Aug 29, 2010

Make a Gingerbread House at River Edge Mansion

Gingerbread has been a holiday tradition for years. It was probably introduced into Europe around the 11th century by explorers returning from the Middle East. The tradition of making houses of gingerbread is believed to have started in the early 1800's when Germans began shaping their gingerbread into festive holiday creations. During the nineteenth century the Grimm brothers collected volumes of German fairy tales including one about Hansel and Gretel who, abandoned in the woods, find a fantastical gingerbread house covered in luscious treats. Gingerbread houses soon became a favorite Christmas tradition worldwide.

American recipes usually called for fewer spices than their European counterparts, often using ingredients that were only available regionally. Maple syrup gingerbreads were made in New England and sorghum molasses in the South. The German settlers in Pennsylvania stayed true to their original recipe.

To see beautifully created gingerbread houses head to the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse where their annual gingerbread display fills the second floor gallery with tantalizing aromas. The gallery is transformed into a festive 1800s street scene with over 40 gingerbread creations on display. Professional and amateur bakers are invited to enter their own gingerbread creation.

I stopped in at River Edge Mansion in Pennellville one afternoon and watched five teenage girls who were at staying at the B&B for a sleepover creating their very own gingerbread houses.

Cindy Jones, sister of the owner of the River Edge Mansion, gave the girls a choice of log cabin or Victorian gingerbread house styles. Starting with marzipan frosting and Cindy’s guidance the girls assembled their houses. “A little more marzipan here will make you house sturdier. Let it set a bit.” She advised. Then the creativity began. With a variety of candy and other confections each gingerbread house took on a wondrous look. Creating gingerbread houses is just one of the cooking experiences offered by River Edge Mansion.

Cindy Jones used the following recipes from the “Family Christmas Reader’s Digest Book” that was given to her by her mother over 20 years ago.

3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup sugar
3 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 teaspoons ginger

Melt shortening in a large saucepan and stir in sugar and molasses with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into molasses mixture using your hands to work it in completely. The dough will be soft and crumbly. Use as soon as possible or wrap and refrigerate. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets. Roll the dough on the cookie sheets to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut dough with cookie cutters or into shapes to be used for the gingerbread house. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Do not over bake.

The frosting is used to cement the house together and simulate icicles.
In a large bowl beat the first three ingredients until frothy.
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons water
3 cups sifted confectioner's sugar

Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is of spreading consistency. Add more sugar if necessary. The icing should be firm enough to hold a soft peak. Cover with a damp towel to prevent drying out. The icing may be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Once the house is assembled any assortment of candies can be used to decorate the house.