Treat the family to gingerbread houses

Renee Morgan’s grandsons -- Nate, Brendan and Michael Kirkland -- visited with Santa last week at Le Cordon Bleu where they built gingerbread houses. (Courtesy Photo)

Last Saturday, three of my grand-boys and I spent the morning at Le Cordon Bleu building gingerbread houses. It’s awesome! Every December, the school (my alma mater) hosts a holiday demonstration where kids and parents can build gingerbread houses together.

Santa Claus even made the rounds to check out all the kids creative art work. The best part is that the pastry students set everything up. They bake the gingerbread, assemble the house, have the frosting made and the candy decorations laid out in containers.

This was, without a doubt, the easiest kiddo holiday project ever. You just show up, find a table and decorate your house. They even have student workers there to bring more supplies and clean up. The boys had a blast! I think more of the candy ended up in their bellies than on the gingerbread houses. They got to bring their finished project home to admire and enjoy later and the whole thing was totally free.

Le Cordon Bleu generally has a demonstration program every month that is free and open to the public. The demonstrations are topical and usually includes some kind of chef demo instruction by one or more of the chef instructors, all of whom are highly credincialed and experienced. I have learned some excellent dishes from the chefs at these events.

They also have a monthly wine club, led by Jane Nickles, who is the school’s wine educator and author of Wine Speak 101. If you are interested in attending events at Le Cordon Bleu, please check out their website at www.lecordonbleucollege-austin.com.

There is still time for you to do your own gingerbread house project with the kiddos. I included a recipe I use for making my gingerbread and instructions for making a house, but you could also make one from graham crackers pretty easily.

I would love to see pictures of your children’s gingerbread houses. Email me at ChefRenee@LHIndependent.com.

  Gingerbread House Recipe and Instructions

 You may make the pieces up to 1 month in advance. Sketch out your gingerbread house pattern and cut it out before you begin.

Ingredients:

Cookie Dough:

1-1/2 cups whipping cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2-1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

2 Tablespoons baking soda

1 Tablespoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1-1/3 cups light or dark molasses

9 cups all-purpose flour

Icing Cement:

2 large egg whites

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 teaspoons water

3 cups sifted powdered sugar

Instructions:

1. Line 12 x 15-inch rimless baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

2. In a small bowl, whip cream and vanilla until it holds soft peaks. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon. Beat in the molasses and whipped cream mixture until well-combined. With mixer running, gradually add flour, beating until completely mixed.

4. Lightly flour a pastry board or mat. Roll out a portion of the dough until flat, but not so thin that you cannot pick it up without it tearing. Drape it over the rolling pin and move to the prepared baking sheet.

5. Continue rolling the dough to an even thickness on the baking sheet. This is easily achieved by placing two equally thick wooden strips on either side of the baking sheet to support the rolling pin. An even thickness is important. Lower areas will bake darker in color and be more brittle. You will need about 2 cups of dough for each 1/8-inch thickness, about 4 cups for each 1/4-inch slab, and about 6 cups for each 3/8-inch slab.

6. Bake two sheets of dough at a time. Bake until fairly firm in the center. The temperature and time will vary with the thickness of the slab. For 1/8-thick slabs, bake in preheated 300 F. oven for about 1 hour; for 1/4-inch slabs, bake at 275 F. about 1-3/4 hours; and for 3/8-inch slabs, bake at 275 F. about 2-1/4 hours.

7. After 30 minutes, position your gingerbread house pattern cut-outs as close together as possible on the sheet of cookies. Cut around the pattern with a sharp knife, remove the pattern, and separate the scrap pieces (may be baked later to eat). Return house pieces to the oven, swapping their rack positions, and continue to bake. While the pieces are baking, any remaining dough may be rolled out for cookies or additional decorative gingerbread house pieces.

8. When pieces are finished baking, loosen gently with a flat spatula and let them cool on the sheet another 5 to 10 minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely. At this point, you may wrap the gingerbread house pieces airtight in plastic wrap and store up to one month. Or proceed to assemble and decorate your house or cookies using icing cement (below).

Icing Cement:

Beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and water until frothy. Blend in sugar on high speed until stiff, 5 to 10 minutes. Use immediately or cover and use within 8 hours.