The Notre Dame Cathedral – in Gingerbread!

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About this time last year my brother asked me if I wanted to make the Notre Dame Cathedral out of gingerbread for Christmas 2014. Of course I agreed, it had been years since I had built one- but back in 4-H I was made one a year for auction with my foods group for a long time. So I’ve missed it- the tradition, the smells, the ‘Christmasy’ feeling…

Little did I know what I was getting into.

I had forgotten just how much WORK an actual gingerbread house is- especially one with a custom pattern. It took around 25-30 hours to complete – spread over a few weeks.

So, without further ado- I present the making of my Notre Dame Gingerbread Cathedral- tips and tricks included:

The first thing to do was to design the pattern for each of the gingerbread pieces. To do this I used card stock, basically just eyeballing pictures of the cathedral- using the paper to create the basic shapes. This is a representation, not an exact reproduction. Once you get the paper house, or ‘cathedral’ then you are ready to go:

Take your paper creation apart and get organized- make sure to label each piece as you deconstruct the paper creation with a number. This number correlates to a sketch showing the location of that piece which references the number. Never have a piece by itself not attached to a number, at any stage of the build. Believe me this will  be very beneficial for your mental health. Once you have all of the pieces taken apart and labeled, you can get even more organized for them to become gingerbread pieces. For example, my piles were the ‘ready to go’, also the ‘ready to go (but a window will need to be cut out)’, and the pieces that I would need to make rounded, (We’ll get to that later.) I ended up with 46 pieces altogether.

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Time to make the gingerbread! After making it all I realized I actually made a a ‘light’ version of gingerbread. A.K.A. no molasses or ginger is involved. However it was very easy to make and work with.

The line up for one batch (and this project took 3): 9 cups of all-purpose flour, 2 cups of light corn syrup, 1 1/4 cups margarine, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar, You can double or triple the recipe, but I made it in my biggest bowl and that could only handle one at a time… so unless you have a monster bowl, then I would take it one batch at a time.

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In a medium microwave-safe bowl, heat the corn syrup, brown sugar and margarine until the margarine has melted and the sugar has dissolved completely. Stir until smooth.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the syrup-sugar-margarine mixture, making sure it’s cool enough to hand knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.

Roll out the dough 1/4-thick onto a sheet of parchment or foil to fit your baking pan. Lightly flour the patterns and fit them onto the dough. For clean edges, cut them with a pizza wheel. When you place the cut dough onto the baking sheets make sure to write the piece’s number on the paper to keep track of it. Bake 15 minutes or until the pieces are firm and lightly browned around the edges. Cool completely before removing from the pans. Unless you want to make a rounded piece of gingerbread…

If you want to make a rounded piece of gingerbread then right after you take the piece out of the oven *carefully* and quickly take it off of the parchment with a spatula or other utensil and oven mitts and place it on an old rolled up poster or other rounded object. It may crack just a little, but you will get the desired effect.

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Once the pieces have cooled you’re ready to put them together! To make the frosting, beat together 1 pound of powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 3 egg whites. Beat them until you can make peaks in the frosting that do not fall over. Be patient, it can take a long time!

To make the stained glass windows we crushed up lifesavers candy and placed the pieces in the window openings of the gingerbread pieces which were on a baking sheet with parchment paper (labeled). Bake in the oven for about 2-5 minutes at 350 degrees while keeping a close eye on them. This will cut down on the weight of the structure. If putting in a stained glass window on a curved piece just crush the candy pieces on their own on the parchment paper and when still warm enough to manipulate, frost onto the piece.

Now it’s time to put the gingerbread pieces together! With this frosting, if you frost the bottom and the sides that should hold the pieces well, but you can always use a glass or can or another sturdy object to hold up the pieces if needed. After constructing the pieces together, go crazy with decorating!

I had a great time working on this project, and fulfilling a goal on my list for this year! Check out the finished product:

Check out my other goals for 2014 here, as well as my 2013 manifesto and my 2012 manifesto.

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