Building strong gingerbread houses does not require a drafting table and pencil compass.
Tara Black, co-owner of Origin Bakery, builds gingerbread houses every December and says the key is the frosting. Royal icing is the way to go, the baker explains, adding the stronger hold the icing has the less tasty it will be.
“If you want to add some kind of appeal to it you could add a little bit of citrus juice,” Black said.
That means less than a teaspoon of lemon juice for a batch calling for four cups of icing sugar, three egg whites and a teaspoon of cream of tartar. “It tastes better with the lemon juice but it does weaken the icing.”
Once the royal icing is mixed make sure it’s thick and can hold a sharp peak.
“You want the icing to dry in about 10 minutes,” Black said “If you put too much icing on there won’t be enough contact with the gingerbread and if you put too little there won’t be enough of it to stick.”
Place a damp paper towel on the top of the icing to ensure it doesn’t get a crusty top.
Another option for holding the gingerbread house together would be using caramelized sugar, but that’s not for the faint of heart, Black said, pointing to scars on her hands from her own experiences.
“Sugar burns are not appealing, they scar you and then take a long time to heal,” Black said. “If you are going use caramelized sugar make sure you research it and follow the instructions.”
Whether you build gluten-free or traditional, Black said the success is in the spices.
“Make sure you use a lot of different spices like allspice, mace, cinnamon, cloves and ginger,” she said.
The gingerbread needs to have all the moisture removed in the baking process or it will be too flexible, and the home will crumble.
“Always handle the gingerbread with care,” Black said.
To start, ice the bottom of the walls to anchor to the base, then continue to connect all four walls. Black suggests using water glasses to hold up the walls while the icing dries.
“Add icing to seam the inside of the walls, because a lot of people don’t do that and then they wonder why their house fell in,” Black explained.
Sometimes Black likes to decorate the roof before attaching it to the house.
“If you have a lot of kids building one house you can give each of them a panel to decorate and then put the house together once they are all decorated,”
Once the panels are all together, add candy.
“Always stick the icing to the house and then add the candy, because you are trying to stick the candy to the house not the other way around,” Black said.
When shopping for candy Black said she likes to select a variety of shapes, sizes and colours for variation.
“If you’ve never made a gingerbread house before give yourself one hour to one and a half hours to make it,” Black saids. “Also take a couple breaks in between.”