Traditions are sculpted by the memories of the people. For some traditions is particularly easy to cross time and geographical borders, because of the taste. The well known gingerbread houses today are the young ancestors of the lebkuchen houses, born in Germany two hundred years ago, when Brothers Grimm wrote "Hansel and Gretel". German bakers were inspired by the descriptive story and freed their imagination into baking differently shaped and coloured small and big delicious houses.
Decorated with candies, small cookies, chocolate pieces and lots of icing, the houses are extremely appealing not only because of their whimsical appearance, but because of the heavenly aroma of the spices as well.
Make this in advance and you will have Christmas feeling all season long.
I chose to bake lebkuchen houses because of the variety of spices used in the recipe. My houses are gently decorated with white royal icing and I did not use any candies. I like this way of decorating - it is very gentle and feels natural - similar to the winter drawings, that, I must confess, I miss this season.
for the houses:
one recipe lebkuchen dough
You will need templates.
for the templates:
1. On a sheet of paper, draw the shape of your house - with symmetric or asymmetric roof - it really does not matter - whatever feels enchanted to you.
2. Draw the side walls of the house - 2 rectangles. Once you decide how your house will look like, make the side walls - they will be equal rectangles and will determine the height of the house.
3. Draw the front and back wall of a house with symmetrical roof - 2 pentagons. Decide how steep the roof will be and draw a symmetrical pentagon. The roof is very much influenced by the fifth acute angle of the pentagon. The smaller the angle, the steeper the roof.
4. Draw the front and back wall of a house with asymmetrical roof - 2 pentagons. Again it depends on the fifth angle of the pentagon, but this time, the two arms of the angle have different length.
5. Draw the roof of a symmetrical house - 2 equal rectangles with length that matches the length of the rectangle drawn for the side walls and the same with as the arms of the acute angle of the pentagons used for front and back wall.
6. Draw the roof of an asymmetrical house - 2 different rectangles: both with length that matches the length of the rectangle drawn for the side walls and the same with as the arms of the acute angle of the pentagons used for front and back wall (one of the rectangles will be smaller than the other one).
7. Now you have all the elements of the house drawn on paper. Before cutting the shapes, the roof needs some corrections: the roof extends a bit on front and back of the house, and also over the sides. That is why the rectangles for the roof must be at least 1 cm bigger at each side (if the drawn length is 8 cm, correct it to 9 or more. It all depends of your vision).
9. Cut all the elements, transfer them onto a heavy carton and cut again. These are the carton templates, used for the dough.
prepare the house elements:
1. Roll out the dough about 5-7 mm thick.
2. Place the templates and cut them out with a paring knife.
3. Arrange onto a lined with parchment paper pan.
4. Cut the windows and doors, where desired.
5. Bake at 180 C.
6. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
7. Elements are deformed while baking. The sides of the walls could be straightened with a knife, but make sure you do not change much of the sizing.
I preferred to keep the deformed shapes where possible because I like the crooked and unstable look of the baked hoses, but for a perfection seekers: place the templates over the baked elements and cut the excessive dough. This will produce rough edges of all the sides, but will make gluing easier and the look of the house perfect.
decorating the house:
You will need Royal Icing.
for the Royal Icing:
20 g meringue powder*
50 ml cold water*
(*40 g egg whites, or egg white from one extra large fresh egg)
230 g confectioners’ sugar
few drops of lemon extract or juice
- meringue powder and water can be substitute for fresh egg white. I would recommend, if egg whites are used, to be pasteurized. Once the egg white icing is prepared, decorate the cookies the same day and let them dry. Discard all of the royal icing that is left. Meringue powder royal icing could be stored at room temperature for up to 10 days. Whip before using it again.
prepare the Royal Icing:
1. Add the meringue powder to the water in a mixing bowl. Beat to soft peaks for about 3 min.
2. Slowly add the sugar until it is incorporated.
3. Add the lemon extract and beat for about 5 min until the icing forms stif peaks.
4. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.
1. Decorate each element as desired. Leave to dry overnight.
2. With Royal Icing, glue the sides of the house together. Leave to dry for 2 hours.
3. Glue the sides of the roof one by one. Hold them together until slightly dry then leave to dry overnight.
4. Pipe Royal Icing over all seems. Pipe decorative icicles.
5. Display the houses around the Christmas tree, or anywhere as a decoration.
Note: You can brighten your houses with a candle inside. I do not recommend doing so for longer than to take a festive family picture, because the house could be burned from the inside.
Check the cookie-candle holders I made for Moms and Munchkins. Maybe they will make your holidays brighter in a safer way.