I always wanted to make a gingerbread house, but never did. With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase the “talents” of my kids and I by making a gingerbread Mayflower. Fits the season, right? Keep in mind that two little 5 year olds had a big hand in this creation.
My daughter had brought home a book from her school library that had a cutaway picture of the Mayflower. I used wax paper to trace the image two times and cut them out. They would be my main templates. I made a few big rectangles to be used as the short sides and bottom of the boat. I also cut out long triangles for the teepees (I figured on 3 triangles per teepee).
We visited the local candy store for supplies. This place had everything we needed. We picked up orange, gold, and maroon M&M candies, orange candy corn, reindeer candy corn (red/green), licorice strips, chocolate kisses (not Hershey’s), gummy bears, giant candy buttons, candy cigarettes, and a Hershey’s bar. I knew I wanted the giant candy buttons because they are on paper and I needed something for the ship’s sails.
The gingerbread dough recipe I got from a book Gingerbread For All Seasons by Teresa Layman. I thought the recipe worked great. The dough rolled out easily and did not stick to my surface. I do have to say that when baked, it is very hard on the teeth, but it does have a decent flavor.
The royal icing is from the same book. I think the key thing is to make sure that the egg whites are at room temperature. I made the icing recipe twice and the second time the whites were too cold, so the icing did not get thick like marshmallow fluff. It did work just fine though.
I cut the gingerbread rectangles to fit into the short sides of the boat by using a serrated knife and very careful cutting. Once I got down 1/2 way, I was able to gently snap the pieces apart.
The base is a large cardboard cake platform covered in aluminum foil. I put the ship together on it using the two gingerbread sides, some cut rectangle pieces and royal icing in an icing bag with a very small tip. My kids held the sides together until they were pretty stuck, and then I used drinking glasses to hold them together while we decorated.
We decorated the sides of the ship with M&Ms. I started by squeezing a little of the royal icing onto each candy and handing it to each child. I realized that this method was going to take us forever. So I grabbed a spatula and smeared it onto the sides. Then the kids placed the candies on top of the icing. I think other people decorate the sides before putting the structure together. That would have worked here too.
We added the gingerbread platforms on top of the ship by cutting pieces to fit and icing them on. Then we added candy decorations to each surface. And I broke apart the Hershey’s bar into individual pieces to make a boardwalk in front of the ship.
The base was decorated with blue and green royal icing. I used some gel coloring to make each color. Once I put a little down on the surface, I had the kids use their fingers to spread it, like finger paint.
The teepee structures were next. They were made with three triangle pieces iced together and then placed on top of a big glob of icing on the green “grass”.
The Thanksgiving table was added with mini marshmallow legs. The reindeer red and green candy corn created a forest of bushes amongst the teepee. And finally, the gummy bears are depicting the Pilgrims and Indians at the Thanksgiving table and on the Mayflower. We did all this on one Saturday.
The final piece was the mast. My engineer husband suggested drilling into one of the candy platforms to make a hole for a wooden dowel that would become the mast. He was also going to drill into the gingerbread base inside the ship so the mast would have something to rest into. I was a little hesitant, not sure if the ship would survive the drill, but to his credit, my husband made it happen and there were no casualties! Pretty awesome.
Creating the sails was a bit of an engineering feat, that I did all by myself. (Can you tell I am proud of it??!). Using the royal icing, I attached each of the four candy button sails to a long length of candy cigarette. Then I placed them next to the dowel in the desired position. I placed a lot of royal icing on the dowel right beside the candy cigarettes and reaching down about 1/2″. Then I cut a strip of paper the length of both sails and the dowel. I trimmed it to 1/2″ high, and coated it with royal icing. Finally, I layed the coated paper across the sail, dowel, and sail, and pressed it on. I repeated this for the other sail, making sure to leave space between the two groupings.
I am really proud of what we did and the kids are delighted. It is not a perfect specimen of gingerbread house-dom, but it is our creative addition to the Thanksgiving holiday we will be celebrating on Thursday. And incidentally, that is the day we will be digging into the candy. Can’t wait!
Gingerbread Dough Recipe
from Gingerbread for all Seasons by Teresa Layman
6 ¾ cups flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ginger
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups light corn syrup
1 ¼ cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup margarine (I used butter)
Cut nonstick baking parchment to fit your baking sheet. Stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine light corn syrup, light brown sugar, and margarine in a 2 quart saucepan. (If you spray the measuring cup with non-stick spray before you add the corn syrup, it will make pouring much easier). Stir constantly over medium heat until margarine is melted. Pour the syrup mixture into the flour mixture. Stir well, using your hands to mix as the dough becomes stiff. If you are using a heavy-duty Kitchen Aid mixer, the mixer can handle this dough; lightweight mixers cannot. Chill the dough 1 hour or until it is about room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the dough on nonstick baking parchment to thickness of 1/8”. Using the patterns of your choice, cut out the necessary pieces. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Smaller pieces should be baked separately from larger ones, as baking times will vary depending on size. Check for air bubbles during baking and poke them with a knife or skewer. When baking is done, slide the parchment with the hot gingerbread onto cooling rack. Make sure all the pieces lie flat.
Royal Icing Recipe
1 lb confectioner’s sugar
3 egg whites at room temperature (use large size, not jumbo size eggs)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
Sift the confectioner’s sugar. Place the egg whites in a mixer bowl. Add sugar and cream of tartar to egg whites while stirring. When the sugar is incorporated, turn mixer to high and beat mixture until thick and very white. The icing should hold a stiff peak. The process takes about 5 to 7 minutes, longer if using a hand-held mixer. Cover the icing tightly with plastic wrap, as it dries very quickly. Use paste food colors to tint the icing. A tiny dot on a toothpick to a quarter cup of icing will make a nice pastel color – but be sure to add it a little at a time.