You might like the smell of warm gingerbread wafting through your kitchen, but finding time to bake in the holiday hustle and bustle can be difficult. So, when the kids want to make gingerbread houses, time-saving graham crackers are a great alternative. Choose the style of house and type of frosting based on your children’s ages and the time you have available for supervision. Begin construction after Thanksgiving so you can enjoy the kids’ handiwork throughout the holiday season.
Milk Carton Frame
One of the easiest ways for young children to build a gingerbread house is to use a pint-size milk carton - the size served in school cafeterias -- as a frame. Rinse out the carton. Glue it onto a sturdy paper plate or a piece of cardboard, and let the glue dry overnight. With frosting, secure half a graham cracker on each of the four sides of the house. Two more halves make up the roof, with a quarter of a graham cracker covering the space under the roof at the front and back of the house. Help the little ones secure the candies with frosting, and let them shake cake sprinkles, coconut flakes and red and green sugar onto their gingerbread house. Supervise small children carefully, as candies can pose a choking hazard.
Older kids can get creative by expanding beyond the typical square gingerbread house. It takes only a few more graham crackers to make a ranch house or an A-frame. With a little inventiveness, they can add windows and doors, garden paths and fences. Let them go beyond gumdrops in decorating by giving them plenty of candy options: red licorice, butterscotch disks, caramels and lemon drops to name a few. Have enough on hand to make up for the candies that mysteriously disappear.
Royal icing, made from powdered sugar and egg whites, is easy to make. It also dries hard and smooth. If you are concerned about using raw egg whites in something the kids may eat, microwave the mixture for 30 to 40 seconds to a temperature between 160 degrees and 175 degrees. You can also substitute egg whites from a carton, dried egg whites or meringue powder, all of which are pasteurized. You will need to reconstitute the two dry ingredients with water. Royal icing is ideal for building a sturdy gingerbread house and decorating it. Divide the icing into batches and make a variety of colors by mixing in food coloring. Use a plastic baggie snipped at the corner to pipe the icing onto the house.
Young children may not have the coordination to pipe traditional icing between the graham crackers nor the patience to hold them still long enough to let the icing harden. The solution is a can of spray frosting. The frosting is soft and will hold the graham crackers onto the milk-carton frame without too much effort. A thick line squeezed between the roof’s pieces will hold them up easily. With a variety of tips for the can’s nozzle, little hands can squeeze out decorative dabs of frosting onto the gingerbread house to leave as they are or to serve as an anchor for gumdrops and candy canes.
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