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Want the cutest house in the neighborhood? Then bake it – its easier than you think

Gingerbread house can hold some special memories for the holidays
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO, 
Gingerbread houses are a magical part of Christmas. They are easier to make than they look.

Want to build the cutiest house in the neighborhood? Don't call a contractor, just turn on your oven and bake a gingerbread house.

One of my favorite holiday memories is of the elaborate gingerbread house my sister Carol made when she was about 15. She followed an authentic German recipe to make the house, and decorated it with royal icing, colored sugars, and her favorite candies.

The house lasted for many years; it was carefully wrapped in plastic at the end of the holiday season and stored with the other Christmas decorations. I believe my mother 'retired' the gingerbread house only because the frosting and candies were faded, not because the structure was saggy.

That house held all the magic of Christmas within its four frosted and candy bejeweled walls. How could something as solid as a house be made totally of cake? I loved the fragrance of the spices, and the colorful candy decorations. She had created a treasure we looked forward to seeing every December.

Building a gingerbread house from scratch is actually easier to do than you might think. The recipe Carol used was from 'The Cooking of Germany,' one the Time Life Foods of the World series of cookbooks. The recipe followed traditional German techniques for building the house, ensuring Carol's success on the first attempt.

Build your own gingerbread house this weekend. It is a great family project - one that will create a magical memory for your children and friends for years to come. Here are few suggestions to ensure your success:

n Don't try to cut freehand. Your house walls and roof need to fit snugly. Measure carefully and create your own shape of house. You will need two sides, identically sized front and back pieces and two roof pieces. Cut your templates out of light-weight cardboard (cereal boxes or file folders). As a general rule of thumb, if your templates will stand up when taped together, your house will stand.

n For the best support you need thick walls; bake the gingerbread in a walled sheet pan, then cut it after it is baked.

n Decorate the walls before you construct the house.

n Take your time and be patient.

n Start small - you can always make another larger house once you get the feel of working with gingerbread.

Following is the recipe Carol used taken from 'The Cooking of Germany.' You can bake one for your family or if you are ambitious, make several for friends and have a decorating party.

Bon Appetit! Make a holiday memory today!

Lebkuchen Häuschen

Gingerbread House

Depending on the size of your house, you may need two or three batches of dough. You will need two walls, a front and back, two roof pieces, as well as four posts to support the inside corners.

1 tablespoon butter, softened

6 ¼ cups all purpose flour

6 tablespoons double acting baking powder

1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon salt

¾ cup honey

1 ¾ cups sugar

¼ cup butter

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel

1 egg

1 egg yolk

A base of foam core or gingerbread, to build the house upon

Decoration:

2 egg whites

2 ½ cups confectioners' sugar

Candies, cookies, marshmallows and cereals for decorating the house

1 to 2 cups sugar for decorating the base

Step one: Cut out cardboard templates for the house; set them aside.

With a pastry brush or paper towel, lightly coat an 11 by 17 inch jelly roll pan with one tablespoon soft butter or cooking spray. Sprinkle ¼ cup of flour into the pan, and tip it from side to side to coat it evenly. The turn it over and knock out the excess. Set the pan aside.

Sift 6 cups flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and salt together into a large mixing bowl and set them aside.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a heavy 4- to 5-quart saucepan, bring the honey, sugar and butter to a boil over high heat, stirring with a large spoon until the sugar is dissolved and the butter melted. Remove the pan from the heat, mix in lemon juice and lemon peel, and cool to room temperature. Beat in 2 cups of flour and spice mixture, add the egg and egg yolk, and then beat in the remaining 4 cups of flour and spice mixture. Flour your hands lightly and knead until the dough is smooth, pliable and still slightly sticky. If it is too moist to handle, beat in more flour by the tablespoon.

Place the dough in the jelly roll pan, and with a lightly floured rolling pin, press and roll it out as evenly as possible, forcing it into the corners with your fingers. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the cake is firm and the top brown. Let the cake cool in the pan for 4 or 5 minutes, then using the templates as your guide, cut it into the requisite shapes with a pastry wheel or small knife. Do not be tempeted to cut the house pieces freehand; they must fit together precisely to make a stable structure. Set the pieces aside on wax paper until they cool completely. Bake and cut the remaining cakes in the same fashion.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with a whisk or electric beater until they are frothy and slightly thickened. Sift the confectioners' sugar into the whites ½ cup at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Continue to beat for about 5 minutes, or until a stiff icing is formed. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a round decorative tip with a cup of the icing (or place in a sealable baggy and make a small hole in the corner).

While the gingerbread pieces are still spread out flat, decorate the front, back and sides with windows, shutters, doors, etc, with the icing. When the icing is completely dry, assemble the base and walls of the house using the icing as cement. Start with the base and ice the bottom of one end wall - the back of the house - and the bottom and one end of a side wall. Fit them together and place them carefully on the base. Ice the bottom and two sides of a corner post and place it between them. Hold the pieces upright for 3 or 4 minutes, until the icing has set. Ice the opposite end of the side wall and the bottom of the other end wall, and fit that wall onto the house for the front. Ice and hold the post in the corner. Hold these pieces until set.

Ice the two remaining corner posts and put them in place front and back. Now ice the bottom and ends of the remaining wall and put it into place. Hold the wall until it is set, then let the icing dry for at least 10 minutes.

Finally, ice the top edges of the end walls and lay the roof over them. The roof pieces should meet, but do not try to overlap them; fill the space between them with icing to make a roof peak. Hold the roof until it is steady.

Decorate the house as fancifuly as you like with icing and with candies, cereals, cookies, etc. Apply the roof icing first, forcing it through a pastry bag or swirling it on with a small offset spatula. Spread the candies and cookies with icing and press them gently into place. When the house is done to your taste, sprinkle the roof and base with snowdrifts of sugar (either granular, powdered or a combination).

Fragile though it seems, the finished house can be a delight for many Christmases. Just cover it well with plastic wrap and store it in a cool dry place between seasons.

Foods of the World: The Cooking of Germany

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at brandall@lakeoswego

review.com .