Saturday, November 30, 2013

Gingerbread Houses for Kids

There are plenty of amazing websites out there devoted to those perfect, architectural-wonder gingerbread houses. This is not one of them.

My boys and I went to visit Fox 9 to show the weatherman, Cody, how gingerbread houses are done. Click the video above to see the segment, or you can click here to go to the Fox 9 website.

Gingerbread houses in our house generally involve a whole lot of sugar, layers upon layers of candy, marshmallows and sugar cereal, and who knows what else. And with kids, I think that's really what it's all about. Below are some of my ideas for making the kid-friendly gingerbread house a more fun experience.

It's all about the icing

Whether you're making your gingerbread house with a kit or graham crackers or Homemade Gingerbread, whether or not it stands up to the test of a child decorating it is all about the icing.
Most of the kits come with some pre-packaged icing, which is fine for adding your decorations and making snow around the outside of the house, but I've found that real Royal Icing makes a huge difference for getting the house to stay together.

My Recipes for Royal Icing:
Royal Icing with Meringue Powder
Royal Icing with Egg Whites

Get it Straight!

If you're using graham crackers for the houses, this is one step you can skip, but if you're using a kit or homemade, you want to straighten out the sides. Most gingerbread is going to spread a little bit when it bakes, so those edges won't be perfectly straight. And when you're trying to make the rounded edges match, it just doesn't work well.

My favorite way to get the sides even is to use a microplane grater. Just use it like a nail file to straighten out the sides. If you don't have a grater, you can also use a serrated knife. But just shave the edges off with the knife, don't try to chop them straight.

Hopefully you can see the difference in the photo above... the bottom gingerbread piece has been straightened, the top one has not.
You will need to straighten any side that will be resting against either another piece, or your display board/plate.

Patience is Key

When I do gingerbread with my kids (or others'), I always assemble the houses well in advance (at least an hour) to give them time to harden. Young kids, especially, just don't realize that they can't press as hard as they want on a house with icing that is still wet.

Also, when you assemble the house, put the bottom pieces together, then let it dry for at least 30 minutes before you add the roof. Giving the house time to dry, again, will help keep the weight of the roof from collapsing the sides.

Lots and Lots of Decorations

For my kids, decorating gingerbread houses is kind of like a puzzle, to see just how much stuff you can layer on top before the thing falls down. So, we like a lot of decorations.
My favorites:
    Golden Grahams or Frosted Mini Wheats for the roof.
    Fruit Loops and Trix for colored decorations like lights, wreaths, etc.
    Teddy Grahams for the inhabitants
    Gum drops, of course
    Mini Candy Canes & Starlight mints
    Mini M&Ms or other extra-small colorful candy for Christmas lights or ornaments
    Marshmallows for snowballs and snowmen
    Spearmint leaves make great Christmas trees
    Jolly Ranchers to crush for stained glass windows (if baking the houses yourself)

Have Fun with It!

Remember that while your idea of a beautiful gingerbread house may something from a Martha Stewart magazine... kids have a totally different idea, and most of the time they're proud of whatever they create. So, try to just have fun with it, and let go. In the end, it's all going to be eaten or thrown in the trash within a few weeks anyway!

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