There’s something special about decorating a gingerbread house during the holidays that makes people feel warm inside. Not only is it a great way to make memories with children, but people of all ages can get in on the wholesome fun.
And it’s something that folks have been doing for quite a while. In fact, the history of these sweet treats may come as a surprise. Building gingerbread houses go as far back as ancient Greece and even further in China.
However, the ones we know and love originated in the 1800s out of Germany. One thing that hasn’t changed since the 1800s — when most people make gingerbread houses, they associate it with Christmas.
King and Prince’s executive chef, James Flack, certainly understands the appeal of constructing these delicious treats and loves how it can really become nostalgic holiday memories.
“When your kids look back at their childhood, I feel these types of activities will always resonate with them,” Flack said. “You can’t put a price on that.”
Flack has been with King and Prince since 2013 but took over as executive chef in 2015. There, Flack and his team have previously crafted their own gingerbread houses for guests to enjoy. It was something that allowed him to share his favorite time of the year with others.
“I love everything about Christmas, not just the awesome sweets that come with it. It’s my and my family’s favorite time of the year, and it’s amazing to see the magic that continues in your children,” he said.
“Here, we usually do a different portion or building of the hotel. We make all our gingerbread from scratch, fondant, méringue, etc. — they generally take around three weeks as we do not have a pastry department. So it’s us working little by little. It varies who comes up with the ideas, and we tend to decide as a team.”
Sadly, the King and Prince won’t have their massive gingerbread house on display this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But Flack feels that crafting a gingerbread house would be an excellent activity for families to do in the comfort of their home.
Flack notes it’s relatively easy. In fact, he still uses the gingerbread recipe out of his culinary school baking book.
“I am by no means a pastry chef,” Flack said. “I have hot hands — which is a term that when you try to work with chocolate, it melts in your hands. Most pastry chefs would tell you it’s just not meant to be for you. My advice is the wonderful Google and YouTube has all the information anyone needs basically at our fingertips. Then try a couple of different ones and figure out which works best for you.”
As for decoration, Flack said his best tip is to be patient with it and try taking inspiration from other chefs. He does that sometimes when it comes to decorating these massive gingerbread houses.
Regardless, this activity can be fun a great way to create memories with your loved ones, ensconced in that warm Christmas spirit.
Gingerbread houses can be purchased pre-baked, which is less time-consuming. For those who want to make it by scratch, the following recipe should fit the bill. There are also extra ingredients that people can use to make their gingerbread differently. In this recipe, lemon zest and orange are added.
Also be mindful, if making a homemade house, using a scale can help accurately measure the ingredients. And crafting more dough than you need can allow decorators to have plenty for their structure in case of mishaps, and maybe even extra to make other edible objects. The final tip is making sure you bake the gingerbread a few days before planning on assembling the house, so it’s sturdy.
Yield: Gingerbread for 1 9x9inch house
Time: 2 hours, plus resting
4 sticks of unsalted butter at room temperature
2½ cups plus 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
12¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 heaping tablespoons ground ginger
2 heaping tablespoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups molasses
Zest of 2 lemons (optional)
Zest of 2 oranges (optional)
1. Make half of the batch by using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, creaming together half the butter and half the sugar for five minutes, until fluffy. Scrape down sides.
2. Meanwhile, sift together the dry ingredients — the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt — and set aside half.
3. With mixer running at low speed, add two eggs, one at a time. Mix in 1 cup molasses. Scrape down bowl.
4. In 3 batches, add half the dry ingredients, mixing just to combine. To prevent any flour from flying out, make sure the mixer is off when adding each batch, and drape a towel over it when mixing. Mix in zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange.
5. Pull dough out of mixer, and wrap in plastic wrap, or transfer to a resealable plastic bag. Repeat Steps 1 to 5 to make the remaining dough. Refrigerate overnight.
6. When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees.
7. For each square, weigh out about 20 ounces of dough. The goal is to end up with five 9-inch squares, so you’ll roll them out a bit larger, bake them and trim off the edges.
8. Lightly dust a large piece of parchment paper with flour. Place the chilled dough on top. Roll side to side and up and down to make a rough square shape. While you roll, make frequent quarter-turns so that the dough remains even.
9. Roll until dough is about 10 by 10 inches and a generous 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. (Any dough left after the squares have been prepared can be rolled out 1/4-inch thick and used for cookies.) In the oven, the slab will rise to about 3/8- or 1/2-inch thickness, which will make the house extra sturdy.
10. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until even and firmly set. Place pans on racks to cool. To prevent bending and cracking, carefully transfer to racks by lifting parchment paper. When completely cool, stack the slabs, still on parchment, and set aside to dry out at room temperature for 3 to 7 days.