folding up the edges and pinching the corners together.
- Pour the mixture into the trays. Working quickly, drop food coloring around the mixture and use a toothpick to swirl it around. Speed is key as it will harden quickly.
Now, place all of the items in a shirt box. I like to line the box with parchment or waxed paper. Then they can use it as a work surface. Tie the box with a ribbon and include a note saying “Assembly Required.”
p.s. Don’t forget to visit my blog, Leap Into Art, to enter to win one of great 10 gifts I am counting down there!