One of the things I loved most about architecture school was making scale models. And I felt that building my own gingerbread house would be a way to revive my model-making skills and get into the spirit of the gay ole holiday. I had a whole tackle box full of scale model-making tools that were yearning for use again. I used my X-acto knife for the first time since architecture school making this gingerbread house--paring knives just weren't cutting it. It was fun.
For those of you who don't know, the Farnsworth house is a residence--former residence turned architecture tourist attraction--in Plano, Illinois. It was designed by Mies van der Roe some time during the 1940's-50's. And I like it. But that actually wasn't the reason I chose to re-create it using gingerbread cookie. I thought it would be easy and also I have the Lego Architecture series Farnsworth house already built at home so it was easy to use it as a model for my model. I basically made it 1 1/2x the size of the Lego house.
And about that thought I had that there would be some ease to making it... I was semi-wrong. I mean, if you look at the house it's just a glass box--simple enough? Well yes and no. That glass was what gave me some trouble. I read that you can make sugar glass by the same manner you use to make caramel--you just have to cook it slowly and take it off the heat before it begins to turn that caramel color. I practiced doing that several times and it worked but then the sugar would re-crystallize on the surface of the sugar glass and it would look like frosted glass. I wanted clear glass. But after several attempts, I gave up and just let the frost win. I figured it would just make it look like the glass had frosted over in the winter climate. Whatever.
But that was actually the most difficult part about it. I thought I was going to have some issue with propping the house up with the gingerbread columns but that royal icing works wonders and is seriously an excellent adhesive.
Aside from that, I just decorated the rest of it as I pleased using m&m's, jelly beans, gummy bears, sno-caps and some other random candies--that part is completely up to you.
Recipe for gingerbread cookie dough from the Joy of Cooking:
1c granulated sugar
1c unsulphured molasses
5c all-purpose flour DIVIDED
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1T ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Once it's melted, add the sugar and molasses and stir constantly over low-medium heat until all of the sugar has dissolved. Dip your finger in the saucepan (make sure you don't burn yourself) to make sure it no longer feels gritty. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside to cool to a lukewarm temperature. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk 4 1/2c of flour and the rest of the dry ingredients. Pour in the lukewarm butter/molasses/sugar mixture and mix on low speed until fully combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and using a wooden spoon or a big silicone spatula, fold in the remaining 1/2c of flour. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool-cold. When you are ready to bake the dough, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Roll out the dough and cut the patterns or shapes of the parts of the house you need and bake them for 12-15 minutes. Let cool completely before use.
For the sugar glass, I went to Martha:
1 1/2c sugar
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the sugar and water until all of the sugar has dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil. Stop stirring and turn down the heat to medium-low. Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 290 F or just before it starts to turn that caramel color. Immediately pour the mixture into a mold that you are using for whatever shape you want--let me know if you want to know precisely what I did. I'm happy to share. Let the sugar glass harden and cool completely before picking it up and using it.
1 large egg white
1c confectioners sugar DIVIDED
In a small microwave safe bowl, stir the egg white and 2/3c of the sugar together until fully combined. Place the bowl in the microwave and microwave it on high in 10 second increments until the temperature reaches 160 F. Remove the bowl from the microwave and pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Pour the remaining sugar in the bowl. Using the whisk attachment, beat the mixture until stiff peaks form and the icing has cooled completely. Use immediately or store in a covered container in the fridge for a few days. Just make sure you place some plastic wrap directly atop the icing so it doesn't harden before you use it.