Well, yes, it's still Halloween at my place because I am still working on finishing this gingerbread house! Don't ask why it has taken so long ... it's a long story of forced procrastination.
So I wanted to make a couple witches resembling the size and shape of my cardstock mock-up at left. After rolling and baking some dough into this shape with less-than-wonderful results, I settled on the obvious choice for the base -- an inverted ice cream cone. I cut down the cone, baked gingerbread for the ringed area forming the base of the hat, whipped up some royal icing, tinted it black, watered it down to the consistency of paint, and I was in business. Next, I fashioned some cats and bats from black fondant and licorice. They're getting some eerie yellow eyes and then they'll be ready to stick onto the structure. More to come.
I know you've likely seen all sorts of instructions for adding windows to your gingerbread house. I'll let you in on a secret. Cough drops are among the best things around for this purpose.
First, the do-it-yourself approach to homemade windows involves some danger if kids are involved. I've gone the boiled-sugar route, ending up with some nice-colored, amber-toned windows, but darn! Working with hot syrup! Plus, my homemade windows start to run after a while, making little unsightly rivers and puddles of amber-colored ooze.
I've had good luck melting crushed candy, although if you plan to keep your gingerbread house around for a month or so, you might get some eventual slight melting from certain types of candies. Why does that happen? Maybe it's the humidity in the house.
So far, cough drops have not let me down. For my Halloween House of Doom, I've selected a couple sacks of cheap, lemon-flavored cough drops. Look how pretty they are in the pic above! I grabbed Chuck's hammer, loaded the drops into a plastic bag and smacked 'em a few times. To create a little more interest, I also crushed some butterscotch pieces and mixed them in sparingly, to add a bit of an orange accent.
Line your cookie sheet with foil, carefully fill the window openings with the chunks and then pop everything into a 300 degree oven. Now, my oven is feisty. Sometimes the melting gets underway pretty quickly and other times, I have to bump up the heat a bit. Go figure. Just stand by the oven and keep an eye on things.
Once the windows are fused into place, melted all nice and smooth, remove the cookie sheet from the oven and set it on the range to cool. After it's completely cool, it's easy to peel the foil from the backs of the windows.
Make sure everything is cool and sturdy before you start assembling your walls. Here's a peek at how the windows turned out. Next: Some tips and hints for wall assembly. And yes, this Halloween house is going to be lit from the inside for a creepy, spooky effect.
We've gathered the ingredients needed for the gingerbread dough recipe, so we're ready to roll. First step: Mix up a batch or two of dough. Scoop dough into plastic bags, seal the bags and refrigerate for a few hours or (better) overnight.
Meanwhile, get busy preparing your pattern. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I either grab a free house plan from the web (see the easy-to-use Bob Vila gingerbread patterns here) or spend a couple hours measuring, drawing and double-checking an idea I've developed myself. Use the backside of a cereal box for your pattern. It's the right thickness and pretty easy to tape together for a quick check before cutting the gingerbread ... the point of no return!
Once the pattern's done, go for it! Take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit a while to get closer to room temperature. It should not crack when you roll it and if it does, work the dough in your hands to get it a bit warmer. I like to roll dough on a piece of parchment paper. Makes it easy to transfer the piece to a cookie sheet for baking. Or, just roll it directly onto the back of a cookie sheet and you won't have to move it at all.
It's always a good time for gingerbread, especially when the days grow short and the full moon hangs in the spooky, creepy, cloudy night sky. Here's the beginning of my Halloween haunted house of doom, far from done and now waiting for a gang of dancing witches, cats and bats. Are you getting the urge to whip up a Halloween scene? Follow along for the next few weeks and we'll share some tips and tricks that can help you get it done -- fast and easy.
I always start with a simple house pattern, since most of the fun for me is in figuring out the wacky decorations. Check out the free Bob Vila house patterns here and scroll to the second paragraph for all the links. Any of these patterns will do and if you want to make the same house I did (pictured above) just leave a comment and I'll share the pattern. It's super simple since I whipped it up myself.
I've used this dough recipe year-after-year. If I don't have all the spices on hand, I substitute by using whatever I have ... cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, whatever. This recipe is dependable, uses basic ingredients and dries rock-hard for a strong structure.
2 c. molasses or honey 1 c. vegetable oil 1 1/4 c. white granulated sugar 3 large eggs 8 c. flour 2 T. ground allspice 1 1/2 t. ground ginger 1 T. baking powder
Combine above ingredients, mixing well. Put dough into plastic bag or tightly-sealed container and chill overnight in fridge. The next day, get the dough out of the fridge and let it sit a while to get close to room temp. Roll dough on the back of a cookie sheet and cut dough to fit the pattern of your structure. Carefully remove dough that remains between the pieces. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Let pieces cool completely before you start the assembly process.
If you are like me, you want to start making your house the same day you whip up the dough. I've done it. Didn't see any difference in the outcome, but I'd say the dough works best after at least a couple hours in the fridge as it sticks together better.
Here's the scoop on molasses. Most jars I have purchased have only a cup-and-a-half in them. I typically use the molasses from the jar and fill in the rest with any corn syrup or honey that I have lying around.
Finally, a caution about flour. Trying to be creative, I have substituted whole wheat flour with disastrous results. The gingerbread pieces looked flaky and grungy. They puffed up in an awkward way. Not good!
Start mixing up your dough and we'll be back with more Halloween gingerbread instructions later in the week!
A gingerbread Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is not a project for the timid. J.K. Rowling has said she visualizes Hogwarts as "a huge, rambling, quite scary-looking castle, with a jumble of towers and battlements."
This castle is so well known and loved that the complexity of its creation involves mastery of several layers and levels, not the least of which is the emotional connection of Rowling's readers/fans. First, there's the challenge of its physical construction, including large-scale buildings and curved turrets. The castle also must be true to the descriptions in the Harry Potter series. And finally, it's got to evoke that air of dark enchantment that requires spot-on color, complexity and overall creepiness.
Sounds impossible, but no task is too big for our friend, Britta. Take a look:
Here you go ... Bob Vila and his team have thoughtfully provided you with downloadable, free gingerbread house templates in a variety of interesting styles. With these pdfs, you can get a head start on your gingerbread home for the holidays. Be it Halloween or Christmas, any of these templates can be decorated and decked out any way you want. Check out the patterns here and scroll to the second paragraph for all the links.
By the way, I was a loyal This Old House watcher back in the early days when Bob Vila hosted the show. He was always so knowledgeable and authoritative. Often, he had to deliver bad news to startled and sometimes irritated homeowners who had no idea they needed new furnaces or wiring or rotted wood removed. Just what did they think was going on behind those moldy walls? Bob always kept everyone in line, even when the going got tough and the job went way over budget.
This evening is a little chilly here in Chicagoland, and my neighbor said it made her think about rounding up her fall decorations for the house and yard. I guess it's just about the right time to start thinking about haunted Halloween gingerbread. Here's a cool recipe and pattern from Betty Crocker. The house is sort of a facade that looks easy to build and decorate. Easy, yes, but pretty darn impressive when completed!
Take a look at this nifty tool. I used something like this for many years to press out royal icing in-between walls, and after changing the tip, to create all sorts of designs and squiggles for each gingerbread house. Last year, my well-worn dessert press just gave up and broke all of a sudden. The thumb piece snapped off. I've found a new press, pictured here, and I know it will last. Use it to save your hands while you are squeezing thick royal icing for hours on end and you will be amazed at how fast and easy you will fly through this phase of your project.