Let’s see how many of you remember this complicated recipe from your childhood:
Take 6 graham crackers, glue them onto a clean milk carton with royal icing, decorate, let dry, and eat.
If you do, maybe you went to elementary school with me. I remember saving up old milk and cream cartons, bringing them in every Christmas, and then making the world’s fastest version of a gingerbread house. While I can’t blame my teachers, this isn’t exactly my idea of Christmas charm nowadays.
Gingerbread houses are so much more than milk cartons and graham crackers.
They’re edible sculptures that transport us back into the roles of Hansel and Gretel (without the witch… and with Santa!). In fact, the story of Hansel and Gretel was the original inspiration for gingerbread houses.
Every year for the past seven years I have gone to see “Gingerbread Lane” at the local Hyatt. I am always amazed by how beautiful and ornate some of the gingerbread houses can be, especially when I read that many of these houses are created by high school students. I’ve never attempted to make a gingerbread house that ornate, but I do love making a more humble version!
In a feeble attempt to balance all the sugary goodness that is used to decorate the house, I wanted to make the gingerbread house dough from scratch. My version of a gingerbread house uses a bit of oat flour and a little less sugar in the dough. But let’s face it, don’t start off your post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas diet with a gingerbread house — you’re doomed to end up covered in icing and candy.
The dough is a simple dough to pull together and it can be made ahead of time and chilled.
I prefer to chill my dough for a few hours in the fridge, but if you’re making this a few days in advance, I would throw this into the freezer (make sure to cover it appropriately if freezing). After the dough is made, I roll out it out to about a ¼ inch thickness then cut out my house parts. For this, you can use gingerbread house cookie cutters or simply use a template to cut out your pieces.
This is such a fun project – whether you do this with your kids, your partner, your friends, or even on your own, you’re sure to have a great time acting as architect for a day!
Better candy alternatives for decorating
Although most of us scratch mommies go by the 80/20 rule, we want to provide you with a few ‘better’ candy alternatives for decorating your new ‘from scratch’ gingerbread house:
- Choose SunSpire Sun Drops instead of M&M’s
- Choose YumEarth Organic Gummy Bears instead of artificially colored gummy bears
- Choose Surf Sweets Organic Jelly Beans instead of Jelly Belly’s
- Choose Enjoy Life Mini Chocolate Chips (Soy-Free) instead of chocolate chips with high fructose corn syrup
- Choose Panda Raspberry Licorice instead of Twizzlers
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened -- pastured and organic if possible
- ¼ cup brown sugar (organic so it's not genetically modified, like this one)
- 1 large egg, organic and pastured if possible
- ½ cup molasses (this is a great molasses)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup oat flour (we love Bob's Red Mill oat flour)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (this is a great organic all-purpose flour)
- Pinch of unrefined sea salt (the best unrefined sea salt)
- ¾ tsp baking soda (like this)
- 2 tsp ground ginger (organic, non-irradiated spices like this brand)
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- Whisk together your dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar for 3-4 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
- Add vanilla and molasses to the butter and sugar mixture and mix until well incorporated.
- Beat egg into the wet mixture.
- With a rubber spatula, slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. I like to do this in thirds, and usually finish off by incorporating everything with my hands.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- After 2 hours, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment.
- Remove dough from the fridge and roll out your dough on a floured surface. Roll to about ¼ thickness.
- Cut your house using cutters or a template. Place on lined cookie sheets and then place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 350, then reduce to 325 and bake for another 10-15 minutes (depending on the size and thickness of your pieces). The pieces are done when they are firm to the touch.
- Let cool completely, assemble using royal icing, and then decorate.
- Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for 10 minutes.
- Your icing is ready when you can draw a line in it and it doesn’t disappear. If it is too thick, add more water. If it is too thin, add more icing sugar.