Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New York State: Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread has been a holiday tradition for years. It was probably introduced into Europe around the 11th century by explorers returning from the Middle East. The tradition of making houses of gingerbread is believed to have started in the early 1800's when Germans began shaping their gingerbread into festive holiday creations. During the nineteenth century the Grimm brothers collected volumes of German fairy tales including one about Hansel and Gretel who, abandoned in the woods, find a fantastical gingerbread house covered in luscious treats. Gingerbread houses soon became a favorite Christmas tradition worldwide.
American recipes usually called for fewer spices than their European counterparts, often using ingredients that were only available regionally. Maple syrup gingerbreads were made in New England and sorghum molasses in the South. The German settlers in Pennsylvania stayed true to their original recipe;Cooking classes, namely making Gingerbread Houses, is one of the offerings at River Edge Mansion. The recipe used is from the “Family Christmas Reader’s Digest Book.”
3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup sugar
3 3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 teaspoons ginger
Melt shortening in a large saucepan and stir in sugar and molasses with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into molasses mixture using your hands to work it in completely. The dough will be soft and crumbly. Use as soon as possible or wrap and refrigerate. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets. Roll the dough on the cookie sheets to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut dough with cookie cutters or into shapes to be used for the gingerbread house. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Do not over bake. The frosting is used to cement the house together and simulate icicles.
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons water
3 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
In a large bowl beat the first three ingredients until frothy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is of spreading consistency. Add more sugar if necessary. The icing should be firm enough to hold a soft peak. Cover with a damp towel to prevent drying out. The icing may be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Once the house is assembled any assortment of candies can be used to decorate the house.

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