Want more advice on how to put together the Gingerbread Chalet featured in the November/December 2010 issue of Vegetarian Times? Here, tips from Nicole Rees, the chalet’s designer.
Gingerbread is a wonderful construction medium that allows infinite creativity. Sure, you can build a cathedral if you like, but if you’re new to the craft, keep it as simple as possible the first time. I’ve chosen a Swiss chalet not only because it’s seasonally appropriate, but because chalets are known for having overhanging eaves with lots of snow clinging to them, thus camouflaging any inadvertent overuse of Royal Icing to glue sections together. (It’s not that you’re not neat, it’s supposed to look snowy.)
You’ll have more fun if you don’t expect the project to be completed in a specific time period, and this is a great project to do in stages, even stretched out over a few days.
Think ahead and decide what you want to use as the foundation of your house. You can make a platform by covering foam core or a large wooden cutting board in foil. While you can use the icing as glue to stick the bottom of the house to a cake plate, I generally avoid the obvious danger of slick surfaces. For this small chalet, a 12-inch square board is plenty of room for both the chalet and some decorative tableau.
The whole project relies on the icing drying out in order to hold the house together, so don’t attempt to assemble a gingerbread house on a humid day.
Roll the dough as thinly as possible, preferably 3/16-inch thick. Because there are no eggs in the Royal Icing (egg proteins give icing more strength and dry firmer, allowing it to hold more weight) it’s essential to keep the structure as light as possible.
Extra dough can be used to roll out trees, figures, reindeer, and other objects to make a more elaborate tableau.
Keep the dough cold as you roll it out. It’s best to work with cold dough that just barely yields to the touch. Return it to the refrigerator if it begins to warm up.
Roll the dough between sheets of parchment paper, repeatedly peel the paper away from the dough to make sure creases aren’t forming in the dough—crease-free dough is a stronger construction material.
Return the cut pieces to the refrigerator before baking: cold dough will keep its shape better in the oven.
If you notice any bowing or misshapen sides when the gingerbread pieces come out of the oven, trim them with a sharp, serrated knife once the cookies are set but not completely cool—about 15 minutes after coming out of the oven.
You can cut out doors and windows before baking the dough, or you can draw them on the house with Royal Icing when you’re decorating.
If you are ambitious, you can cut very small rectangles to create a balcony for your chalet. You’ll need a can or box to support the balcony until the Royal Icing is completely dry. Usually balconies that are less than an inch deep hold up fine.
Gingerbread Chalet Pattern
Having trouble sizing up your Gingerbread Chalet? Here's a simple line drawing to help you out:
Click here to download a printer-friendly version of the Gingerbread Chalet pattern!