Charming gingerbread architecture

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe from "No-Bake Gingerbread Houses for Kids" by...
Zac Williams photo
Story by Brad Gillman
(Standard-Examiner staff)
Tue, Dec 14, 2010
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A tiki hut, a firehouse, a Dutch windmill — these aren't the gingerbread houses that students are building in grade school.

Lisa Turner Anderson wanted to create a fantasy world with the holiday decoration staple in her "No-Bake Gingerbread Houses for Kids" cookbook (Gibbs Smith, $14.99).

"I saw a niche in the market," said the Salt Lake City woman. "There weren't any books about no-bake gingerbread houses, and there weren't any books for kids, either."

In order to create a children's cookbook, Anderson knew she had to make it easy. Gingerbread houses made from graham crackers are much simpler to create than ones that contain actual gingerbread — plus, most people have graham cracker experience, at least on a small scale.

"But I thought there has got to be a way to make bigger and more interesting houses, using graham cracker and other things like cookies and ice cream cones," said Anderson.

"So I did a lot experimenting and came up with ways to put these together so they would be strong and wouldn't fall apart."

The houses needed to be kid-friendly and grab a child's interest. Inspiration came from her young son's books.

The Silly Polka-Dot House, a twisted, colorful home from the book, was influenced by the wild mind of Dr. Seuss and the illustrations in his books.

Anderson had to put together a cookbook that kids could use.

"It's just making the instructions very clear and simple," she said. "Plus, just thinking what is fun for kids to build and making sure there was a lot of color."

Cookie architecture

Anderson encountered a structural dilemma with the elaborate houses: The houses were too big and couldn't stand up on their own.

Her answer was to glue a quarter of a piece of graham cracker along the seams of the walls. She had built a load-bearing beam.

"That was something my husband actually came up with," Anderson said. "He actually went to architecture school. So he has a lot of experience with building models."

The book has blueprints to building the walls and roof — including where the load-bearing crackers should be placed.

The recipes do require cutting out shapes with the crackers, and Anderson includes a warning that adults should cut while the kids build.

Anderson hopes that the blueprints will encourage children to come up with their own designs.

Icing and Chiclets

The biggest mistake Anderson sees with gingerbread houses is in the icing.

It's not just for decoration; it also serves as the glue to hold the house together.

"I would say not using royal icing is going to make big problems," Anderson said.

Buttercream icing will not dry strong enough. Royal icing, made from egg whites, creates a hard candy glue that will not become brittle. The book includes two royal icing recipes.

Building the graham cracker house can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

"The time you spend decorating depends on how much you want to do," Anderson said.

She spent much of her research exploring the candy aisles at the grocery store.

Chiclets serve as terrific windows, Twizzler Nibs will double as bricks, and a pretzel and chocolate licorice make great pick axes for a Seven Dwarves theme.

Any candy creation can work to make numerous designs and themes.

"I wanted to show everything you can do with it and the different ways you can combine all these building materials," Anderson said.

Zac Williams of North Ogden provided the photography for the book.

Fairy Tree House

  • 1 batch pink royal icing (basic recipe below)
  • 16 (3-inch) molasses cookies
  • 2 large flat-bottom waffle bowls
  • About 40 spearmint leaves
  • Necco wafers
  • Jelly beans

Decorations:

  • Gumdrops
  • Sour straws
  • Chocolate pebbles
  • Blue decorating sugar

Using royal icing, "glue" eight molasses cookies together in a stack. Glue a waffle bowl upside down on top of the stack. Repeat with the remaining eight cookies and second waffle bowl to make a second stack., then glue the second stack on top of the first. If the "tree" is leaning, adjust it to make it straight.

Cut the spearmint leaves into two layers. Stick leaves in a row along the bottom edge of one of the waffle bowls. (The leaves should be sticky enough that you won't have to use icing.) Add a second row of spearmint leaves above the first row, staggering them. Keep making rows until the waffle bowl is covered. Repeat with the second waffle bowl.

Glue Necco wafers to the tree for windows, then make window frames with icing. Using icing, draw a door at the bottom center of the tree and a jelly bean doorknob.

Make a cobblestone path using speckled jelly beans. Use sour straws cut into small pieces for grass. Use pieces of gumdrops to make mushrooms. Use chocolate pebbles and blue sugar to make the brook.

Egg White Royal Icing

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together until the meringue has formed stiff peaks (meaning when you lift the beaters out of the meringue, it stands up straight and doesn't fall over). Beat in the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, until mixed together and smooth.

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