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Make a Gingerbread House Advent Calendar
Submitted by Pam on Mon, 11/08/2010 - 02:13
You guys already know I am into Advent calendars big time! And you also know that I can't get through the holidays without making at least one gingerbread house!
This year I invited Diane over for a day to help me make a Gingerbread House Advent Calendar - a wild idea I got into my head last January and have been very excited to make ever since. And with a few tricks - easier than you think!
Before I go any further however, I want to speak a moment to those readers who do not have the time or inclination to make a Gingerbread House from scratch.
Don't! Buy one of those fabulous pre-formed kits that will be showing up in markets and stores any old day now.
Last year I did something wrong while mixing up my dough - don't know what - probably never will. But those house pieces stuck so completely to the cookie trays I nearly needed a hack saw to remove them!
This happened the night before I was to take my lovely finished little gingerbread houses over to Sophia and Antonio to decorate. My sweetie, seeing the wildly desperate look in my eyes, immediately began a series of mental gymnastics to figure out how to save the day!
And he succeeded! We went to a neighborhood grocery and purchased two gingerbread kits. And you know what? Sophia and Antonio had just as much fun decorating as they always have - maybe more because this time they got to make the whole house.
So I am just sayin' if you don't want to do the whole baking thing - kits are good! The whole point is - have fun and keep it as easy as possible.
There are lots of tips below for doing just that - keeping it easy - so read on!
After last year's fiasco, I have abandoned my 40 year old recipe in favor of the recipe King Arthur Flour shares on their site. Everything you need is right here in a PDF - the recipe and step by step instructions for cutting, baking and assembly. Just click the link and then click on "Build a Gingerbread House with Susan Reid".
So while I could create a tutorial for making a gingerbread house - why would I with this excellent resource available! The whole process from beginning to end was MUCH easier than what I have been used to all these years.
If you are looking for a good gingerbread recipe and how-to - I highly recommend this one.
Diane got in on the fun parts - assembly and decorating!
BTW - she wanted to be sure I mentioned how easy it is to get the walls straight taking King Arthur's advice to use a cereal or cracker box as a guide to make them square up! Something her mother never figured out in all those years because - well - it wasn't in the directions! Sigh.
Once all the sides are in place and "glued" together, we always get out the 'fancy' tip and pip frosting over all the seams and joints. But not a necessary step at all.
We then had a few hours to kill while waiting for the sides to harden enough to support the roof. Plenty of time to bake and decorate Advent Sugar Cookies.
We used a really good sugar cookie mix that I also discovered last year. It takes all of five minutes to mix up the dough and it doesn't even need to be refrigerated before rolling. It is so easy to handle too. Perfect for baking cookies with kids.
How do they taste? Well just let me say that we told my sweetie that the snowflakes were for him. They evaporated in seconds. Check out the Betty Crocker site for an overwhelming number of ideas for making every kind of cookie imaginable using the Sugar Cookie Mix.
However, if you simply don't want to be bothered with baking cookies, there are lots of great "store bought" cookies available that will work great. Vanilla Wafers or Animal Cookies come to mind.
And I also discovered, quite by accident, Cake Mate Writing Icing! Icing that comes right out of a tube and when dry is nice and firm.
These magic little icing tubes make creating 25 little numeral cookies very quick and easy.
Once Diane finished numbering her half of the advent cookies, she started playing with some little hearts and people we had cut out. When we began cutting cookies, we really had no clear idea what we were going to do - but we were having way too much fun cutting out cookies to stop until all the dough was used up!
As you can see in the first two pictures at the top of the post, following our muse was a good choice.
Another option for making numerals on little cookies would be to use writing pens made for writing on cookies - Fooddoodlers by Wilton. However, since I was not able to locate them in local markets, I decided to give the Cake Mate product a try. If you have Fooddoodlers available, by all means use them. Fun and easy for very young children to use.
Ok - time to put on the roof!
And now to let it sit overnight so the frosting can set up nice and hard. Diane didn't stay the night, but we just had to attach a few cookies before she returned home.
I was really stumped about how to attach the little cookies . Making royal frosting every day was not the answer. Saving it for 25 days - also not a solution.
I turned to pastry chef extraordinaire Kathy of Gelatin Sheets for professional advice. And her brilliant answer - chocolate! (You might remember Kathy shared a fun day with us at the Chocolate Crafting Studio last spring. She is on the far right of the first image.)
Melt a couple chocolate chips in a small glass container - a jigger works great! I melt mine in the microwave on hi - ten second intervals. You will most likely need about 20 seconds, but set at 10 and check and set at 10 again. Your chocolate should be smooth and evenly melted - no firm chunks.
Use a small paint brush to paint the chocolate onto the back of your cookie and then place it firmly against the gingerbread house. It sticks immediately! Clean up takes just a minute.
You can place the cookies in sequence as Diane did here, or...
they can be placed completely at random! Kids would most likely prefer this method!
Since we decorated the house with all our little heart and people cookies, we placed our advent cookies on the roof, but your little advent cookies can be placed anywhere on the house you like!
Start with a completely bare house and let the kids decorate any way they like. If you have more than one child, consider having extra cookies or candies on hand so everyone gets to add a decoration every day.
Cookies can be stored in a pretty cookie tin or other air tight container decorated to look festive.
Consider making extra cookies so that the children get to put a numbered cookie on the house and eat one too!
Or you could add another layer to the fun by hiding the cookies and leaving clues as to where to find them!
Of course, if you prefer, by all means use candy instead of cookies. We just don't like the way candy behaves on our gingerbread houses here in the PNW so we have resorted to cookies.
So! There you are! Lots of ways - traditional to easy peasy - to make a Gingerbread Advent Calendar to share the Advent season with your family.