Ah! The holidays. What makes them more memorable than sitting around the kitchen with a gingerbread house kit, a small child, frosting, candies and ... well ... a mess.
Most of the time, building a gingerbread house means a pile of frosting stuck to lopsided gingerbread walls and candies oozing down the sides all because the frosting that comes with the house kit does not work.
“I’ve struggled with making (gingerbread) houses for years,” said Holly Crump who hosted a gingerbread house decorating class at Dimi Espresso Cafe on Friday, Nov. 15.
Crump hoped to help inspire Rim Country residents to make a house and enter it into the Swiss Village Gingerbread Decorating Contest to be judged on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
A group of rapt children and their parents came to learn the secrets of frosting and decorating a gingerbread house from Monica Vaughn of the Sweet Shoppe.
“Buttercream frosting does not set up like you need it to,” she said, “instead, use Royal icing.”
Royal icing hardens like a shell onto baked goods such as sugar cookies. It can be thinned to spread like a sheet or piped to make lines, writing, outlines, contours, or hold a gingerbread house together like cement.
Vaughn suggested using a gel food coloring to color the icing.
“But don’t use this on a cake,” said Vaughn.
She said it would turn into a hard casing over the soft cake making a mess when cutting into the dessert.
Bakers make traditional Royal icing from egg whites, powdered sugar and water, but Vaughn suggested using meringue powder to make it easier to put together.
Vaughn said Wilton makes a meringue powder that local grocery stores sell or if in the Valley, she suggested going to ABC Cake Decorating Supplies on Indian School Road in Phoenix.
“It’s my favorite place to get supplies,” she said.
Vaughn also suggested putting a gingerbread house together and letting it dry before bringing in the little ones to work on the project.
“They get impatient and want to start working on it right away,” she said.
Vaughn said after whipping up the Royal icing, it has to be handled carefully for exposing it to the air will immediately dry it out and make it impossible to work with.
“Once you whip up a batch, put a sheet of plastic wrap over the top of the icing in a bowl and push it onto top to keep any air from reaching the icing,” Vaughn told the future decorators.
She had a tip for keeping icing bags and tips neat and clean — roll up a wad of frosting into a sheet of plastic wrap, like a hard candy with the ends twisted shut.
Then drop the rolled up frosting into the icing bag and pull one of the rolled up ends through the frosting tip.
“Then cut off plastic to let the frosting come through,” she said demonstrating.
Vaughn said it is critical to keep the tip damp when not in use or it would be impossible for the frosting to get through.
“I use a damp paper towel and leave my tip wrapped up when not in use,” said Vaughn.
Then it was time for the audience to practice.
Crump had the culinary arts students from Payson High School make batches of gingerbread men.
The kids ate more of the candy gumdrops than went on to the cookies, but isn’t that what it’s all about?