Family Project: Cut, Paste, Crunch, Munch


Many times one person’s cooking problems have already been solved successfully and creatively by someone else. We invite readers to share their successes with other readers, particularly by sending in experiences and recipes to liven the following “problem” areas:

• recipes that use food storage items

• recipes that children can help make

• unusual refreshments for family home evenings, church socials, and Relief Society work meetings

• unusual menus for picnics, camping expeditions, and ward dinners

• box lunches for large gatherings

• meatless meals

• tasty new ways to fix vegetables

• Sunday meals that can use advance preparation or that require a minimum of Sabbath day labor

• single-person cooking or cooking with roommates; meals for older people who are no longer eating with a family of children; easy, economical ways to work out menus

• unusual punch recipes

• wholesome sweets and desserts

Special food treats are one of the highlights of the Christmas season. However, all too often Mother creates them in solitary splendor, isolated from the rest of the family. But for a holiday treat the whole family can help make, admire, and devour, try this distinctive gingerbread house, shared by Gertrude Ihle Harrison of Eagle, Idaho.

The recipe originated with her father, a German baker, and the annual construction has been a family tradition for years. The children enjoy making it so much, in fact, that they were crushed when she surprised them one year and made it herself.

The Harrisons also have a traditional way of dismantling the house. The first family night following Christmas, they put it in the center of the table and see who can “smash” the gingerbread with a single blow. Because it gets broken up, it’s edible from first to last. Stored in a plastic container, the fragments grow softer and tastier with age.

Here’s how it’s done. You’ll need two batches of gingerbread, one batch of decorator’s cement, and one batch of decorator’s snow. Sister Harrison suggests cooking the gingerbread one day and assembling the house the next. You may want to borrow some extra cookie sheets, too.

Gingerbread

6 cups sifted flour

4 teaspoons ground ginger

1 cup butter or margarine

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup dark corn syrup

1/2 cup light molasses

Sift the flour, measure it, and then sift it again with the ginger. Melt the butter with the sugar, syrup, and molasses over low heat. Add to the flour and blend well. Cool five to ten minutes. Roll and cut out the dough while it’s still warm, but chill it before baking. Bake at 375 degrees until the edges are lightly browned and the center is dry to the touch. Cool for five minutes, then transfer from the cookie sheet to a wire rack.

Decorator’s Cement

1 egg white

1 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 16-oz. package powdered sugar

Beat the egg and cream of tartar till frothy, then beat in the sugar a tablespoon at a time until it is very stiff. Add several drops of hot water if needed. The mixture will not firm together when cut with a knife.

Decorator’s Snow

3 egg whites

1 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

24 ounces powdered sugar

Make the same way as decorator’s cement. It will be soft and spreadable.

In constructing a gingerbread house, the first step is to make posterboard patterns—one 8″ square for the roof, one 6″ x 4″ rectangle for the walls; one 6″ x 4″ rectangle with a 4″ high triangle on one side to create walls with gables.

You will need two roof pieces, two side walls, two gable walls, one door, three side wall shutters, and two gable wall shutters. Let your imagination suggest other decorations. Sister Harrison’s family usually adds trees, paving stones, and a door wreath.

The easiest way to make these pieces from the soft dough is to roll it out directly on 8″ x 12″ cookie sheets. For the roof, roll half of one batch in a rectangle at least 8″ x 17″ and 1/4″ thick. Using your pattern, cut out two roof pieces, using the same center line for both. Don’t worry about separating them, because the cooked dough cuts apart easily if you have sliced through it while marking. Refrigerate for one hour before baking.

For the side walls, take half the remaining dough and roll it out on an 8″ x 12″ cookie sheet and make a 5″ x 13″ rectangle. Cut out the pattern in the same way as for the roof. Mark two 1 1/4″ squares in the side walls for windows. For best results, make windows 1 1/4″ from the base of the house and 1″ from each side. Cut each “window” in half, and bake along with the side walls. These will be the shutters. For variation, you can cut four tiny squares for a window, leaving “panes” intact, and make separate shutters. Refrigerate one hour before baking. (Be sure to refrigerate all leftover dough.)

For the gable walls, roll one-third of the second batch of dough to 1/4″ thickness in a 12″ x 18″ rectangle. Repeat for the second wall. (You will be able to cut only one gable wall per cookie sheet.)

To make doors and windows, determine the center point of one gable wall and cut out a piece 2″ high and 1 1/4″ wide. Remove and bake it with the end wall. Make 1 1/2″ gable windows above the door, slicing the rectangle in half to use as shutters.

Use the remaining dough from both batches to invent your own decorations. After the dough has warmed to room temperature, make trees, paving stones for the front yard, wreaths for the door, small animals, and anything else you can think of.

Collect your favorite gumdrops, novelty candies, colored sugar, pastel fondant patties, and flower-design lollipops to decorate the house. Use cinnamon candies and green gumdrops for the door wreath, and colored sugar or candy sequins to decorate the trees.

After all the pieces are thoroughly cooled (overnight is best), decorate the walls, windows, and doors. Spread a thin layer of snow over the roof for a base coat. (Keep the cement and snow frostings covered at all times with damp paper towels and plastic since they dry out very quickly.) Cement the candies to the walls with small dabs of cement. Set the shutters in place with a liberal layer of cement. Here’s a chance for everyone to decorate his own Christmas tree for the front yard.

To assemble the house, you’ll need a large fiat tray or piece of styrofoam for a base and some unopened fruit or soup cans for support. Knead the cement until it has the texture of putty, then roll it into pencil-like strings. Prop a side wall against one or two cans, press a strip of cement to one of vertical edges, and press one of the gable walls to it at right angles, again using a can for support. Repeat with the remaining walls. Give the structure about 45 minutes to settle; then remove the cans and position the roof pieces, cementing them along the ridge. Set the door in place. Let the cement harden 45 minutes, then frost the roof with the remaining snow, making drifts and icicles. After it has hardened slightly, decorate it with gumdrops.