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Local Pastry Chef’s Midcentury Modern Gingerbread House is a DIY Dream

Gingerbread Dreams: A local pastry chef’s tiny, sweet retreat is sugar and spice and everything nice.

By Lauren Tyda | Photography by Rick Gayle

Nothing suggests the holidays more than gingerbread in all its delightful incarnations—from bow-tied cookies and sticky-sweet cakes to cardamom-spiked loaves and even gingerbread shakes. But everyone knows that crafting a gingerbread house is the real icing on top of the season.

Local baking maven Amanda Hepler hoped to evoke a feeling of warmth and merriment while brainstorming her own candy-coated casa. Like many desert dwellers before her, she was dreaming of a white Christmas.

“Living in Arizona all my life, snowy Christmases have been pretty much non-existent,” says Hepler, the pastry chef at Otro Café and Gallo Blanco in Phoenix. “I wanted to conjure up images of quiet snowfall, cute little creatures wandering through a chilly forest, and a cozy and warm place to come back to after a long day of outside adventure.”

Adorned in cinnamon-flavored Life cereal shingles, Pocky cookie stick logs and a chimney flecked with Cocoa Pebbles, Hepler’s version of the sugary chalet is an ode to a traditional snowy cabin in the woods—with a midcentury modern twist.

“I thought it would be a fun challenge to create a gingerbread house from the ground up and experiment with the architecture,” she says. “I’ve always been a fan of the mid-mod era of design.” The crafty cooking pro chose an A-frame to keep the construction simple but retain the modernist charm.

To keep the edifice sturdy, she searched for the right recipe, eventually settling on one from former Los Angeles Times test kitchen director Noelle Carter.“The gingerbread is very robust and does not include eggs or any leavening ingredients such as baking soda, which are better for edible recipes but could provide too much lightness for the dough to support itself and the weight of decorations.” For snowy embellishments and to bind walls together, Hepler used royal icing, a combination of egg whites beaten with powdered sugar that serves as a stiff but workable frosting.

The windows add a touch of whimsy to the traditional archetype. “If you look at most ready-made gingerbread house kits, the windows are all rectangles,” says Hepler, who also shares baking creations on her blog, Oven and Apron. “I wanted a little more variation and to add height and interest, so I chose a floor-to-ceiling, cathedral style with glass made of sugar candy syrup and brown royal icing panes piped on.”

To create an inviting holiday glow, the chef incorporated battery-powered fairy lights along the roof’s perimeter and inside the house. Bottle-brush trees and a split-rail fence complete the look.

“The great thing about making a gingerbread house from scratch is that you can add all the eclectic little touches that you’d like to see on your ideal winter retreat,” she observes. “I loved being able to conjure up the Christmas setting of my dreams—even if it is only made of gingerbread.”

Pastry chef Amanda Hepler
“I conjured my ideal Christmas getaway—a nice cabin in a snowy, secluded spot with little deer wandering by.”
—Amanda Hepler, pastry chef

Industrial-Strength Gingerbread Dough

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times and their former test kitchen director, Noelle Carter
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 tbsp. water (more if desired)
  • ¾ cup molasses
  • 5 cups flour
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut several sheets of parchment paper large enough to fit your baking sheets.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the shortening, sugar, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Beat to fully combine.
Add the water and molasses and beat over low speed until combined. With the mixer running at low speed, slowly add the flour, a spoonful at a time. The dough will become very thick as the flour is added. If desired, turn the dough out into a large bowl and add the last of the flour by hand, mixing until fully combined. If the dough feels too thick to work with, add water, a tablespoon or so at a time, until it becomes more pliable.
Roll a piece of dough between two sheets of parchment until it is ¼-inch thick (if you roll the dough between parchment, you will not need to flour the dough). Cut the dough to size using cardboard cutouts but being sure to leave at least 1 inch between each of the pieces. Remove and save the excess dough to
roll again.
Carefully grab the parchment and transfer it to a baking sheet. Bake until the pieces are fully set and there are no dark patches of underdone dough anywhere on the pieces. Remove the sheet to a cooling rack and set aside until completely cooled before removing from the sheets.

House Rules

Pastry chef Amanda Hepler shares her takeaways for baking and displaying your mini molasses-laced maison.
Start with a cardboard template.
“There are many available online for printing if you want to save yourself the extra effort.”
Give yourself plenty of time.
“I found that making the dough and cutting and baking all the pieces were the most time-consuming and stressful parts. Once I attached the pieces, the landscaping and decorating were easier and much more fun.”

Use royal icing powder.
“Most royal icing recipes you’ll find are a mixture of egg whites, powdered sugar and sometimes a little water. It takes longer to get the icing whipped up to the proper consistency. The powder form, which is usually a mixture of powdered sugar, meringue and stabilizers, is simpler, more convenient and can be found online or in craft and baking stores. All you need to do is add a measured amount of water and whip it up. It’s very consistent.”

❄ Consider scale.
“A large tabletop would be the ideal place to display a house like this, somewhere that is a good focal point with other holiday decor.”
Save it for the future.
“To store long-term, a large, lidded plastic container would work very well, and that could allow a gingerbread house to be displayed multiple years in a row. Kept at a cool room temperature, this house could theoretically last indefinitely.”

Chef: Amanda Hepler, Phoenix, ovenandapron.com

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