As Christmas is nearing again, there is much decorating, shopping, and baking to be done in preparation for the family celebrations. Why not decorate with your baked goods?
Last year was the first year I made my own gingerbread house from scratch. It turned out to be more of a castle actually. During the holiday season I visited PPG Place in Pittsburgh to ice skate and view the gingerbread display. From that day I planned to enter a gingerbread house in that display next Christmas. Now that Christmas is here, I designed, baked, and decorated a new gingerbread castle, which is currently on display in the PPG Place Gingerbread House Display in the Wintergarden.
This project took a lot of time, but it was definitely worth it. It took at least 10 hours, to decorate it alone, and about 8 hours to make the dough, cut the pieces, and bake them. That doesn’t even include all of the time it took to design the castle. It all started with simple sketches and ideas. Then I had to decide how big I wanted it to be. Based on these maximum heights and widths I was then able to decide the dimensions of every wall and how many I would need of each piece. I drew stencils for each piece on poster board and cut them out. Later, I would place these stencils on the rolled out gingerbread to cut out the right shapes.
Next, I made the gingerbread dough, and it took about 8 batches! Since I made so many batches, I cut back on the amount of spices I put in the dough since no one was actually eating the gingerbread. Here is the recipe with the full amount of spices needed that I found on foodnetwork.com:
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup light molasses or dark corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons water
- First, cream together the butter, brown sugar, molasses/corn syrup, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and baking soda.
- Alternately add in the flour and water until a stiff dough is formed.
- Allow the dough to chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. I made my dough the night before I baked.
- On a heavily floured surface, roll out a handful of dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Place stencil on the dough and trace it with a butter knife. Remove excess dough and place the piece on a tray very carefully so that it doesn’t tear or stretch. I put about 4 pieces on a tray at a time.
- Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The time depends on the thickness of your dough. My dough was very thin and it took about 5-7 minutes. Allow the pieces to cool on the tray until they are sturdy enough to move to a cooling rack.
- Continue steps 4 and 5 until all of the pieces are made.
Before you can begin building your gingerbread house, you will need to create a support inside the structure to keep the building sturdy. I bought Styrofoam at a craft store and cut pieces based on the size of the walls of my castle. Then I used hot glue to hold these pieces together, but not to the board yet. I made a support for every tower in my castle.
To begin building the castle with the gingerbread, I needed royal icing. I always use the Wilton Royal Icing recipe. I used about 5 batches of this recipe:
Wilton Royal Icing
- Sift the meringue powder and confectioners’s sugar together.
- Add the water. Whip icing on high speed until stiff peaks are formed.
When I built the castle, I began by building each tower. Then I put the inner part of the castle together and decorated it before building the outer wall. To build a tower, I iced the entire side of a gingerbread panel and firmly pressed it to the styrofoam block. Then cut two small styrofoam triangles with the same angles as the slope of the roof. I used a toothpick to secure the triangles to the foam block and covered them with icing. Then I placed the roof panels on the icing.
After all of the towers were made, I needed to secure them to the base. I piped a square of icing on the spot I intended to place the tower and added some glue to the middle of the square. Next, I firmly pushed the tower down on the icing and glue. I did this with the rest of the towers for the inner part of the castle and used icing to hold the towers together where their sides touched.
Once the inner part of the castle was assembled, I began to decorate. I started with the snow on top of the roofs. To achieve this snowy look, I spread some white icing at the peak of the roof, then used water and my fingers to spread the icing around.
Next, I focused on the clock, wreaths, and windows. To make the clock I piped a circle of white icing and used water to smooth it flat. When the icing dried, I used a number 1 tip to pipe roman numerals and hands onto the clock in black icing.
For the wreaths, I used a number 18 star tip and green icing. I simply piped many little stars in a circle. I also piped a wreath around the clock. I used a number 101 petal tip to pipe bows onto wax paper. Once the bows were hardened I carefully attached them to the wreaths.
For the windows, I piped white icing onto the gingerbread in the shape of a pentagon. I swirled a small amount of yellow icing into the white pentagon and then smoothed it with water. I piped the candle using a number 3 round tip and white icing, and added a dab of orange and yellow to the tip for the flame. Then I piped a tiny red bow on the candle using a number 1 round tip. I outlined the windows with red and green icing.
Then I added dots and lines using red, green, and white icing and number 3 round tips for extra detail.
Inside the large wreath in the front I piped the words “Welcome to the North Pole.”
After the entire interior of the castle was completely decorated, I constructed the outer walls of the castle in the same way as the interior towers. I secured the structures to the board and then decorated the walls with wreaths, windows, dots, and lines.
On the front tower I spread brown icing in the shape of a castle door. I smoothed it with water and used a number 3 round tip to pipe lines across the door. I attached a round piece of chocolate candy for the door handle. Above the door I titled my gingerbread masterpiece: “Santa’s Castle.”
I spread white icing on the board around the castle and brushed it with white shimmer dust. I scratched marks into an extra piece of gingerbread to look like stone or brick and created a sidewalk, which I placed in front of the door. I used a number 21 star tip and green icing to pipe Christmas trees in front of the castle. I started at the center and piped outwards. The lines of icing got thinner as I piped higher up the tree. I put red balls on the tree with a number 5 round tip and a yellow star on top.
For the finishing touch I added the north pole. I broke off the curved part of a candy cane and used icing to stand the straight piece of candy cane upright. I put a dab of icing on top of the candy cane and placed a candy ball on top. Santa’s Castle was complete! I delivered my gingerbread castle to the Wintergarden at PPG Place in Pittsburgh. It is on display through January 7, 2015. It is part of a display with hundreds of other gingerbread houses, as well as a train, Christmas tree, and the Santas around the world.