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Making a gingerbread house

MANY young children encounter their first gingerbread house in the German fairy tale ``H"ansel and Gretel.'' In this story, two small children who are abandoned in the woods find a house made of gingerbread, covered with frosted cakes and colorful candies, with windows of sparkling sugar crystals. A holiday project that's fun to make with children is just such a house. It is also a creative venture that helps to subtract some of the commercialism from the Yuletide season -- putting children on a ``let's make something'' track.

The gingerbread house takes patience and planning, but if the work is divided into three sessions over three days -- baking, decorating, and assembling -- it will be fairly easy and fun. It is, however, a project that requires close supervision by an adult.

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Although some gingerbread houses are large, ornate, and complicated to make, this one is simple. It is smaller than some and not difficult to assemble. But it is large enough to leave room for creativity in decorating. Gingerbread Dough 1 cup butter 3/4 cup brown sugar 1 1/2 cups molasses 3 eggs 8 to 9 cups flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons each cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg Foil-covered board, 20 inches square

Cream butter until light and fluffy, 7 to 10 minutes. Add brown sugar and molasses. Beat in eggs. In a separate bowl mix together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

Add 7 cups flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, to butter mixture. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead in remaining flour. Dough should lose its shiny texture but retain elasticity. Cover and set aside.

Make paper or cardboard patterns for house according to diagram.

Divide dough in thirds and roll onto 3 floured cookie sheets. If you don't have 3 cookie sheets, roll dough out 1 sheet at a time. Cover other dough until needed.

Place patterns on dough to determine how they'll fit on the cookie sheet. Leave 1/4 inch between patterns to allow dough to expand while cooking.

With a sharp knife cut out roof, walls, and chimney.

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Using a straight pin or skewer, poke small holes around windows, large wreath, and door to outline as indicated on pattern. These marks will remain during baking. Small wreaths on side windows will be done later.

Cut out front door and front and back windows, using pin marks as a guide. Cut window sections in half vertically to use for shutters.

Bake at 375 degrees F. 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely on a flat surface. If surface isn't flat, the house will not fit together. Test pieces for fit. If they don't fit, you may need to remake one or cut it to fit. Royal Icing 1 pound confectioners' sugar 1 teaspoon cream of tartar 3 egg whites Red and green food coloring Silver balls Red cinnamon candies Candy spearmint leaves Decorator tube or pastry cone 1 No. 3 decorator's tip 1 fancy decorator's tip Weighted cans or jars for props

Mix together icing sugar and cream of tartar. Gradually add egg whites. Beat at high speed 7 to 10 minutes. Icing should be stiff but not dry.

Keep icing covered while decorating house. If it gets dry, beat at high speed for a couple of seconds.

Do not double recipe. If more icing is needed, make another batch. Decoration

Divide Royal Icing in half and leave half white. Divide remaining into two bowls, tinting one green and one red. Tint a small amount of white icing yellow (this will be used for the ``glass'' in the side windows).

Using a No. 3 decorator's tip, outline front and back windows and front door.

``Paint'' shutters green. Let dry. Decorate shutters using white icing and No. 3 decorator's tip. Use one red candy at center of each shutter if you like. Attach shutters to front windows, using white icing as glue.

Color in side windows using yellow icing. Outline windows with white icing, using the No. 3 decorator's tip. Add green wreath with fancy decorator's tip. Let dry 30 minutes.

Using fancy decorator tip, make a large wreath with green icing and, with the No. 3 tip, add a large red bow. Follow outline made with pin to mark circle.

Decorate roof, using No. 3 decorator's tip, with red icing -- starting at the top and making scalloped rows to represent shingles. Add a silver ball at each connecting point if you like. Assembly

To assemble house, pipe white frosting along bottom edge of the back wall. Attach to foil base. Pipe frosting along the side of the left wall. Attach to back wall and foil base. Prop up with weighted cans or jars. Let dry for 30 minutes.

Repeat process with right side wall and front wall. Let dry 30 minutes.

When ready for roof, pipe frosting along top edge of standing walls. Attach one roof piece, using props to hold in place, then add the other. Let dry 2 hours. Attach chimney with white icing.

Finish house with fancy decorator's tip to decorate corners and edges.

Use large green spearmint candy leaves as bushes around the house, securing them to the base with white icing.

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