Can we build an egg-free gingerbread house? Yes, we can
Foolishly, because when I last made a gingerbread house 30 years ago I swore never again. That dwelling ultimately involved using tweezers to meticulously place silver dragees. The up side: It lasted several years even though I'd made it with buttercream instead of the usual royal icing.
That's why I knew I could pull off an egg-free project. With buttercream as the cement, converting the dough recipe would be a snap.
Rather than hear the guys debate artistic differences all day, I made two smaller houses from a template on the C&H Sugar site. I wished I'd reduced the template at least 10 percent when I printed it - my Epson Stylus will let me reduce by a percentage by clicking on advanced properties. At full size, the original template created houses way too big for kids who were sick of gingerbread the day after we'd finished the project.
I doubled the dough recipe to make the two houses and still had enough to make two dozen gingerbread men, plus a lot of dough that I threw away because I was tired of rolling. More on that later. You absolutely need a heavy-duty stand mixer to do this. Have I mentioned lately how much I love my KitchenAid Pro?
I used a double recipe of the Wilton buttercream stiff consistency recipe as my plaster. There were a couple of cups left over after construction, and you could easily thin it with corn syrup to get it to the right consistency to pipe on decorations. Not that we piped decorations so much as we squiggled thick lines to hold up the candy.
There's a great how-to on the King Arthur Flour Web site that will guide you through building your house. The construction technique is exactly the same for buttercream as it is for royal icing. I also used the King Arthur recipe as the base for my egg-free version.
I definitely want to do this again in the next 30 years. The guys were happy this time around with arranging Skittle Christmas lights and piling Twizzlers into a patio. I, meanwhile, am dreaming of dragees and tweezers.
Egg-free gingerbread house gingerbread
- 3/4 c plus 2 tbl. buttermilk
- 6 tbl. butter
- 1 c. brown sugar
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1 tbl. Bob's Red Mill Egg Replacer beaten in 2 tbl. hot water - this is less egg replacer than I've been using of late, but I didn't want a soft, puffy cookie in this case.
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. ginger
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
In a large saucepan, heat the butter in the buttermilk until it is just melted and remove from the heat. Add the brown sugar, molasses and egg replacer. Whisk the spices, salt and baking soda into one cup of flour. Add this to the wet mixture and mix until incorporated. Add flour one cup at a time until you have a smooth, stiff dough. It should be stiff enough to be flexible, but not crumbly or sticky. Divide the dough in half, wrap it in plastic and flatten it out before chilling in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
Roll the dough a quarter-inch thick and use a template to cut parts for the house. Bake the cookies on a greased sheet in a preheated 350°F oven for 15–18 minutes; they're done when the edges have started to brown but the cookies still are slightly soft. Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Stupid mistakes I made:
I added too much extra flour. I think most people will wind up needing a bit more than the recipe calls for, but I overdid it by adding another cup. My poor KitchenAid was crying at the end, and I thought nothing could make a KitchenAid cry. An extra half cup is probably closer to right.
When it says the flatten the dough before chilling, get it as close to a quarter-inch thick as humanly possible. You'll thank yourself later. I took "flatten" to mean "spread in a plastic bag in a somewhat level pile." It took me forever to roll the inch-thick dough, and my shoulders were crying at the end.
If you use cardboard as a foundation for your house, don't forget to cover it with grease-free paper. I didn't, mainly because I didn't think the houses would live long enough to become decorations, and I now have unsightly grease ooze from the buttercream icing.
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Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.