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With sturdy gingerbread, you can build almost anything.

With sturdy gingerbread, you can build almost anything

The basic building material for this selection of fantasy gingerbread structures is a strong, good-tasting ginger cooky dough that bakes to sturdinees in flat slabs or slightly contoured pieces. Your creation can be quite imaginative, as stark or full of curlicues as you like, provided you adhere to the strengths and limitations of this construction material. The designs on these pages were produced by Westerners of varying ages and skills.

On page 87, you'll find the recipes for cooky dough and icing; you need icing to decorate or glue the cookies together. Here we offer techniques for creating and controlling the structural elements--how to make patterns, how to shape the dough, how to use icing to embellish and cement the pieces together, and how to add decorations to the finished product.

To make patterns, draw outlines on pasteboard or heavy paper, then cut out. To test your design's structural integrity, fit the pieces together with tape; if the pasteboard wobbles, so will thin gingerbread.

Your dimensions are limited to the 12- by 15-inch size of a large baking sheet. Lay the pattern pieces out on your baking sheets to estimate how much dough you'll need. Maximum thickness for dough is 3/8 inch. For houses larger than 6 inches square, or for heavy, load-bearing walls, use 1/4-inch-thick cooky slabs. Smaller houses and decorative overlays can use 1/8-inch-thick slabs.

See the photographs on this page for basic construction techniques.

To decorate cooky slabs, use a pastry bag with a plain or decorating tip to apply icing cement (next page) to unassembled sections of cooky. Let dry until set, at least 30 minutes, before assembling.

You can also paint the slabs by spreading a thin layer of icing onto them; you may need to thin it with a few drops of water to make it spread smoothly. If you want, you can tint portions of the icing, too: add a few drops of food coloring.

To assemble structures, use a knife or a pastry bag with a small, plain tip to apply icing cement generously (but not enough to ooze or run) to 1 side of a piece, such as the edge of a wall. Butt an uniced piece against the icing, as dictated by your pattern, and hold pieces together briefly until the icing sets. To improve the stability of your structure, apply icing to its bottom edge and set it on a firm, flat surface--a rectangle of gingerbread, a board, or a platter. (If you want to be able to lift the building up to hide or reveal treats inside, don't cement the bottom edge to a supporting base.)

Continue to apply icing, holding joined pieces together until set, until project is assembled. If there are any gaps, you can fill them neatly by piping or spreading icing into or over them. If icing smudges, wipe with a damp cloth.

To build higher. When you build more than 1 story on a house, as in the pueblo on page 85, make the bottom story 1/8 inch thicker than the upper level.

To attach decorations, dab undersides with a little icing cement and hold in place until set. You can use this technique to add hard candies, licorice whips, candy canes, chocolate-drop candies, cutout cookies, or a variety of other things.

Other details. Many of our architects used some of the cooky dough for cutouts to populate or adorn their designs. Feel free to make designs on the dough before cooking; it will hold the impressions on its surface as it bakes. Simply cut partly through the dough with a knife, or impress floured objects (such as fork tines or heads of screws) in it, then remove.

To display your gingerbread masterpiece, keep it in a dry place. In a humid atmosphere, the cooky will absorb moisture and soften quickly; a bad place to display a gingerbread creation in winter is close to windows that steam up.

You might cover the structure with plastic wrap at night to help extend its longevity and to keep off dust. Some of our experiments were still strong and upright after a year of being loosely sealed under plastic wrap.

To eat, gingerbread structures that are dust-free and still crisp or only slightly softened are enjoyable to break apart as an attention-getting party dessert, perhaps to go with ice cream or fruit. One favorite trick is to fill a structure with more cookies, confections, or dried or fresh fruit; it becomes a treasure trove of prizes for guests to take home.

Sturdy and good-tasting, this is the basic building gingerbread

Gingerbread Cooky Building Slabs

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

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 lcing cement

Whip cream and vanilla until cream holds soft peaks. In a large bowl, mix sugar, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon. Stir in molasses and cream. Gradually add flour, mixing well.

On a lightly floured board, roll out a portion of dough until it's flat but still thick enough to pick up easily without tearing. Place it on a greased and floured 12- by 15-inch rimless baking sheet. Finish rolling dough on pan, supporting the rolling pin on equally thick wooden strips placed along opposite edges of pan. Use about 2 cups dough for each 1/8-inch-thick slab, about 4 cups for each 1/4-inch slab, and about 6 cups for each 3/8-inch slab. If cookies are not evenly thick, the thin areas bake darker in color and are more brittle.

You can bake up to 2 pans of dough at a time in 1 oven. Bake dough until fairly firm when pressed in center--in a 300| oven, allow about 1 hour for 1/8-inch-thick slabs; in a 275| oven, allow about 1 3/4 hours for 1/4-inch slabs and about 2 1/4 hours for 3/8-inch slabs. After 30 minutes, remove pans from oven and place pattern pieces close together on the dough; with a sharp knife, cut around pattern edges; lift off pattern and scraps. (Later, bake the scraps to eat.) Return both pans to oven, switching their positions, and finish baking. Meanwhile, roll out remaining dough to make cones (far left, bottom) and other special features.

When done, carefully loosen cookies with a spatula; cool on pan until firm, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Decorate and assemble structure with icing cement or wrap pieces airtight and store up to 1 month; cookies keep crisp longer, but do not taste as fresh. Makes about 9 cups dough, or 4 1/2 slabs 1/8 inch thick, 2 1/2 slabs 1/4 inch thick, or 1 1/2 slabs 3/8 inch thick. Each full slab is 10 by 15 inches.

Icing cement. With an electric mixer, beat 2 large egg whites, 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 2 teaspoons water until frothy. Mix in 3 cups sifted powdered sugar; beat on high speed until icing is stiff, 5 to 10 minutes. Use, or cover up to 8 hours. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Slot-together reindeer, as shown on our cover

To make the gingerbread reindeer on our cover, use the pattern for wooden reindeer (page 82). On heavy paper or pasteboard, draw this pattern using a 3/4-inch grid instead of a 2-inch one. Cut out pattern. Roll gingerbread cooky building slabs (see above) 1/4 inch thick. Bake dough and cut out cookies, as directed, using reindeer pattern. When cookies are cool, pipe a dot of icing cement (see above) on each side of head to make eyes; let dry. If desired, tint icing that joins reindeer by mixing in unsweetened cocoa.

To assemble, pipe icing into 2 leg notches and set body in place. Stand upright and adjust legs to make it steady; hold until icing sets. Attach antlers with icing; hold until set. Repeat to make each reindeer.

Photo: Behind candy columns is a gingerbread Parthenon, built by Robert Mueller of Berkeley

Photo: Three structural elements--cone, slabs, and cutouts--come together in barn

Photo: Mural (right) is simply layered cookies. Impress the designs on raw dough

Photo: Lucia maids of SWEA (a Swedish group) admire Viking ship curved with technique used for cones (next page)

Photo: Two-story Southwest pueblo needs extra support: first-floor walls are thicker, and cinnamon sticks running structure's width serve as "vigas'

Photo: Built from blueprints for real house, gingerbread model was Judy Tuck's gift to owners, Susan and Pat McBaine

Photo: Roll dough on pan, supporting ends of rolling pin on strips of wood lath--as thick as you want the dough, and long enough to run the pan's length. This ensures uniform thickness for uniform baking

Photo: Cut around patterns arranged on partially baked dough; remove extras. Continue to bake until the dough is cooked; it will harden as it cools

Photo: Pipe icing along edge of piece to be joined; butt pieces together and hold in place briefly to set

Photo: To make a cylinder, use icing to glue cooky strips onto a foilwrapped can or cardboard tube; pipe more icing between pieces

Photo: For a cone, fit a round of dough over a foil-covered cardboard cone; cut out folds, and pinch edges together. Trim any overhang. Bake for the full time

Photo: Reindeer come together from an array of pieces. Big sister dots on icing for eyes, pipes icing in notches to join animals. Young assembler sets antlers at an angle
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1987
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