Avoiding a Gingerbread House Disaster this Holiday Season

For centuries, celebrating the holiday season has included the tradition of baking gingerbread cookies and building gingerbread houses.  Whether you bake them from scratch or use a kit, building a gingerbread house is a fun activity for the whole family. 

However, there can be some frustrations along the way with candies not sticking or roofs sagging. For those who worry their efforts will result in a gloppy mess, food service provider Sodexo is offering a public service by sharing expert advice from the creative force behind the 6-foot-wide gingerbread replica of the U.S. Capitol now on display at the U.S. House of Representatives until January 3.

Sodexo has sponsored the gingerbread U.S. Capitol for the last three years under the culinary leadership of Sodexo Executive Chef, Fred Johnson.  He has turned the challenge to build a gingerbread replica of the Capitol building into a passion project involving 378 hours of planning, baking, and building. 

The numbers involved are astounding; 110 pounds of icing, 175 pounds of gingerbread dough, 315 cups of flour.

While your gingerbread house plans may not be as ambitious, the same principles apply to ensure your efforts are successful. Follow these five tips:

Build in place:  Gingerbread houses are awkward to move once completed and you would hate to have it end up on the floor after all your hard work. Identify a spot where you would like to display the gingerbread house and build there if possible or as close as you can. However, avoid areas with direct heat such as air vents or halogen lamps.  Also, be mindful of spaces that pets could reach.

Size and shape matter: Unless you’re a pro, avoid shapes with curves like rounded walls or domes. Narrow pieces are more likely to snap, so use designs that feature wider pieces.

You don’t want your pieces to be too thin as they will be more fragile or too thick or they will require more support. Roll your dough to about 1/8 of an inch. 

Bake it longer: You want your gingerbread to be harder and sturdier, so bake your gingerbread longer than you would if you were going to eat it. After the initial baking, flip the pieces and put them back in the oven on a lower temperature to dry out the gingerbread as much as possible.

It’s ok to cheat: If you need to support your gingerbread house walls and roof, use wooden sticks or cans to provide reinforcement. They can be concealed inside the house.

If you want the gingerbread house to only have edible elements, Rice Krispies Treats provide a delicious option for structural support.

Icing Icing Baby: One of the biggest downfalls to gingerbread house bliss is not using the right type of icing. It is best to make your own Royal Icing.

You may need to adjust your sugar & egg white ratio to get the perfect consistency depending on if you are using the icing to connect pieces and provide support or to use as a glue for the decorative elements. 

If you prefer to purchase your icing, Wilton Ready-to-Use icing tubes and similar products can do the job.

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