It might take a village to raise a child, but Anna Harrington is helping kids make the village. A gingerbread village, that is. At her Yummy Time! cooking workshops at Pomme in Brooklyn, the mother of two guides 4- to 8-year-olds through the construction and decoration of gingerbread “hauses.”
“Gingerbread hauses are modernist gingerbread houses,” Anna explains. “This allows the children to build any type of structure rather than striving for some sort of cute gingerbread house ideal. I only make squares and rectangles — ‘building blocks’ — and the kids have to figure out solutions working within those parameters. It is really amazing how diverse the buildings look with rather limited shapes.”
Ready to start construction with your own little builders? Keep in mind these tips from Anna, and whip up her dough and icing recipes, shared below:
“You should plan on making and baking the dough in advance of the day you want to decorate. Kids can help mix the dough until it gets super thick and difficult to manage. The baking is slow and long and an adult really needs to cut the pieces right when the dough comes out of the oven while it’s still hot, so kids should not help with this. The dough lasts in the fridge for 3-4 days, so you can bake it over a few days if you wish. Also, you can bake these and store them wrapped in plastic or in an air tight container for up to a month. One batch makes 3-6 modernist houses, depending on scale.”
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/3 cup dark molasses
9 cups all-purpose flour
In a medium bowl, whip cream and vanilla until soft peaks form. In another large bowl, mix sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and ginger together. Add molasses and whip cream, mix well with hand blender. Cup by cup, add the flour, mixing well with hand blender until all flour is completely mixed.
With a good amount of table flour, roll out a handful of dough (you want to try to make it the size/shape of the baking sheet you are using.) Make sure to use flour on your rolling pin, under the dough and on top, and rotate/flip the dough as you are rolling to ensure it is not sticking to your counter. Try to make it 1/8″ thick all the way across. Trim any end you won’t be able to use and add back into the dough bowl. Carefully place the rolled out piece onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Bake at 300 degrees for 50 minutes. You don’t really want the edges to get dark.
Remove the sheet and on a stable surface, immediately cut the rectangular and square pieces with a chef’s knife. You can draw and cut pieces of paper in advance to lay on top of the bread to use as guides so you get some uniform pieces. Place pieces on a cooling rack; once completely cool, stack up and wrap in plastic. (I store them in a shoe box so they don’t break). Repeat until you are done with the dough. I use 2 baking sheets at a time, set off by 10 minutes to allow for cutting of the shapes. It usually takes two to three rounds depending on the size of the oven.
I use this both for putting the building together and the decoration. Make this the day of use, and use it immediately or cover airtight and use within 8 hours. This icing is quite thick.
4 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 teaspoons water
7 cups powered sugar
Beat the egg, cream of tartar, and water with hand blender until frothy. Cup by cup, add the sugar and beat on high for 5-10 minutes. It should be bright white, smooth, and rather stiff. I leave it in the mixing bowl covered in plastic wrap until I am ready to use, and then I spoon portions out into sandwich-size resealable plastic bags for each child. Cut off a little corner, squeeze, and cement away!
The first two to three pieces are the trickiest! Encourage your child to sing a song or count to 20 a few times while holding two pieces in place to allow the pieces to set. After the kids are finished “building,” I like to take a 10 minute break to allow the buildings to set before decorating. I prefer to use non-branded, clean-shaped (round, oblong, square, circular) candy to go along with the modernist aesthetic of these buildings.
Completed hauses after an afternoon of (not-so) hard work.
Ta da! A proud gingerbread designer shows off her work.
(photos by Jessica Antola)