It wouldn’t be Christmas without the cozy aroma of gingerbread. Especially fun is the perennial assembling of the gingerbread house with mom and dad: adding “snow” dripping off the eaves, trying to keep the roof from caving in under all those gumdrop chimneys, imagining Hansel and Gretel inside… Even though they’re all grown up now, the chefs at Four Seasons apparently feel just as sentimental about this favorite holiday tradition.
Jean-Luc Daul, executive pastry chef at Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, creates an elaborate Holiday Village each year of gingerbread, inspired by his hometown back in Alsace, France. The chef also puts on a gingerbread decorating class for kids.
The whimsical village—20 buildings of just gingerbread and chocolate, including a B&B and church, snow-capped mountains, plus a real carousel—adorning the hotel lobby stays up for visitors to marvel at from Nov. 22 to Dec. 25. The display is also a charitable fundraiser. Businesses and individuals can purchase any of the village items and Four Seasons sends the proceeds the Nevada Cancer Institute.
Javier Franco, executive pastry chef at Four Seasons Hotel Austin, and his team also conjur Gingerbread Village magic every year. But for this one, being the Lone Star state’s 175th birthday, they’ve recreated Texas historical icons and architectural landmarks.
Hotel visitors will find miniature gingerbread renditions of the state Capitol and The Alamo, The Long Center for the Performing Arts and Dallas’ revolving Reunion Tower. Kids will love the detail: The Alamo has a roof made out of thousands of black poppy seeds. The NASA Johnson Space Center features a Santa astronaut. The “Red Barn” house includes miniature hay bales made of toasted, shredded phyllo. Pine trees are upside-down sugar cones covered in forest-green royal icing.
Chef Javier and team started construction back in May and unveiled the village on Nov. 22—on display until Jan. 2, 2012. It’s made of all-edible ingredients, including 40-plus pounds of fondant, 175 pounds of gingerbread dough and 350 pounds of royal icing. Similar to Las Vegas’ fundraiser, Austin businesses and individuals can purchase the village buildings, and Four Seasons will donate the proceeds to the Seton Shivers Cancer Center.
Chef Javier is also hosting a gingerbread house decorating workshop for kids on Dec. 18. Let the holiday fun begin!
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup shortening
1 ½ cups honey
½ cup water
10 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons baking soda
Cream the shortening and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add honey and eggs, and beat to blend.
In another mixing bowl, stir together flour, spices and baking soda. Gradually add the flour mixture to the sugar/shortening mixture, alternating with water a bit at a time, beating until all is just blended.
Gather the dough into a flat rectangular block and wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least one hour.
On a lightly floured board, roll out the gingerbread to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Transfer to two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 325°F for approximately 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned around the edges and barely firm when touched. Let cool slightly, then cut the desired shapes to build the house. Once you’ve cut the walls to your specifications, bake again to harden the consistency. Makes one house. Cool completely, then decorate with icing as desired.
1 box powdered sugar, sifted twice
4 egg whites
Food coloring, optional
A few drops of lemon juice
Sift the powdered sugar twice and set aside. Using an electric mixer or beaters, beat egg whites in a clean stainless steel bowl until white and stiff. Add three to four drops of lemon juice and combine. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. The icing should be white, smooth and thick enough to hold a stiff peak.
Split the icing into smaller batches and add food coloring as desired to make different colors. Using a pastry bag, decorate the gingerbread and use the icing as glue to connect pieces of the house. Tip: Cover the bowl with a damp towel and plastic wrap to prevent the icing from hardening. Use the icing immediately—within an hour or two—for the easiest assembly.
Base A sturdy piece of wood, cut about 2 inches larger than your house on each side, offers a good base. Before you build your house on it, consider covering it with white paper (to resemble snow) or a holiday-themed motif to make it more festive.
Dough We recommend a two-bake process: to achieve straight edges or special shapes, bake the dough until it’s lightly browned, but still soft. Take it out of the oven, cut it into the shapes you want with a knife or cookie cutters, then bake the pieces again to fully harden.
Icing To make the icing thicker, add more powdered sugar; likewise, if it’s too thick, simply add more egg whites.
For pros For advanced gingerbread house makers, use store-bought fondant to cover the walls. Before adhering, lay the fondant on a patterned towel or washcloth in order to add texture to the house walls.
Wood tone To give the house a wood tone color, brush cocoa powder on the house’s fondant walls. It gets in all the nooks and crannies, recreating the look of wood grain.
Ingredients Don’t be afraid to think out of the box when it comes to decorating ingredients. For example, use shredded wheat squares to achieve the look of a “thatched roof,” licorice and pretzels make great house corners and window edges; and upside-down sugar cones coated in dark green royal icing can double as pine trees in the front yard.
Happy holiday baking!
Read more about holiday fun for the family in Four Seasons Magazine.
Find recipes in Four Seasons Magazine.
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