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This week, a Small Batch special edition in three parts: Do you like small-scale construction projects, all things miniature, holiday cheer, and farm life? Lucky for you, Molly Yeh of My Name is Yeh is taking us on a tour of her gingerbread farm and giving plenty of helpful instructions along the way so that you can create your own.
Today, Molly shows us how to make the gingerbread stencils and walls that will be the foundation of your cookie community.
Welcome to my farm, where fresh coconut snow is always on the ground and life smells of cinnamon and dark chocolate. As I take you on this tour, please feel free to interact with the buildings: Nibble on the doors, have a bite of the gravel roads, lick the windows -- it’s all edible! (And not in a Violet Beauregarde way, I promise.) This is a three-day tour, so your legs may get a bit tired, but don’t worry: A blue raspberry hot tub awaits you at the end.
First, let’s discuss the walls on this farm. They are built to withstand nearly every natural disaster: harsh Midwest winters, swinging arms of toddlers, even land buyouts that will force you to move your house from one plot (the kitchen table) to another (the coffee table?). In the back of the farm, you’ll see two storage buildings identical in size, but of different shades of brown. This is where we keep our tractors and combines.
The garage on the left was made with dark corn syrup, while the darker building on the right that says Hagen Farm was made with molasses. We now interrupt this tour for a brief, instructional interlude on how to make your own gingerbread house:
Makes 1 large house
cup dark corn syrup, molasses, or a mix of the two (corn syrup for lighter colored walls, molasses for darker walls)
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup margarine or butter
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
In a medium saucepan or microwave-safe bowl, combine corn syrup or molasses, brown sugar, and margarine or butter. Heat this until the margarine or butter is melted and the sugar has completely dissolved, either over medium heat on the stovetop or in the microwave in 1-minute increments, stirring in between each zap.
In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Stir in the sugar mixture until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350° F and get your stencils ready. You can either make them or find them online. The engineers of this farm used a fairly simple way of constructing these buildings using cardboard stencils, made with a ruler and a razor blade:
Start by making a stencil for the front and back of the house (above left):
- Draw a horizontal line (the width of the house) on a piece of cardboard, and then draw a line perpendicular to the midpoint of that line (the length of this line will be the height of the house's peak).
- Draw two more shorter lines perpendicular to that middle line, and then draw diagonal lines connecting those to the center line. Cut this out with a razor.
Next, make a template for the sides of the house (above right): This will be a rectangle that has the same height as the shorter vertical lines of the front and back of the house.
Finally, make the roof, a rectangle that is about 1/2 inch longer than the sides of the house and 1/2 to 1 inch wider than the diagonal lines in the front and back of the house. This will ensure that it hangs over both the ends and sides of the house.
Roll your dough out onto a piece of parchment paper that's fitted with a cookie sheet. Lightly flour the dough and place your stencils on top (leaving 1 inch in between them). Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to trace around them.
Remove excess dough, slide the parchment onto your cookie sheet, and then bake until the edges just start to brown. Begin checking for doneness at 15 minutes. If you'd like a darker brown color, you can leave them in there for up to 45 minutes. You can re-roll your dough scraps a few times. If it starts to feel dry, microwave it for 30 seconds or so.
Now back to our tour! Below you see the farm house where my fiancé and I live. Its walls were built with a custom blend of 1/4 cup corn syrup and 3/4 cup molasses. The deep dark color of the roof was achieved through a highly specialized technique that our builders like to call “forgetting that they were in the oven and baking them for 45 minutes.”
Tomorrow, we'll resume our tour, and I'll show you how to make the mortar that holds these houses together.
Photos by Molly Yeh