How to (Almost) Make a Gingerbread House from Scratch, or, My Epic Holiday Failure

Photo by Carrie Stephens
This is not my gingerbread house.
I love food, but there's a reason I'm a writer and not a chef. I cook a few things very well. I can follow a recipe. I have a good sense of how flavors should go together. I'm actually a wonderful baker.

But events like those that took place last week remind me that I do better work in the dining room than in the kitchen.

I had a vision in my head when I set out -- a vision born of late nights browsing Pinterest and admiring recipes in old-fashioned cookbooks and holiday cheer à la Martha Stewart. If Martha can be the perfect holiday guru, why can't I? Who needs mixes and kits? I'm crafty!

"I can do it!" I thought to myself. "I can make a gingerbread house from scratch! And it will be the most beautiful thing ever, and my friends will bow down to me, a domestic goddess, the creator of Christmas cheer."

Here's how it started...

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
I found a recipe online for gingerbread houses, and it looked simple enough. I went to Central Market, bought all the ingredients I needed, and settled into my kitchen with a Christmas movie (Muppet Christmas Carol) and an image of the perfect finished product.

On the first evening, I made the dough, which the recipe then recommends you refrigerate overnight. Already, this was taking longer than I'd hoped.

The next evening, I rolled out the dough and cut it into shapes based on the template provided in the recipe. Here's what I discovered: It's really difficult to roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness, then peel it off of the pastry mat and ensure it maintains its shape. Perhaps my dough wasn't cold enough or my pastry mat wasn't coated with enough flour, but my cut-outs stuck to the mat and stretched when I tried to peel them off.

I set them down on the baking sheet, prodded them back into shape and hoped for the best.


While the walls and roof were baking, I made the royal icing, a white powered-sugar-and-egg icing that dries as hard as glue. All you need to do to make the icing is beat several egg whites with cream of tartar until they're fluffy, then slowly add powdered sugar. I did this and put it aside in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator to keep it from drying out while I waited overnight for my gingerbread to cool and harden.

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