Thursday, December 15, 2005

Here's a good one. Part II

The Royal Icing

I got this recipe, and the gingerbread recipe to a great extent, from the book Gingerbread Houses: A complete guide to baking building and decorating by Christa Currie. It helps if you have a big mixer, like a KitchenAid, but I'm sure a hand-mixer would work equally well if you have strong arms, a good helper, or if you don't. She calls it egg white icing, but I find it more delightful (and who doesn't like delightful at Christmastime?) to call it Royal Icing.

  • Empty 4 c. (a 1 lb. box) powdered sugar into a large mixing bowl.
  • Add 2 lg. egg whites, 1/2 t. cream of tartar, and 3 to 4 t. warm water.
  • Blend the ingredients on low speed, then beat on high for 8-10 minutes, or until the mixture holds a stiff peak.
  • You can add 1/4 t. of warm water at a time if the mixture has gotten too stiff. It should be stiff, but you should be able to easily push it through a decorating tip.
  • How many times should I say stiff?
Tips from the Queen:
  • Get your decorating tips and bags at a restaurant supply store. (That's too pretentious. If you're thrifty, get them at Walmart. Find it all in the craft department. They also carry the gel type of food coloring which works really well with this icing as it doesn't make it runny. It keeps it stiff, hehe.)
  • I usually keep all my icing white because it just looks so pretty. The candy makes it colorful.
  • You can keep the icing in the fridge, right in the decorating bag, and it will stay stiff. The tip might dry out, but water washes out the tips nicely.
So to put your house together:
  • Build the house on a piece of cardboard covered with foil. Please don't use that silly non-stick foil, as your houses will slip right off. Trust me on this one, I know.
  • Use the icing as glue.
  • Use cans, if necessary, to hold the walls up while the icing dries.
  • The icing will dry hard as a rock. It's like cement. In my experience, I haven't had any trouble building the house. I suppose if you build a gigantic house, you might need some flying buttresses or internal supports, but I've always built a relatively small house. It doesn't matter if the icing you use for construction looks messy because you can just cover it up with candy later. I usually use one of the star tips during construction so I can make all the seams pretty. Really, it's not an exact science. Use as much icing as you need to keep the walls up and the roof on. Just go for it. You can always make more icing.
  • Your hand on the bag will make the icing warm and a litte runny. Just pop it back in the fridge for a bit to stiffen it up.
  • After you've built the house, let the icing dry before adding decorations. The candy adds a lot of poundage, so you want to make sure your house is nice and sturdy before adding all that extra weight.
  • I hope I'm not forgetting anything.
The Sky is the Limit:
  • Really, anything edible works for decorating. As long as it won't spoil.
  • My rule of thumb is the more candy the better. I've found it more pleasing to the eye, and more fun for kids, albeit gaudy, if every single surface of the whole darned thing is covered with something.
  • But it's all up to you! Go crazy! Remain subdued! Have a theme! Knock yourself out!
  • Trouble is that it can be expensive to buy tons of various candies. Walk around the grocery store and use your imagination. Lots of different things work. I have been known to use any or all of the following: pretzels, M&M's, jelly candies, cereal (frosted shredded wheat for the roof), tootsie rolls, hard candy of various colors...lots more.
If you attempt this, you must send me pictures. And I release myself from any liability. Direct all complaints stemming from Gingerbread House disasters to the Gingerbread House Hotline: 1-800-It's-Not-Mandy's-Fault.


Sarah said...

You know (oh, I am a disgrace), they make these gingerbread house kits that are really fun for um...little kids who can't...uh, or don't feel like making gingerbread

Also, happy birthday Holly?

H-SPO said...

yes, thank you very much, sarah.

manda, hey remember that time you made a house and had it at mom and dad's and nobody ate one ounce of it. and then around superbowl weekend uncle dave and i ate it ALL?

that was fun.

Mandy said...

i totally remember. and it was so fun that i suggest everyone eat them rather than throw them in the garbage can.