Friday, November 9, 2012

Gingerbread Nativity Creche / Manger Decorated

I've been experimenting with making this for the last week ... we are having an event for kids at our Church the middle of December, where they can decorate one of these and hear the story of Jesus' birth, while their parents can take some time to finish Christmas shopping, or stay and help them decorate too.

So, here are the photos of the process that led up to this decorated prototype I made.... feel free to copy and share it too!

Here is how I started... with a cardboard one I cut from old box pieces.

I then made the gingerbread and frosting using this recipe...

Gingerbread House Dough

2-3 dozen cookies, or one gingerbread house / manger and accouterments

3½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
½ cup molasses - not black strap, and preferably "golden", "mild" or "sorghum" molasses
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Sift flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt into large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in another large bowl at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat 1 minute. Add molasses; beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg; beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low; beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend.

2. Gather dough into ball; divide in half. Form each half into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap disks separately in plastic; chill until firm, at least 4 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

3. Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper to ¼-inch thickness. Use gingerbread house templates or decorative cookie cutters to cut-out shapes and transfer to prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Gather scraps, roll out dough, and cut more shapes/cookies, repeating until all dough is used. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are firm on top and slightly darker around edges, about 8 minutes for smaller shapes and up to 15 minutes for larger shapes.

4. Cool completely on rack. Line baking sheets with fresh parchment as needed.

Note: Cookies will not spread much during baking, but for precise gingerbread house construction, cookies can be perfectly re-cut while still hot. Place the paper templates on top of the hot cookies, and quickly cut with a plain-edge knife - but be careful not to burn yourself!

Royal Icing
Yield: 2 1/2 -3 cups

3-4 Tbsp meringue powder
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp lemon extract

1. Whisk together meringue powder and powdered sugar. Pour mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment.

2. Add warm water and mix on high speed for about 5-7 minutes or until stiff peaks are achieved. Transfer to a piping bag and use to adhere gingerbread house pieces.

Notes: Not all meringue powder is created equal. Be sure to check the recipe on the container before you begin. I usually use 3 Tbsp. meringue powder, but if you don't have a powerful stand mixer in which to whip the icing, you may use an additional tablespoon. It will come together more quickly.


Using my cardboard shapes I cut out the dough (after refrigerating it overnight), and baked it, and put it together.

I had made cutout gingerbread people to use, but then when I was at the store, I found the gingerbread man PEEPS... and since we'll be making 30 of these, I decided to use those and save time, and have something different as well for the kids to enjoy eating later.

So I added a candy cane for a staff for Joseph, a scarf made from Fruit by the Foot for Mary.  I snipped off the arms and legs of one PEEP to use for baby Jesus and swaddled him in Fruit by the Foot too.

The bed for baby Jesus is made from graham crackers split in half and using the frosting put together in a V shape, then after it set, added pretzels at both ends and underneath to balance it more.

I also added a snowman made out of mini marshmallows on a toothpick, and anchored the cutout tree in a larger marshmallow so it would stand up.
And then it was time to add the candies and other embellishments.....
A fun project.... I think I'll use white sugar cookie cutouts for the trees for a little more variety too.  When we do it for the kids event, I'll have some round cardboard cake bases for these to sit on for each one.  That way the kids can add snow or a path or whatever to the base too.

And if you wanted to get more elaborate, color some shredded coconut yellow for hay or straw and add to the floor of the manger.

All these things in it are entirely edible, and according to my daughter, pretty tasty too! (She ate the gingerbread cutouts (with a bit of the frosting) that I didn't use in these photos.
This is just an example of one way to decorate the creche ... looking forward to seeing how each of the kids decide to do it!

Now all I have to do is get some volunteers to help bake enough for 30 of these in the next month!

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