The activity of gingerbread house construction can be a scary thing – especially with small children in your presence. First, you need to bake the gingerbread with careful precision to ensure that every piece is the correct size and width. Second, you need to rely on icing to hold the entire house together while fending off little hands from poking at the delicately placed pieces before they dry. Third, comes what we think is the fun part – the decorating. Or for a control and neat freak like myself, the scariest part of the entire process. Sure, decorating amongst grown adults can spark creativity and be considered an enjoyable activity. For kids, this step is extremely exciting – popping jelly beans in your mouth by the pound while tossing little sticky sprinkles all over the place with hopes that it will land on some of the icing that you’ve gooped all over the gingerbread house, the kitchen table, the chairs or the floor. The family dog is in heaven as drops of icing and pieces of candy fall from the table like a rainstorm until a few hours later when he realizes that this type of sugary food doesn’t sit very well in his stomach and will serve a much better purpose when regurgitated onto a carpeted surface.
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy making gingerbread houses….I really do! It is a family tradition each Christmas season that I look forward to as it gathers our family together, sparks conversation along with a little bit of competitive spirit and creates lasting memories for years to come.
My father has always taken pride in building the perfect gingerbread house – from measuring each side of the house down to the millimetre to breaking out the protractor to achieve the perfect angle between the roof and the walls of the house. To this day, I still remember one particular year when we invited another family to build gingerbread houses with us. I remember their faces as my father brought out the ruler and worked relentlessly to build the sturdiest and most flawless gingerbread house ever made. Once this perfect gingerbread house was constructed, my brother and I happily decorated the house with no concern for the walls caving in or the roof smashing to pieces. Meanwhile, the other family struggled to put together their house, the parents swore under the breath as the kids whined about not being able to decorate as quickly as my family. I think this was the last time we ever shared this activity with any other family.
Ever since I have been diagnosed with Celiac disease, I have to be extra cautious when helping to build gingerbread houses. Even a little gingerbread crumb can wreak havoc on my stomach, which is the last thing I want to happen! This past year, my parents have taken on the challenge of eating gluten free along with my brother. As a result, a gluten free gingerbread house is a much more relevant and worthwhile challenge to embark upon this holiday season. I decided to start early, as I think this challenge will require a lot of research, experimentation and overtime in the kitchen to create the perfect recipe that tastes delicious and bakes into a moldable shape that is easy to build, stays strong and is just like the regular, gluten-full version.
Part 1 is to do the research necessary to set myself up for eventual success (fingers crossed!):
Step 1: I sourced a gingerbread house mold that I plan to order within the week.
Step 2: I researched tips on baking gingerbread cookies and found the following ideas helpful, which I will incorporate into my recipe:
- Use shortening or margarine instead of butter as butter causes the cookies to spread, which increases the likelihood of uneven gingerbread pieces for your house
- To make the dough easier to work with, chill dough for at least two hours and when you are rolling out the dough, only take what you need and leave the rest in the fridge
- Don’t overwork the dough (i.e. overmixing or re-rolling) as it will result in a cookie with a tough consistency. Adding some vinegar to your recipe will decrease the likelihood of a tough cookie as the acid tenderizes the dough without impacting the taste
- Roll dough out between parchment paper to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter
- Prepare cookie cutters by oiling or dusting them with a little bit of gluten free flour
- Roll out dough to 1/4″ thick to prevent the cookie from breaking/crumbling
- Use a silicone baking mat to prevent browning cookie bottoms
- Turn baking pan halfway through baking in order to evenly bake the cookies
Step 3: Determine the best gluten free flours to use to yield the best gluten free gingerbread cookie recipe:
- Arrowroot Starch: this option helps to bind bake goods together and lightens the finished product. It is also neutral in taste
- Potato Starch: bland taste, adds moisture to baking, helps baked goods to rise and creates a light texture
- Sorghum Flour: neutral in flavour, the most wheat-like of all gluten free flours, high in protein and fibre. Can create a more dense texture and is good when used in combination with starches that lighten the texture
- Sweet Rice Flour: creates a chewy texture
- Tapioca Starch: similar qualities to potato starch
- Xantham Gum: an ingredient that helps baked goods to bind together, especially in gluten free baking. I typically use 1/2 tsp for every cup of flour in my baking recipes
Now that I have done some research, look out for Part 2 of my adventure in creating the perfect Gluten Free Gingerbread House!