Introduction: A Fairy Garden Winter Wonderland

 Where do the fairies go in the winter? We've all seen summer fairy gardens, with hills of bright green moss, leafy ferns, little plants and trees, and a house, a swing...  but what about when the cold winds blow, and the land is covered in snow?  Do they hibernate like a squirrel? Or somehow go to a warmer climate like the birds?    Or perhaps they find a quiet place, and enjoy the winter and the beauty it brings, filling it with life and color in their own lovely way!  Perhaps they make sure that their homes are the most beautiful of all, and perhaps they love bright colors to add beauty to the white land all around, and to remind them of the summer that will come again.
  I have created what I imagine it could look like, although of course since it was made by a human it can't possibly compare.  But still it was grand fun to try, and so far I haven't heard any fairies complaining about my efforts. :)    And maybe some cold dark night a lost and lonely fairy will see the lights of the little house on the top of the hill, and will slip inside, and feel warm and safe. Perhaps even feel at home.

Step 1: Supplies

You will need:

Flour (5#)
Corn Starch
Powdered Sugar (at least 6#)
1 dozen eggs
Assorted hard candy like Life Savers and Jolly Ranchers
Red and Black food coloring gel

Icing bag with round decorating tip
Printing paper for templates
Plastic wrap
Parchment paper
Aluminum foil
Precision knife
Paring knife
Rolling pin
Office stapler
2 wood yard sticks, or something about 3/16" thick by 2' long (optional)
Pizza cutter (optional)
Tweezers (optional)
Edible marker or chalk pencil (optional)

Step 2: Design

I am including the templates for the two houses that I designed. But if you want to design your own it is very fun!  I drew mine, and then cut them out of thin cardboard so that I could assemble them and make sure that my design actually fit together. 
  If you wish to use my templates, print them out on a standard size piece of paper (8.5"x11")  and cut them out. 
Cover one side of the template with clear packaging tape and cut out gingerbread with the tape side down. This makes it thicker, easier to cut around, and it will not stick to the gingerbread dough.

  Making the mushroom was equally fun, but a bit more tricky, and I don't have a template for it.  But I'll tell you how I did it, and you'll probably end up making one that is much more beautiful then mine! :)

  I took aluminum foil, and by folding and balling it up created the general shape of the mushroom cap. Then I kept adding to it until it was the size I wanted.  For the stem I created two halves, making them as close in shape as I could, and then standing them beside each other to be sure the finished product was the same height and size. I made the ends of the stem bigger then the middle so that it would have a steady base and so the cap would go on easier.... And because I like the way it looks!  Then I covered them with parchment paper.  That was very tricky at first because I couldn't use any tape due to the fact that it was going to be baked, plus tape doesn't stick to parchment paper. Even super glue failed!  Finally I pulled out a regular office stapler, and it quickly became my best friend.  I could shoot staples straight through the paper and they stuck into the foil, holding the paper in place.  Also, it doesn't have to be perfect.  The gingerbread dough with help hold the paper in place.

Step 3: The Dough

Gingerbread Dough:

1 1/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 T ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 T ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1⁄2 c. corn starch
9 cups flour
2 cups molasses
1⁄4 cup water

In a large mixer bowl, cream the shortening with the sugar and spices. Scrape down the sides of the bowl until the shortening mixture is completely mixed.  Add the corn starch, then add flour a cup at a time, mixing after each cup. Mix until mixture resembles course meal. (At this point you will want to switch from the wire whisk attachment to a dough hook because the gingerbread dough will be very stiff).  Pour in the molasses and water and mix until the liquid is distributed throughout the dough.  Turn the dough out onto a counter top and divide it into three parts. One by one knead each portion of dough until it is smooth. Shape the dough into 1” thick rectangles and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let rest an hour before you roll it (just leave it out at room temperature). If you won’t be using it that day can you  store it in the refrigerator, but bring it back up to room temperature before you roll and shape it.
I was a little surprised at how thick and crumbly the dough was before hand kneading it. But after kneading, it was quite workable, though it will still be extremely stiff. If it is still too dry add a little water and work it in to the dough. 

Extra tips for working with gingerbread:
Roll out the dough on parchment paper. I did everything on parchment paper other then initially kneading the dough. This insures that you won't have a perfectly formed piece that sticks to the counter & can't be transferred to a pan. Cut sheets of parchment paper to the size of your cookie sheets and place on the counter, rolling and cutting the gingerbread there, and then you can lift the sheet directly onto the pan and minimize the chances of cut pieces losing their shape.  

To get your dough uniformly thick and to avoid having thin spots that will easily break, it is a good idea to have a thickness guide for you rolling pin.  For this project I used two wooden yard sticks, (almost 3/16" thick) and placed one on each side of the dough. Then roll the dough out to where the rolling pin is resting evenly on the dough and the guides, and you'll have a uniform piece of dough.

Step 4: Royal Icing

Royal Icing:

6 egg whites
9 c. powdered sugar

  Separate egg white from the yolk being careful to keep all yolk out of the whites.  Pour egg whites into a large mixing bowl.  (I used my Bosch mixer. Any standard mixer will work good. Use the paddle or wire whip attachment)  Add 2 c. of the powdered sugar to the egg whites & mix. Keep adding powdered sugar a cup at a time, mixing until icing is smooth after each cupful. After you add the last cup of powdered sugar the icing should be thick, about like a butter cream frosting.*
  Beat until smooth, about a minute.  Put in a covered container, or cover bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the icing. Any exposed icing will quickly dry out.  From what I've been able to learn through a bit of research the high sugar content kills any harmful bacteria that may be in the raw egg. You will want the icing to be at room temperature when using it, so if you do choose to refrigerate the icing make sure you let it return to room temperature before use. 
Because of the landscape scene I ended up making 2 full sized batches of royal icing.  If you're only making the houses and the mushrooms one batch will easily be enough. Either way start with one batch and see from there.

*I ended up making mine very thick, and then when ready to use would add a tiny bit of water to the amount of icing I needed.  This way I could get the exact consistency I wanted each time.

Extra tips for working with Royal Icing:

For the sake of your sanity and to make your project go smoothly, you need the royal icing to be the proper consistency. At the right texture the surface of the icing will still look shiny, but it will hold its shape when you grab a spoonful.  If you get it too stiff it won't stick to the gingerbread and will be extremely hard to pipe.  On the other hand, if it's too runny it will drip right off your gingerbread, and it (and possibly you) will melt into a puddle. I will specify through the project whether it worked best thicker or thinner for different things, but also just use your judgement. If you can't get it to come out of the piping bag and your lines are rough, it's probably too thick. I made that mistake at first when trying to pipe decorative designs, and it made a world of difference once I figured out what I was doing wrong. 

It's quite easy to thin the icing with a bit of water, however, thickening it is a bit more difficult since you have to beat in the powdered sugar to prevent it from being clumpy.  When you're ready to fill your piping bag, scoop some of the thick icing into a bowl, and add a few drops of water.  Mix well. If it's still too thick repeat until icing reaches your desired consistency.

I used a piping bag for all of the white design work. If you have more then one icing bag, great!, but I only had one so it was very helpful to make and use a cornet for the brown icing I used to assemble the houses.  Here is a link that gives good instructions on how to make your own out of parchment paper. 

  To fill the icing bag, fold down the top 2" of the bag. Stand bag in a cup or jar so that you have both hands free.  Spoon icing into bag, filling no more then half full.  Unfold top of bag, and press icing down to tip, then fold and roll the top of the bag down to the icing, just like a toothpaste tube. 

  I found it very helpful to practice my piping skills before actually piping design onto the gingerbread.  Piping on to a piece of paper will help you get a feel for how to easily create curves and corners, and how thick or thin you want your line to be. 

Coloring Royal Icing:

Royal icing is easy to color, and the possibilities are as unlimited as your imagination!  I chose to do a clean and simple brown and white theme for this project, and add pops of color in different ways.   However, I still used brown icing to assemble the houses so that the seams were less visible.  To make this I mixed cocoa powder and ground cinnamon into a small amount of royal icing, along with some black and brown food coloring until it closely matched the color of the gingerbread.  It also smelled lovely!!

  For the red mushrooms I mixed a very small amount of royal icing (probably round 1/2 tsp) with Wilton Christmas Red food coloring gel, and a tiny bit of black coloring gel to get a darker red. I added a little water to thin it, mixed it very well, and then painted it over the dry royal icing on the mushroom with a small craft brush. I added the white spots after the red was dry.  I suppose I could have just added lots and lots of red coloring to the amount of icing I needed, but I didn't have very much food coloring and was afraid I would end up with a pink mushroom! I also tried painting straight food coloring gel, but it didn't dry & remained sticky to the touch and stained anything it came in contact with, whereas the above mixture dries hard and clean. 

Step 5: Cutting & Baking the Gingerbread

  Take a medium sized piece on gingerbread dough and work it into a flat rectangle and then roll. Use the dough thickness guides as directed in step 2.  Place house templates on dough and cut out your gingerbread house pieces. As you can see in the pictures I cut the windows out at this point, and then after the pieces were on the cookie sheet I cut out the door. The piece beside the door is thin, and will easily bend out of shape before being baked. Cut roof pieces, and the front doors.  Use caution as you work with the knife.  While the dough is soft it is still possible for the knife to slip and for you to cut yourself.

If you're confident in your skills you can skip this next part, but as you can see in the picture I cut an extra of each piece (i.e. instead of two of each wall I cut three, and instead of 1 front door per house I cut 2) so that if I had anything go wrong during the baking or decorating process I would have another piece already available to use.

  Take a piece of dough and shape it into a circle. Roll it to thickness like you did for the houses, but keep a round shape instead of rectangular.  To estimate the size you need you'll want about 2" extra all the way around your mushroom cap template.  When dough is uniformly 3/16" thick as directed in step 2, place an extra piece of parchment paper over the dough and roll with rolling pin.  Flip it over, remove bottom paper, and drape dough over mushroom cap template with the paper side up. The paper helps the dough to form without breaking as easily.  The goal here is to shape the dough to the mushroom cap with minimal breakage, and without creating double thick dough. It can be done! Work with the dough until it is formed to the mushroom cap.  If some tearing does occur press the torn edges together and work with it until it is no longer separated.  Remove the parchment paper, place mushroom flat side down on your parchment covered baking sheet, and trim excess dough. Pick up mushroom and with your fingers smooth the cut edges until they are slightly rounded and look natural. 
  For the stems pieces follow the same steps. Once both stem halves are trimmed stand them together and make sure that the edges line up.  The better you do with this before baking the easier it will be to assemble them.
  For the inside of the large mushroom cut out a round piece that is about 3/4" smaller then the outside of the mushroom cap. This will fit down inside the mushroom and hold the stem, giving the mushroom extra height & strength.  As you can see in the picture I did some extra cutting on mine so that light would shine out from under the mushroom cap. 

  For the fence I rolled out a piece of dough to 3/16" and then removed the guides and did my best to uniformly roll it a tiny bit thinner.  I then used a pizza cutter to cut to desired width, cut to length, and then used a knife to individually cut the tops to form a /\.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  I ended up baking each batch for over 1 hour. Bake 2 sheets at a time, switching shelves every 15 minutes.  Gingerbread is done when it turns a deeper brown, and when your finger no longer leaves an indentation when you lightly press on it. You would rather over bake then under bake.  Let it completely cool before doing any decorating.

Step 6: Stained Glass Windows, Pond, & Stones

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Now for some color! I started with the pond.
  Place unwrapped blue Jolly Ranchers in ziplock bag.  Crush candy by smashing it through the bag with a hammer or any hard object. I used my rolling pin, but it ended up slightly denting the wood. :-/   Pour crushed candy onto a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.  Place in oven and keep a sharp eye on it while it melts. It will probably take around 5 minutes, and should be completely melted, but if you let it go too long it will bubble and the the sugar will burn causing it to turn brown. Warning: the melted candy is extremely hot and sticky, and will badly burn you if you get any on you, so be very careful!
Remove from oven when melted and let cool on the pan. Once it cools it is hard again, and you can carefully move it wherever you want. But it is also very thin and brittle.

  For the stained glass windows of the house I crushed green, red, orange and white Lifesavers. The size of the crushed pieces will determine how marbled your colors will be.  Using a tweezers for precision I carefully arranged the different colors of crushed candy pieces in the window space of the already baked gingerbread wall. Fill with candy pieces till level with wall.  Once again, there are so many color combinations and ways you could do this.
On the cottage I used the same method, except I used very finely crushed orange and white for the windows and solid green for the upstairs dormer window.

For the stones I used fine crushed candy, mixed up different colors and spooned tiny piles onto parchment paper on a baking sheet. Melt as directed above.

Step 7: Decorating the Houses

It's a good idea to have your decorative design drawn out on paper before you draw it on to the gingerbread.  If you have amazing skills and previous decorating experience then you can just go straight to the gingerbread and make it look amazing.  But this was my first time doing this, and I knew that unless I had a line to follow the finished product would not look like I wanted it to look!  So I used my white chalk pencil to draw directly on the gingerbread, and then traced over the lines with icing  Now, I knew I wasn't planning to eat the finished product, but if you are planning to eat your gingerbread house I would advise you to use an edible marker like one of these.  Draw your line as fine and thin as possible so that it doesn't show once you ice over it.
  It is much easier to pipe icing onto a flat surface, so go ahead and decorate before you assemble the houses.  I did assemble the 4 piece house roof before piping it, but for everything else I left it flat and was very glad that I did. 
  For piping the design you will want slightly thinner royal icing.  You don't want it to spread into a puddle, but you do want it to come out of the bag smoothly.  I used a #1 round decorating tip, which has a very small opening.
Trace your lines and decorate as you please. Keep in mind that after the house is assembled you can do touch up and make lines come together around corners.
Make sure icing is completely dry before moving on to the next step.
Also, this is the time to make any free standing icing creations, like the ladders that leans against the mushrooms, made out of brown royal icing.  An easy way to do anything intricate is to draw on one side of parchment paper, flip it over, and trace your drawing in piping.  You can make intricate lace, words, designs... but keep in mind that they will be very fragile, and will break easily.

Step 8: Assembling

This step takes patience.  It's very fun because everything is finally coming together, but due to the way royal icing works if you try to rush things and don't let it dry completely between steps everything will come crashing down. But it is well worth the time and effort, so just hang in there and it will soon be finished!   
For this step you will be using the brown royal icing. You want it to be rather thick since it will be piped on vertically, but it still needs to be sticky, and pipe out of the bag without too much trouble.  Use the cornet, or if using an icing bag use a larger tip. I tried a size #2 writing tip, and a cornet, and actually preferred the cornet. 

Look at your pieces and arrange them so that they are ready to assemble.  
Find a small box with square corners. I used the box my food coloring came in.  Start by piping a thick bead of brown royal icing on the end of wall 1. Place the back side of wall 1 against the box. Take the front wall and place its back against the box at a right angel to wall 1, lining up the edge with wall 1. Press wall 1 up against the front wall so that the icing glues the walls together.  Keeping them pressed together and all edges squared up with the box, use your paring knife, and precision knife to scrape and trim the excess icing off of the front of the house. You can also carefully use a damp rag. After the icing dries it will be basically impossible to remove excess, so do a good job.  Then carefully remove the box, making sure to keep your corner square. Pipe lots of extra icing up the back side of the corner to strengthen it. Repeat with back wall and side 2.  After you have both L shaped pieces glued, carefully bring them together to form a rectangle and make sure everything lines up. Let L shaped pieces completely dry before the final glueing.  I made the mistake of rough handling them before they were dry and everything fell apart and I had to start over.
  I can't tell you how long it will take to dry because it depends on how thick the icing is, and other variable like humidity and room temperature. But if you touch the icing it's pretty easy to tell when it's just dry on the surface rather then all the way through.   I did the assembling process over a couple days, so if you have time you can work on other things and just take it slow to be safe.

After the walls are assembled you can put on the roof! For the cottage lay the house on its roof, and put the first piece on so that the point rests against the table as pictured. Then the second roof section will overlap the first one. 

For the 4 part roof fit it together so that the triangular pieces are flush on the inside edge of the 4-sided pieces, and the short edges of the 4-sided pieces form the peak of the roof.  With each step of assembly make sure you clean up the outside edges before the frosting hardens so that your finished house looks neat and clean.

To assemble the little mushroom just glue the sides of the stem pieces together with brown royal icing,, and after they dry glue on the cap.  For the big mushroom you'll need to first glue in the underside of the cap that you made in step 5, and after that dries you can glue the assembled stem to the cap.  Tie a thread to the cap and a Lifesaver to the end of the thread for a little swing.

Step 9: Mushroom Painting

I already went over some of this in step 4.  To prepare your mushroom for paint pipe a thin line of icing around the base of the cap as pictured.  Then spread icing over the cap down to your piped line. You'll want the royal icing to be runny enough to create a smooth surface, without dripping off the edges. The piped line also helps keep the icing from dripping.   Let this dry completely, and then paint on the red mixture as described in step 4.  After this has completely dried pipe on the white spots.  Smooth spots with a wet finger to get a glossy finished look.

Step 10: The Landscape

This is where you get to do whatever you want!  I thought about doing something simple like a board covered in foil, but decided that for fairyland I needed hills! So I made a combination of cardboard, tinfoil and staples, and covered it with gingerbread. In the end it's all covered with royal icing, so you could just carve it out of foam or find some other brilliant way to do it.
  If you want your houses to have light inside you'll need to add them in at this point. I used a 35 bulb strand of mini lights and it worked great.
  The royal icing you use to cover you landscape should be a little runny so that the top it smooth. I spread it on with a knife, and then dipped my finger in water and used it to smooth and blend the surface.  After it is partially dry press your houses and mushrooms down into the surface so that there is a mark where they will be.  Then pipe icing in to place, building it up or carving it away till your houses sit level and are glued in to place.  
  This is also when you will want to put up the fence.  Press the fence pieces in to the partially dry icing, and if needed pipe on a bit more to keep them in place.

Step 11: Final Details

Now do the last little things to make it pretty.  Put the pond in place and add a little "snow" to the edges. Lay the stepping stones, put up the ladder, and finish any little details to make it all perfect.   Plug in the lights and let it glow!

**Extra credit and my extreme thankfulness to my husband, Seth Haley, for taking these lovely pictures for me, for encouraging me, and for putting up with a rather messy kitchen for a week while I worked on this project.  He really is the best! 
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