In the last installment we mixed up our gingerbread, traced out our pieces, and baked everything. Now its time to put it together in the gingerbread house construction phase.
Holding the parts together requires some icing to use as glue. Traditionally this is done with a “Royal Icing” made from icing sugar and egg whites with a bit of flavor added if that is your preference. This works fine and is the way my dad did it while I was growing up. I have a bit of a challenge in that my youngest daughter developed an anaphylactic allergy to egg when she was very young. Although she has now, luckily, grown out it, it did force me to find a different recipe for the icing that didn’t use eggs.
In searching around the interwebs, I came across a recipe that used the liquid from a can of chick peas, also called aquafaba, as a replacement for the egg. There are a few of these recipes floating around and I’m sure that most of them would work but, for reference, the one I use is essentially what you can find here. The only change I make is to reduce the amount of aquafaba a bit to make the icing slightly thicker. Once dry, it is more or less indistinguishable from traditional egg based royal icing.
With pieces and glue in hand, its time to put things together. There are two gotchas in the gingerbread house construction that you’ll need to deal with. The first is that no matter how carefully you mark the pieces and cut them, the cooking process will distort the lines just enough that things won’t come together cleanly. Second is that the icing isn’t structural until it has finished drying so you need a way to keep to the pieces in place until that happens. If you read many of the other blog posts on our site you’ll know I do some woodworking as well and the skills come in handy in addressing these issues.
Squaring the Pieces
Unless you have some baking secret that I’m unaware of, the pieces that you prepared for your house are likely not very square. You can put a house together as is but you’ll end up using a lot of icing to try and bridge the gap. To minimize this, you’ll want to make sure that the edges of the pieces are a straight as possible.
If I was doing this with wood, I’d pull out a plane and do a few passes to straighten the edge. As this is gingerbread, that’s not really an option but you can do something similar by laying a fine grater on a cutting board and running the pieces across it until true.
It only takes a few passes per piece and will make the rest of the construction considerably easier.
Gluing It Together
This is the fun step as you move from preparations to activities to actually building a gingerbread house! As I mentioned above, the icing doesn’t become structural until it is dried so one of the main challenges is holding the pieces in place until that happens.
When I first started building these houses, I would use Popsicle sticks to try and shore up the construction but this was less than successful. I’ve found a better method is to “nail” the pieces together using toothpicks for nails.
The process is pretty simple:
Put a bead of icing down and stick the two pieces together, While holding them in place, carefully drill a small hole through the gingerbread sheet and into the edge of the adjoining one.
The diameter of the drill bit you use should match the diameter of the toothpicks you will use later. You do need to take some care at this stage to drill into the middle of the thin edge of the adjoining piece. Its easy to get a bit crooked and come out the side. If this happens, don’t worry, it’s easy to cover up later.
Once you have the hole drilled, simply insert toothpick to act as a mechanical fastening device.
After sitting overnight, the icing will have hardened into a very effective structural component and you can simply pull the toothpicks and move on. When putting on the roof sections, you really only need one toothpick at the top corners of panels. There is no need to pin at the bottom, the weight of the panel will hold it in place as is.
Here’s a look at the completed structure waiting to set up.
That’s about enough for now. In the section, we’ll do the decorating to finish up. Thanks for reading!
Part One of this series can be found here.