Lakewood Ranch chef shares tips for making a gingerbread house.
While pastry chef Julie Deffense's gingerbread houses are more elaborate these days, the concept isn't much different than what she remembers as a child growing up in Boston.
One of her neighbors prepared the houses, then piled heaps of candy in bowls at the center of the table and invited all the neighborhood children over for a gingerbread house decorating party.
“She made royal icing for glue. It was just a fun afternoon,” said Deffense, who didn't remember the neighbor's name. “There aren’t any rules and there aren’t any instructions.”
As she got older, Deffense and her friends and siblings would gather to create and decorate a gingerbread house each Christmas.
“One year, we made a replica of my parents' home,” Deffense said. “There were six of us working on it. We spent three or four days on it.”
Now, Deffense carries on the tradition, making gingerbread houses with her nieces and nephews. She also will be leading gingerbread house making classes at the the University of South Florida Culinary Innovation Lab, where she’s an instructor, Dec. 5 and Dec. 10. Those who sign up will decorating their ginger bread houses under Deffense’s guidance.
If you want to make a gingerbread house at home, here are Deffense’s tips.
Tip 1: Test a pattern
You need to draw it out on paper first and make sure all the pieces fit together correctly. Otherwise, when you go to assemble it, there may be problems.
Tip 2: Plan ahead
If you are having friends or family over to decorate the houses, remember making them is a process. Preparing batter, cooking and cooling the gingerbread takes several hours. Then, assembling the pieces takes several additional hours, as well. The royal icing used to hold the house together must dry completely before you decorate.
It also is important to put the walls up first and let them dry before adding the roof. Deffense said she uses candy bars or other items to prop up the roof as it dries. This will help prevent the roof from sliding down. “It needs to be exactly the right height,” she said. She makes the houses the day before if guests are coming to decorate only.
Tip 3: Set up with users in mind
When it comes time to decorate, set up your assembly table with guests in mind. Make sure everyone who will be participating in the decorating will be able to reach candy and other ingredients easily and will be able to work.
Tip 4: Get creative
Deffense said to have fun with your candy selection. “Everything you can think of that has patterns and colors is great,” she said. You also can use ice cream cones flipped upside down to make trees, or Golden Grahams cereal for roof shingles. She likes to buy snowman Peeps to decorate the gingerbread house yard. “Everything you can think of that has patterns and colors is great,” she said.
Tip 5: Buy extra candy
Deffense heaps her candy options in bowls at the center of the table, and she always buys more than she needs. That’s because eating the candy is part of the fun of decorating.