One of the regulars over on Allrecipes, Carrie, came up with a great idea - a virtual Gingerbread Village! Folks who wanted to participate would create their own ginger bread house to be part of a village. I loved the idea! I love diversity, and when you have people from all over the world, with many different backgrounds and memories of Christmas, likes and dislikes, it would be so cool to see what people come up with!
So, even though I don't exactly have a degree in architecture...for example:
Me: "Can we get some skylights put in the kitchen?"
Me: "Why not?"
Him: "Our bedroom is above our kitchen."
Bearing walls, structural support, blah blah blah...apparently you can't just take a chainsaw and cut the house in half, shift the bedroom over and nail it into place so I can get some decent light in my kitchen....
Anyway, I KNOW my architectural limitations, so I relied on Google to point me in the right direction. It led me to this recipe and tutorial. I was intimidated - it involved rolling out dough, so immediately my fear of pie crust reared it's ugly, vicious head, like the imaginary flesh-eating zombie that you know isn't (but could be) lurking in your basement when you have to run downstairs to throw clothes in the dryer at 11:05 PM on a Sunday night after watching "The Walking Dead".
Yes, I fear pie crust that much.
But I read the instructions over and over again until it sounded....well, easy! And now that it is in the past, I can tell you it WAS easy!
Here's what you do:
Print out the templates from the site. There are many others, but frankly I just liked this simple design. Cut them out, then trace them onto cardboard and cut out the cardboard shapes.
You can just cut out one of each and just use them twice. But if you're going to play around with your own unique design, it might be a good idea to cut all the pieces out and kind of piece them together to achieve the look you want.
Then, make the dough. This is soooo easy!
For one house, in a microwave-safe bowl, mix together 1 cup light corn syrup...
Add to it 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark, depending on the color dough you want - I used light)...
...and 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. margarine...
And then microwave on high until sugar is dissolved. I ran mine for 2 minutes, stirred, then maybe another 1 1/2 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine 4 1/2 cups flour and 1/4 tsp. salt...totally optional, but I added a tablespoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of ground cloves, strictly for their aromatic qualities.
Whisk the dry ingredients together then add the melted corn syrup, sugar & margarine mixture and stir...
It will become kind of crumbly...
...but go ahead an knead it a bit or let the kids squish it until it comes together - just make sure there are no "hot spots" from the liquid. The dough will be warm.
Don't worry if it seems a little dry. Now you want to wrap it in plastic and just let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. A little bit of condensation builds up (because the dough is still warm) and it turns it into this lovely, smooth dough - it looks almost like penuche fudge as it's setting.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Lay out a sheet of foil the size of your cookie sheet on a flat surface (the link mentioned using a flat on or one with only one side vs. a rimmed baking sheet. A flat sheet will help the air to circulate more freely).
Roll the dough to 1/4" thickness - don't worry about it cracking.
Unlike pie crust dough, that you should handle as little as possible, this dough can be worked with. Just patch up or pinch together any cracks, tears or thin spots and roll smooth. Lumps of dough can be reheated in the microwave if the are not cooperating.
Keep the scraps wrapped up in plastic for other projects or decorations. I left a plastic-wrapped blob out overnight at room temperature, popped it in the microwave for ten or fifteen seconds, and I had a nice workable dough again!
"Yeah? How you like me NOW, zombie-pie crust!!!!"
Oops...sorry about that....I got a little excited for a minute. It's not often rolled out dough bows down to me like this.
Place your lightly floured cardboard templates on the dough - try to leave a good inch between them. Cut them out using a pizza cutter or a ravioli cutter...
...and carefully remove the scraps in between your shapes.
Set the cardboard pieces aside.
You can go ahead and bake them (like I did the first time...duh) OR cut doors or windows out.
I just cut additional cardboard templates and used a small paring knife to cut them, but you could use little cookies cutters, too!
Slip your baking sheet under the foil, and place the cutouts in the oven. Total baking time is about 10 - 12 minutes. If you want to create "colored glass" windows....
Unwrap some butterscotch (or other hard) candies...
Place them in a heavy duty plastic Ziploc bag and tap a few times with a hammer.
After the dough has baked about ten minutes, sprinkle the crushed candy into the window openings...
...and bake another 5 minutes or so until smooth and melted. I swirled it a couple times with a toothpick. Remove and let cool completely before trying to remove from the foil. The dough hardens quickly, but the candy will take longer - overnight would be best, but I just stuck mine in our chilly garage for about an hour and it was good to go!
Don't worry about imperfections. We're going to slap so much royal icing and candy decorations on this baby, we can cover up just about anything!
Next up: Part 2 - Assembly and royal crazy glue!