I Made The New York Times’ Gingerbread House. This Is What I Learned.
When the New York Times pushed former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses’ gingerbread house recipe to my phone I jumped on that faster than a I jump on a flash sale at CB2. Does the internet know me, or does the internet know me? Here is what I learned.
You don’t need to halve the recipe and make two batches of dough, but they’re not lying when they say it’ll be helpful.
Obviously, I plowed straight ahead and made the entire batch — by hand — and wow was that a lot of dough. It’s do-able, but you’ll need a few things to make it happen. Ditch the Kitchen Aid. And I am so sorry to everyone who works at Kitchen Aid — I LOVE YOUR PRODUCTS. But this is just too much dough for ANY SIZE at-home mixer. Make sure you have an 8-quart (or larger) mixing bowl, a really sturdy spatula (or wooden spoon) and — borrowing a trick from my gingerbread cookie recipe — melt the butter. It’s the only way you’ll be able to stir this massive amount of dough.
The gingerbread smells so good.
It doesn’t taste bad by any means, and I have certainly eaten PLENTY of it, but this is a gingerbread that is built to smell like heaven because — let’s face it — you’re going to spend most of your time smelling the gingerbread as you decorate the house / build the house / walk by the house on your way out the door. The Times says that you can skip the orange and lemon peel in the recipe, but these are the things that make the gingerbread smell so very good, so I wouldn’t skip them. When you do start eating it there is a sort of old-world flavor that comes through. Like snacks as Colonial Williamsburg. Those of you who know, know.
The template is, well, it’s um… wrong.
I’m not sure who built the template the Times is giving out, but it doesn’t match the photographs of the people building gingerbread houses on their website (and yes, I made sure everything printed to scale). These are super easy fixes though: reduce the width of each roof piece by about an inch and a half, and reduce the length of the sides of the house by an inch and you should be good to go.
The assembly videos are um, misleading.
Again, I’m not sure how they squared this one, but the assembly videos will lead you down a questionable path: it seems to me that the sides of the house are meant to go “inside” the front and back, not sit on the outside of those pieces. If you place them on the outside like all the photographs show the roof won’t make full contact with the A-frame of the house (the side walls will force it “up” and away from the eves) and you’ll have to make up for that difference by jamming tons of royal icing into the gaps. I’m not saying you can’t make this work — I did — I’m just saying that it’s a pain to essentially blow insulation into the walls of your gingerbread house.
Memorize a recipe for royal icing, and while you’re at it buy some meringue powder (unless you want a lot of egg yolks laying around).
You’re going to be making a lot of royal icing over the course of several days, so just go ahead and memorize a recipe. I have a recipe for Less Sweet Royal Icing here that I highly recommend (you’ll wind up eating so much as you decorate that the less-sweet icing will become a Godsend). Also, save yourself the hassle of having to use endless left-over egg yolks for something else and just buy some meringue powder. It’s super easy to work with, it’s not terribly expensive, and it’ll keep until next year when you go to do this project again (because you obviously will be doing this again!).
Your roof might need some support.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. My roof started to sag in the middle when I first put it up. Architect, I am not. So I took a wooden bar-b-que skewer, cut it to length and jammed it up into the roof. Instant support beam.
Finally, this is a project. A super enjoyable, Christmas-nerd project. 🤓
Don’t expect your White House Pastry Chef via The New York Times Gingerbread House to come together in an hour. This is a project. A PROJ-ECT. But it’s a really fun one! Being completely honest the whole thing took me about two weeks to complete, but (!) I wasn’t spending every waking minute of every day doing it. I built my house the way people use to build model ships and airplanes: A little bit of work one day, a little more the next. There is no pressure to get this thing done, and the actual doing of it sort of takes on a meditative quality. This is at-home-Christmas-baking at its very best.
The recipe for Bill Yosses’ Gingerbread House can be found on the New York Times Cooking website by following this link.
I looked at gingerbread houses online for like an hour and this was definitely one of the most aesthetically pleasing I found. I tried it myself following the NY Times recipe and your decoration guide and it came out great! I really got into it so it “only” took me about 5 days to complete. I even made the sugar glass which came out better than I thought I’d be able to accomplish.
For others…I used the Target brand of shredded wheat. One box was just enough to cover the roof and have a bowl left to eat.
Also I made the icing ribbons and wreaths at the same time, then wasn’t able to affix the ribbons after they were dry. I ended up using gift ribbon. Next time I’ll let the icing ribbons dry then stick them on to the wreath after pipping.
I cut out a piece of cardboard to put inside as extra roof support just in case.
I accidentally added almond extract to one batch of royal icing. It was definitely a happy accident though because it ended up smelling even more beautifully than the vanilla.