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How to Construct a Gingerbread Worksite

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While it may seem like a joke made specifically for us, it turns out there is a “construction gingerbread” recipe that we feel is our journalistic duty to bring to you. With the recipe (found at the bottom of this page) created by Stella Parks of Serious Eats, you’ll get the best of both worlds: a sturdy gingerbread base for your structure that doesn’t taste like cardboard. Parks compares the consistency and taste to that of a gingerbread biscotti, which works for us!

Along with Parks’ recipe for Royal Icing, you should be able to construct a building not dissimilar to the one you see above. Though the candy cranes may prove difficult to wire your own rigging cables made of tree lights (unless, of course, you’ve taken our 16HR Rigging Worker course.

The walls, roof, and even the windows represent both fairly basic building concepts and shapes to make out of gingerbread. And the shapes you create will certainly be the most important part of the entire construction gingerbread construction process. Like building a structure in “real life,” creating a gingerbread building is one that requires a bit of planning, a smidge of elbow grease and a handful of mise en place to make sure every works out the way it’s supposed to. Having some kind of blueprint, or stencil, for sizing and shaping required for your particular project is also highly recommended. 

In her piece on the finer points of putting together non-traditional versions of gingerbread houses, Parks breaks these ideas down into four key rules to follow when developing your own ideas and turning them into reality:

1. Make Only What You Need

Parks’ recipe intentionally yields enough for a half sheet’s worth of construction gingerbread, allow you to maintain the 15”x11” rectangle as a frame of reference when sketching out the templates you’ll be using. Once you’ve designed the templates, you’ll want to spend some time “Tetris”-ing out the different arrangements available for your future pieces (and how many batches you’ll need) once you’re ready to start making and cutting your dough for the first time.

2. Make It Easy on Yourself

Once you’ve determined the placement of your pieces on their respective sheet pans, you’ll want to break an important rule of construction, by cutting twice after measuring once. This should be done with the dough spread out on the sheet, using an X-acto or another exceedingly sharp knife to cut around the templates you’ve created and arranged after the first phase.

3. Make the Most of Your Dough

With the dough properly cut — for the first time, as you’ll need to cut again to take into account the natural spread that occurs when baking — you will likely need something to do with all of those delicious doughy scraps. If eating it raw isn’t your thing, it’s strongly suggested that you turn them into a paste with the recipe below so you can use it for accents through your structure, such as fences that can be created with the paste and a piping bag. 

You may also want to save some scraps for any potential construction mishaps that may be encountered.

4. Make It in Advance

After all this work — and almost certainly some surreptitious tastes of the gingerbread — you’re likely raring to go on to the final part of the process and finish construction on your gingerbread building on time and under budget. But, as is often the case, your patience will be rewarded.

By waiting until the next day, you’ll allow yourself and the project some time to breathe, while allowing yourself the opportunity to recharge after was likely a long day of baking and measuring. Remember: New York City wasn’t built in a day, and neither should your 10:1 scale gingerbread recreation of Rockefeller Center.  

Ingredients for Gingerbread

  • 2 ounces brown sugar (1/4 cup; 56g)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much
  • 4 ounces light corn syrup (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon; 115g) (see note)
  • 1 1/2 ounces unsalted butter (3 tablespoons; 45g), very soft (about 72°F)
  • 1/4 ounce vanilla extract (1 1/2 teaspoons; 7g)
  • 6 1/4 ounces all-purpose flour (1 1/3 cups; 175g), plus more for dusting 

Directions

  1. For the Dough: Trim a sheet of parchment paper to fit the interior of a half sheet pan. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F (175°C). Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, corn syrup, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low until smooth, then sprinkle in flour and continue mixing to form a stiff dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Proceed immediately, or wrap in plastic and set aside at room temperature until needed, up to 24 hours. (Larger batches should be divided into 14-ounce portions.) 
  2. Sprinkle prepared parchment with flour, place dough on top, and flatten into a rectangle. Sprinkle with more flour and roll to fit just within edges of parchment, leaving dough about 3/16 inch thick. Using both hands, transfer parchment to a half sheet pan. Cut according to your gingerbread house template, using an X-Acto or paring knife. Leave a narrow border of dough around cutouts to minimize spreading, but trim away larger areas of excess dough to gather and re-roll, or turn into paste (see directions below).
  3. Bake gingerbread until dry to the touch and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Immediately cut along pre-scored lines with a sharp knife or pizza wheel. Cool completely in pan, then transfer cutouts to a safe place. Scraps can be nibbled, or ground in a food processor to use in recipes that call for cookie crumbs. 
  4. For the Paste: Return scraps to mixing bowl and resume mixing on low speed. Begin adding water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until scraps form a stiff but pipeable paste. Thoroughly scrape bowl and beater with a flexible spatula to eliminate lumps, then continue mixing until perfectly smooth. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip. Pipe designs, such as fences and railing, onto a parchment-lined half sheet pan and bake until pale gold, about 12 minutes. Cool completely before handling. If you like, assemble with Sturdy Royal Icing.

Ingredients for Icing

  • 1 ounce egg white (2 tablespoons; 28g) from 1 large egg
  • 12 ounces powdered sugar (3 cups; 340g), divided

Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine egg white with half the powdered sugar. Mix at low speed until sugar disappears into a paste, then gradually sprinkle in the rest. Increase speed to medium and beat until smooth and light, about 2 minutes. If too stiff, thin icing with a few drops of water. Use immediately; keep covered tightly in plastic to prevent icing from drying in bowl. Royal icing can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature up to 12 hours.
  2. For Coloring: To dye royal icing with gel paste (see note), divide into as many bowls as you wish to have colors. Cover each tightly with plastic. Working with 1 bowl at a time, add 1 drop gel paste to a batch of icing, then stir until fully incorporated before adjusting color with more gel. Cover bowls tightly when not in use.