Posted by Karen O'Hanlon
Gingerbread projects hold a place dear to my heart. Early in my teaching career, my beloved colleague and I tackled a full-scale gingerbread project. Each house was made from scratch, was twenty or so inches tall, and we made fifty-eight of them — one for each kindergartner in our two classes.
My co-teacher had the recipe, complete with all the directions for mixing, rolling, cutting, baking and building the houses. Doing so many houses required tons of organization. We corralled parent help, calling for equipment, ingredients and volunteer time. When the day came, there were mixing stations, rolling stations, dough-cutting stations, baking stations, plus assembly and decorating stations. If you could go back and just see it, you’d swear we were busier than Santa’s workshop.
If you're inclined to take on such a mammoth project, my hat is off to you. I still treasure that teaching memory, but in the years following I reverted to simpler projects, and the little tricks and ideas I learned along the way may be of interest to you. So without further ado, here are some of my best gingerbread baking tips and ideas:
1. If you are brave, consider doing your own gingerbread house from scratch.
And if you do, be as accurate as you can with your cutting. Nothing is as frustrating as trying to glue the whole thing together when the pieces don’t fit well. Here's a scratch recipe.
2. Make a themed gingerbread house.
There is something lovely about the traditional gingerbread house, and at the same time it's possible to spice things up with a theme. For instance, check out these cool houses inspired by Harry Potter, Tron, and the hobbit hole from Lord of the Rings. If you don’t want to reach quite that far for a theme, consider just picking out a color theme such as red or purple. Encourage your kids to contribute ideas and pick a theme they are enthusiastic about.
3. Buy a gingerbread mold and use it year after year.
Using a mold might be too time consuming with a large group. The one I had needed two cycles in the oven to get all the pieces for one gingerbread house, but it was great for use with my own kids. Children still get experience in how to mix and handle dough, and you can help them to press or roll the dough into the mold. The produced gingerbread may not be as unique as hand-cut roofs and walls, but in the end, each child decorates their house uniquely anyway. When it comes to the construction phase, this method all but eliminates the frustration of puzzling together mismatched pieces.
4. Make your gingerbread house out of graham crackers and milk cartons.
This is a great way to go if you have no particular attachment to making the gingerbread. It’s a super quick and easy holiday activity, especially for younger kids who have limited motor skills. With kindergarteners, I would have the kids save their pint-sized milk cartons from lunch, wash them out with soap, and dry them overnight. The next day I’d make frosting with the kids and help them use it to stick graham crackers to the cartons. Using this method, kids could usually decorate with candy on the same day (instead of waiting for the frosting to set as you usually must with more elaborate houses). After allowing the houses to dry overnight, just bag them in plastic or paper bags and send them home as a holiday treat. You can even extend the project by having the kids connect or stack multiple cartons for larger structures.
5. Decorate upside down sugar cones.
This one's so simple it can be a single day activity: Flip a sugar cone, and use frosting and candy to decorate. Use white frosting to make a cone-shaped house. Hey, houses can be cone-shaped, too! Nothing wrong with using your imagination... Still not sold? Use green frosting to make it a Christmas tree.
6. Forego the 'whole house' and make gingerbread cookies instead.
While the cookies bake, read “The Gingerbread Man” to your kids. What could be more fun?
7. Make a tiny gingerbread house that fits on a cup edge.
Decorate them as much or as little as you want. They go great with hot chocolate, coffee, or tea.
8. Gingerbread house cupcakes.
Far from gingerbread architecture, this is more like gingerbread sculpting. Just mold gingerbread into tiny house shapes, bake and stick them onto cupcakes. These make great gifts for family and friends.
No matter which project you pick, here are some additional all-purpose tips:
- Plan ahead. If you make gingerbread, or even just do a graham cracker house, make space for cooling/drying. More detailed projects take multiple days to accomplish, and you will need a counter top or shelf for storing the pieces in their various stages.
- Try making tile roofs out of M&Ms, Skittles or Sweet Tarts.
- Take pictures of each child’s house, so they can have a record of what they made. This will make it much easier to let go and eat the product.
- If you’re teaching or home-schooling, use the experience to generate a writing activity. Before and after the activity, have the kids write down “how to directions”. Their directions should be much better after they participate. Or, for a creative writing exercise, have each child write a story to go with their house.
That's it for my tips. Do you have any? Let us know in the comments, and may your gingerbread houses always be merry!