Why no, I did not drop off the face of the earth. We're taking a date hiatus during the madness of the holidays. And I had so many leftovers after Thanksgiving, not Thanksgiving leftovers, just regular meals, that I basically took a week off from cooking. Yay!
However, we have been up to some fun around here. I'll tell you about the Advent calendar later, but today, it's gingerbread!
We hosted a gingerbread house making party for the ladies from my Bible study. I followed the recipes from this book and cut my own template based on the dimensions of his Cape Cod house. Using my brilliant math skills, I determined if I halved the original dimensions each batch of dough would make 2 houses. I forgot to take into account that 6x6 is actually 4 times the size of 3x3. So don't make that mistake.
Our houses ended up being 3 inches north/south, 5 inches eat/west, and 5.5 inches in total height, which was just about right. And now, from the benefit of my experience, here are some tips for hosting a successful gingerbread house building party.
Before the Party
1. Start early. If you don't want to go crazy, this will be a 4 day process. Day one, shop. Day two, mix your dough. Day three, roll, cut, and bake your pieces. Day 4, host your fantastic party.
2. Have some inspiration. I checked out a dozen library books on gingerbread house decorating. They were helpful, not only to give me recipes and ideas on what candies to use (hint, pretzels and Chex cereal for half-timbered and thatched roof houses), but also as visual inspiration for the guests.
3. Use parchment paper. I rolled my dough on a silicone mat, and while it didn't stick (yay), it did stretch when I picked it up (boo).
4. Give yourself at least three hours for the party. It takes a long time if you want to build and decorate gingerbread houses. We were working from 7 until 10:30. *Whew*
5. Have your guests bring surfaces to build on. It saves you preparing cardboard until the middle of the night or buying 20 trays. Successful surfaces include cake stands; cookie trays; rigid cutting boards; and pieces of sturdy cardboard, wood, or Styrofoam covered in aluminum foil. Don't use anything flexible unless you can leave the house undisturbed for 12 hours. Lifting a wet house on a flexible surface will result in your house falling apart.
On the Day of the Party
1. Erect the walls of the houses, and then look at the books. You want to give your walls a good chance to solidify before you put on the roof, or else your house will collapse. Maybe serve coffee and hot cocoa while your guests look. Or wine. Or some veggies and cheese to counteract the frosting and candy that they're bound to eat while decorating.
2. After the walls are solid, add the roof, then decorate the grounds and the walls. The same logic as #1. You want your roof to dry in place quite a while before you try to decorate it, or else it will slip off and/or break in the middle.
3. Quart size zipper-top plastic bags work just fine for piping icing. But you can get disposable piping bags, which work even better, waste less icing, and look classier.
4. Have a lot of scissors. Table knives, spoons, and a fine grater for shaping uneven cookie pieces are also handy. But everyone will want scissors to open piping bags or cut licorice sticks or defend their chocolate kisses. Run several pairs through the dishwasher.
5. Amuse your small people. Let them make marshmallow snowmen or decorate sugar cone trees. Keep them busy mucking so that the don't topple your guests' precious creations.
Happy sugar high!