Are you assembling gingerbread houses this weekend? It's one of my favorite things to do over the holidays, made especially easy by all of the great kits available in stores right now (I snagged ours at Costco for a little less than 10 bucks each AND it's got a tree AND green icing AND yellow icing (yellow writing in the snow? Please say it isn't so) and a million or two pieces of candy).
When you open your kit and lay everything in front of you, you'll have a bag or two of already prepared royal icing. Now, royal icing is nasty stuff -- sugar and egg whites and a little water -- incredibly sweet (tooth-achingly in fact, so kids LOVE it) and made to get rock-hard. Royal icing is the stuff on those gorgeous sugar cookies you see that never really taste too great. In our case, it's glue to hold the gingerbread house together.
Read the package and it will tell you to knead it for 30 or 60 seconds to soften it. Fugetaboutit - by the time you knead that sucker until it's soft enough, your arms hurt and the kids are cranky. Instead, soak the un-opened package in a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes, then knead for 2-3 seconds. Soft, awesome, gluey-icing. Perfect to use immediately, so there's no time to get cranky.
One other quick tip on the g-bread houses -- assemble the house before you get the kids involved. They hate to wait and can't understand why they need to (so the house can set and not cave in when they overload it with candy). We host a gingerbread house class at The Kitchen Studio and I regularly assemble 15-20 house assembly line-style in about an hour. Once you get your groove on, it's hard to stop. Now if I could just figure out how to attach those darn gables that came in the kit this year...
Tomorrow: My Oprah-esque gift idea for the cook in your life.