Downstairs, Central Market hustles and bustles, as shopping carts collide with one another in a bumper-to-bumper race to the checkout line. Upstairs, however, it's a completely different story. In an almost hidden alcove, the store's gingerbread house-decorating class is being held. The class, which began November 27, will be held at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sundays through December 18.
David Kaiser, head of Central Market's Cooking School, has overseen the class for the last 10 years, which is how long it has been in existence. "It's mostly social," he says. "People do this year after year." The class is more like an outing at the Children's Museum than an epicurean cooking experience, but that doesn't mean these tiny tots are any less dedicated to their craft. Under the guidance of mommies, daddies, grannies and even some teachers, these kids work like little Picassos on their edible homes, securing Sweet Tart shingles to roofs and peppermint candy cobblestones to walkways.
The class costs $60, but if you're not willing to shell out that much, or if you want to make your own at home, don't worry. With the right ingredients, some extra time and a bit of whimsy, you can make and decorate your very own gingerbread house.
To make the dough:
6 cups all-purpose flour ½ teaspoon baking powder 4 teaspoons ground ginger 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon ground cloves ½ teaspoon salt 12 tbsp butter, softened 1 ½ cups light brown sugar, packed 2 large eggs 1 cup dark molasses 1 tbsp water
Mix the dry ingredients and set them aside.
Beat the butter and brown sugar together with an electric mixer until well blended. Follow with the eggs, molasses and water. Beat half of the dry flour mixture into the molasses mixture, combining well. Then, stir in the rest of the flour mixture until smooth, making sure the dough is not too soft. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
To bake and make the house:
Fortunately for the kids at Central Market, the gingerbread houses were already pre-made, but you will have to cut and assemble your own pieces from scratch. Don't worry; it's not hard. Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. On parchment paper lined with flour, divide your cooled dough into two pieces. With a rolling pin, roll each piece to a ¼-inch thickness. To make sure the dough doesn't stick to the parchment or the pin, lightly dust it with flour.
Place cut-out house pattern pieces over the dusted dough, and trim away the excess with a knife. You may cut into the parchment paper, keeping the pieces attached. After that is done, take your now patterned gingerbread pieces and set them on cookie sheets. You will probably need more than one, depending on the size of the pieces of your house.
Bake on the cookie sheet(s) in the center of the oven until the edges just begin to darken. For the bigger pieces of the house, this may be 11-15 minutes, and for the smaller pieces, 6-8 minutes. Let the pieces cool once out of the oven for about 15 minutes.
This next step is the reason why constructing a gingerbread house calls for family and friends. Using icing (and a lot of hands), start to glue the pieces together. Pipe the icing onto the walls of the gingerbread building first, and push and hold them for a few minutes until glued. Attach the roof pieces last. (Make sure you have a flat surface, like that cookie sheet that just came out of the oven, as a solid foundation to set your house. Also, if any of the gingerbread pieces break, you can easily "splint" the pieces back together with a healthy gob of icing.)
Now comes the fun part. During class the kids at Central Market are literally in their very own candy store, with jelly beans, Tootsie Rolls, licorice, candy corn, Twizzlers, chocolate coins and more at their disposal.
As for you, grab your favorite candy and some icing, and go crazy. This is the part of making your gingerbread house that relies on whimsy. "It's all your imagination," says Kaiser.
Voila! You may now choose to eat the gingerbread house or sit back and admire your hard work.