Here are pastry chef Deborah Heyd’s instructions for trying this at home. And don’t worry: She knows you’ll want to start with something easier than replicating the Roosevelt Hotel.
1. Make a dough that will be a little stiffer than the typical soft cookie dough. Roll it out thinner and bake it longer. Is it still edible? “At the end of season do you really want to eat it, with the dust and all that in the air? If it’s for kids, they’ll just want to eat the candy anyway,” Heyd said.
2. Make the royal icing from egg whites and powdered sugar. “It’s really easy to make,” Heyd said. “Once it’s dried, it’s virtually unbreakable. It’s like using wood glue on wood.”
You’ll want to have several consistencies of the stuff. “For putting the house together, you want it a little thicker,” she said. Use it like caulking at the edges where the gingerbread walls meet. Using a lot of it makes for a sturdy house.
To decorate by using it in a piping bag, make it a little thinner. “You don’t want to kill your hand.”
Tips: Put the house together when the kids are away. “You want it to dry before anyone touches it,” Heyd said. “Overnight is fine.”
Do the walls first, and then the roof.
Put boxes or cans up against the walls while they dry so they stay straight, and something underneath the roof to make sure it’s held up. “They like to slide off when you least expect it.”
3. The fun part: decorate.
When it comes to candy, there are easy ways and more challenging ways.
“You can use leftover Halloween candy; get some peppermint and you’re good,” Heyd said.
Or for those who prefer a challenge, she recommends gum strips for a lot of different uses because there are so many colors. Also on Heyd’s list: M&Ms, candy canes, ribbon candy — “it’s so colorful, and because it’s ribbon-y, you can use it for steps.” And you can build fireplaces or brick walls with Lego candy. “There’s Lego candy at World Market —It’s four different colors in a box. They’re like SweeTarts in Lego shapes.”
Tip : Candy canes and mints get sticky in the humidity. “So they don’t keep clean lines you might want.”
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons molasses
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cream shortening and the sugar together. Add the egg, vanilla and molasses and mix until well-blended. Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, ground cloves and salt, mixing until well combined. Transfer the dough to an airtight container and chill for 2-3 hours.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly flour a surface and roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thick. Use cookie cutters or stencils to cut out the dough in Gingerbread Men or other shapes. Place cookies 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheets.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies are light brown along the edges. Bake longer if building a house.
2 lbs powdered sugar, sifted
6 egg whites
Mix together in a bowl until combined and smooth. An electric mixer is best for this because it will get thick.
For thinner icing add egg whites drops at a time and allow mixture to smooth out.
Keep bowl covered with a damp rag so the mixture does not dry out.