Preparation: In a large bowl, thoroughly blend shortening and sugar. Add molasses, egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.
In another bowl, sift dry ingredients. Gradually stir dry ingredients into molasses mixture. When mixture becomes too stiff to stir with spoon, work dough with hands until completely blended. Separate dough into 4 balls. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill a minimum of one hour. Dough can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.
Baking & Construction Techniques: You may build your house in stages over a few days or a few weeks time. Bake pieces one day, attach pieces for construction at another time, and add decorations even later.
Place a disk of chilled dough directly on aluminum foil cut to fit your baking sheet. Cover dough with plastic wrap and roll to 1/4″ thickness.
For gingerbread house dimensions, cut patterns from waxed or parchment paper that include 2 pieces of the following:
side walls which are 7″ wide and 4″ high
end walls which are pointed are 5 1/2″ wide and 8″ high at the point
roof panels which are 81/2″ wide and 6″ high
Remove plastic wrap, place pattern pieces for house (which you have cut from waxed or parchment paper), directly on dough, leaving at least 1/2″ border around pieces. Using a small sharp knife, cut around edges of pattern. Using your fingers or a small knife, remove scrap pieces of dough, leaving cut pieces intact on foil.
Cut out doors and windows. Remove paper pattern pieces and place foil directly on a flat baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees, 10 – 25 minutes, depending on size of pieces.
Gingerbread will darken, especially around edges, and feel firm to the touch. Remove sheet from oven and allow gingerbread pieces to cool on sheet. Gently peel gingerbread from foil. You may store pieces lying flat in a cool dry place or freeze in an appropriate container.
When ready to construct the house, spread icing directly on a strong piece of cardboard, plywood, or a flat unbreakable tray to cover area where house will be built.
Spread or pipe icing on edges of each piece which will attach to one another. Press pieces firmly together and hold to form neat angles. You may release your hold when pieces are self-standing. (This should only take a minute or two.)
Allow sections of the house to dry before applying the roof or candy decorations. When house is thoroughly dry, you may begin attaching candy, cookies, nuts, etc., to the house or “grounds” using the icing as glue. Store house in a cool dry place for up to four weeks.
The Icing: The icing is used as “cement” to put the house together, attach decorations, and make icicles and decorative trim. You will need 2 – 3 batches to complete one house. Make each batch separately. Any fat substance will inhibit the whites from beating so separate the yolks carefully and keep all utensils grease-free.
3 large egg whites, room temperature
4 3/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
Preparation: Place egg whites in bowl. Add cream of tartar. Sift sugar directly onto egg whites. Beat 4 minutes with electric mixer on high speed. The mixture will thicken as you beat it and when finished should be the consistency of mashed potatoes. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over icing while using to prevent air from drying it.
If storing for use at another time, store icing in an airtight plastic container in the refrigerator. If icing becomes too firm, simply beat a little water into it.
Decorations: Select candy according to size and desired color. NECCO Wafers are ideal for the roof. In addition, NECCO Gummy Bears, Cherry Coins, Candy Buttons, Haviland Chocolate Covered Raisins, Peanuts, Malted Milk Balls and Nonpareils are perfectly suited for gingerbread decoration.
Spread additional icing around house to cover board. Complete your house with inverted ice cream cone trees (iced & decorated), Sky Bars for sleds, NECCO Chocolate Marshmallow Santas, Mary Jane Holiday Kisses, and Haviland Thin Mints.