This weekend I had some friends over for a gingerbread decorating party. I used pre-made houses and I made up a train template based on this one and I also made my own gingerbread dough for said trains and such so that we could have a village with access to imports, because one can't have a village that doesn't have any form of mass transit so that the latest in ginger-wear would be available to our gingerbread men and women. That's me, a thoroughly modern Millie of the made up ginger world and with ginger colored glasses to boot).
Okay, to be perfectly honest, it was supposed to be a Thomas the Train and station house thing but, as with all great times and things, it evolved into this fabulous village with mass transit.
In an attempt to illustrate how wonderful my friends and their children were I had to use my house replica table (don't ask as it involves my admitting to a certain laziness in not taking the doll house back to the basement and I actually kinda sorta like having a doll house that isn't really a doll house in my living room, and it was inspiration, yeah that is it, it was inspiration).
I did this whole party thing because some of my most favorite food memories of Christmas and my mother are of her doing similar activities for my brother and me (as well as our friends), it was always a hit, it became one of those great fabulous reminders of those happy days of my youth, where "issues" involved who got to get the cool purple gum drop or if we had red vines for cool gingerbread house fashions.
To me, this experience was about friends and family, about laughing and having a good time. So, that is what I made it. I invited some wonderful women I was able reconnect with after my recent 20 year High School reunion. They brought their families we ate Mac & cheese and ordered some fabulous pizza and got down to it.
I am so thrilled that they issued the challenge! I am under the impression (hopefully not a delusion; though I guess if the ends justify the means, it is all OK) that this is often mentioned as a fond memory among some folks and in our crazy hurried days it was a chance to reconnect with those times. I think I may have started an annual tradition in our household!
So let us get back to the whole experience... for the sake of retaining that which I learned I am going to include my recipes... it is such a mish-mosh of different ones I found on the net that I can't pinpoint the one that was the primary inspiration, though the link to the train template may be the basis for the most of what I made and did.
In the end I used a great recipe that lends itself to varied textures depending on how it is rolled and baked. I tried two different formats. The first being just putting my chilled dough straight into the baking sheet and rolling out in there and cutting/tracing my pattern into itbaking it all together and cutting it after it was baked (this is how my mom did it) and the other way was to cut OUT the pieces and place them on the baking sheet separately, this is how I ended up doing it (the other way made the "walls" too thick and I would have run out of dough before I had made enough trains).
My recipe for gingerbread was:
6 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup molasses
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl.
2. In another large bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and egg, add the molasses and beat until well mixed, then add the vanilla extract.
3. Mix in the dry ingredients into the creamed butter and sugar a bit at a time.
4. Divide the dough in half. Place each piece in a large ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight.
Heat the oven to 350° and either bake the filled baking sheet for about 20 minutes or the cut out pieces for about 15.
The Royal Icing:
I used Wilton's recipe because I was using their meringue powder.
I also made crazy awesome buttercream for this project, that recipe was as follows:
4 pounds confectioners sugar
1 pound butter
1/3 to 2/3 cup Half and Half
(see crazy awesome as in clogged arteries galore, but man it was yummy as you can see from my picture of Squink enjoying it straight out of the decorating bag).
1. Cream the butter and add 1 cup of confectioners sugar (with blender on LOW) and add a drizzle of the half and half... continue to do so until blended to the consistency you like.
I had a great time, family and friends that were unable to make it have stated they want to come next year (I think I lured them in with that crazy awesome buttercream).