We all know construction projects are full of set backs and stress, especially when you are building gingerbread houses! I’m all about shortcuts whenever something ceases to be fun. No more cracked walls or collapsing roofs around here. We make “holiday houses on a base of cream cartons “using egg white icing (a.k.a royal icing) and black eyed peas for stones to bring good luck in the new year. Just add some Shredded Wheat for roofs, pretzels, candy and imagination.
This project is from a kid’s column I wrote for Connecticut Post.
(For easy reading I’ve provided the transcript below.)
Festive “Gingerbread Houses” without the Fuss
CREAM CARTON COTTAGES
I’ll never forget my first gingerbread house. My parents had gone out Christmas shopping and I was under the not-so-watchful eye of my grandmother. I decided to take out a coffee table cookbook on Cuisine of the Austrian Empire and attempt a Black Forest Christmas cottage. For an 11 year -old in the kitchen, I didn’t realize the hazards of “gluing” together the sides and roof with hot, caramelized sugar. I proudly displayed the end result to my parents but spent the holidays with my hands wrapped in bandages. I later learned that the safer way to cement a gingerbread house together was to use royal icing, a concoction of powdered sugar and egg whites. Even with that, gingerbread architecture is still very fragile. It’s easy to break your prefab house just lifting the pieces off of the baking sheet and then there’s transporting it to it’s destination.
The first year I appeared on the “Today” show, my spot showcased “edible architecture”. I made Noah’s Arc, Big Ben and a barn filled with sugar cookie cows. I held my breath as the structures were driven down the FDR drive and carted up through the service elevator to the green room. Miraculously, everything stayed intact. Once on the set, Tom Brokaw walked over to the table to tape a tease. He broke off a piece of the barn and ate it. The floor director shouted “You’re not suppose to really eat those things!” At that moment, a light went off in my head. I’d been doing it the hard way! After that, I started using cardboard structures for reinforcement and covered them with cookies, candies, cereal and pretzels. My favorite version is using black eyed peas as tiny stones over cream cartons and topping them off with thatched roofs of shredded wheat. The black eyed peas are a New Year’s tradition, symbolizing health, wealth and peace for the coming year.
4 half pint, empty cream cartons (washed and dried inside and out).
tape or paper clips
black eyed peas
Andes chocolates, mini pretzels, spearmint leaves and Shredded Wheat biscuits
Royal Icing (recipe follows)
spatula, pastry bag with large writing tip
For each cottage, Tape shut or clip the openings at the top of cartons. Spread icing around the four sides of each carton and press dried peas, as if they were stones, into mortar. Spread icing on sides of roof and attach Shredded Wheat biscuits so that they resemble thatch on a stone cottage. Cut a 1” x 6” strip of aluminum foil and roll into a cylinder. Spread with icing and cover with peas to make little stone chimneys. Fill pastry bag with remaining icing. Pipe icing down the center of the roof. Set chimney in the center and use icing from bag to attach other pieces to the cottage: chocolate mints for doors, halved chocolate mints for windows, spearmint leaves for bushes and mini pretzels under the gables of the roof. Allow icing to dry 24 hours.
1/2 cup egg whites
1, 1lb box of powdered sugar
Beat egg whites and powdered sugar at high speed with electric mixer until stiff peaks form.