Time to break out those gumdrops and some icing glue because 'tis the season for gingerbread houses! This year, however, why not put a green twist on this great holiday tradition? At Michelle Kaufmann Designs, my architecture firm specializing in green prefab building we're committed to making thoughtful, sustainable design accessible to all. One house we are very proud of and of which you may have heard is the mkLotusTM We've created a recipe for creating your very own gingerbread mkLotusTM, or, as we like to call it, gingerLotus! Aside from being a fun and delicious holiday activity, we think this project is an excellent way to start acquainting children with the ideas of sustainability and green living. It's never too early to begin teaching your kids to be concerned for our environment and training them how to respect and protect it through everyday actions. This time of year is such a fun and exciting one for children; what better way to engage them in greening then by integrating it into your family's holiday traditions. I hope you'll find the results yummy in every way!
Step 1: Ingredients
INGREDIENTS (use organic, fair trade ingredients wherever possible):
- 1.5 cups organic whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon sugar-free, organic pure vanilla extract
- 2.5 cups firmly packed organic brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons baking soda
- 1 Tablespoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/3 cups light Barbados Plantation Fair-trade molasses
- 9 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 large egg whites from cage free, organically fed chickens
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 teaspoons water
- 3 cups sifted organic powdered sugar
- 8 "solar panels" or squares of organic, fair trade chocolate
- 1 to 2 oz of organic, fair trade chocolate fudge
- Blue sprinkles
- Green sprinkles or Christmas sprinkles (green & red)
- Organic shredded coconut
Step 2: Preparation
Line 12 x 15 inch rimless baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats (silicone baking mats)
In a small bowl, whip cream and vanilla until it holds soft peaks. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon. Beat in the molasses and whipped cream mixture until well-combined.
With mixer running, gradually add flour, beating until completely mixed.
Lightly flour a pastry board or mat. Roll out a portion of the dough until flat, but not so thin that you cannot pick it up without it tearing. Drape it over the rolling pin and move to the prepared baking sheet.
Continue rolling the dough to an even thickness on the baking sheet. This is easily achieved by placing two equally thick wooden strips on either side of the baking sheet to support the rolling pin. An even thickness is important. Lower areas will bake darker in color and be more brittle. About 4 cups for each 1/2 inch thick piece.
Bake two sheets of dough at a time. Bake until fairly firm in the center; for 1/4 inch thick pieces, bake at 275 F.
Remove from oven after 20 minutes. Position your gingerbread house pattern cut-outs as close together as possible on the sheet of cookies. Don't forget to cut out the pieces for your water catchment system and your sun shading trellises and screen wall! Cut around the pattern with a sharp knife, remove the pattern, and separate the scrap pieces (may be baked later to eat). Return house pieces to the oven, swapping their rack positions, and continue to bake another 40 to 50 minutes depending on how hard you want your cookie to be.
While the pieces are baking, any remaining dough may be rolled out for additional decorative gingerbread house pieces.
When pieces are finished baking, loosen gently with a flat spatula and let them cool on the sheet another 5 to 10 minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely.
At this point, you may wrap the gingerbread house pieces airtight in plastic wrap and store up to one month. Or proceed to assemble and decorate your house using icing cement (recipe follows).
With an electric mixer beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and water until frothy. Blend in sugar on high speed until stiff, 5 to 10 minutes. Use immediately or cover and use within 8 hours.
Yield: about 1.5 cups icing
Step 3: Construction and Decoration
Construction and Decoration:
Begin with a clean, flat base such as a serving platter or a piece of sturdy cardboard wrapped in green decorative paper.
Start assembling using a side piece. Apply a line of icing cement along the bottom and place it on your base and surround with more icing to glue it down. Now use a glass (perhaps filled with egg nog for added weight) to support the first side wall as you move onto the others. Apply the same method to the remaining walls making sure to also line the sides with icing where they connect with their neighbor.
Line the bottom of your screen wall with icing and set it around the bedroom deck.
Now you must allow your base to dry for a half hour so it can support the roof pieces and trellises without collapsing. You can use this time to ice down your walkway, front and side decks, and reflecting pool. Once the sides are set you may apply icing to their upper edges for attaching the roof pieces. Begin with the slanted roof piece before moving onto the living roof.
If you're feeling ambitious and want to make your gingerLotus truly genuine looking then you can cut the living roof piece so that it just slightly falls into the house and doesn't rest on the top of the walls. Ice the area inside and at the top of the walls and place the roof piece just inside. As the piece dries over the next half hour continue to press it gently down until it is about a quarter of an inch depressed into the house.
Begin the larger trellis surrounding the living room by placing the two longest 1/4 inch thick cookie pieces along the left and right front side walls. Allow a few minutes to set. Then place the three second longest 1/4 inch pieces perpendicularly on top of the ends that stick out in front from the side pieces. Then place six of the smallest pieces on each side of the room so that they rest on the long piece you previously placed. By the time you finish that the icing on the front three slats should be dry enough that you can affix five of the third largest 1/4 inch pieces to the underside them. Take the sixth of these pieces and ice it on about the front entry. Wait a few minutes and then place three of the smallest 1/4 inches pieces on top of it. If you're confused check out the picture we have of the trellises!
Also, don't forget to ice down your ginger waterspout to complete your water catchment system! Apply icing to the reflecting pool and waterspout (just use some of the 1/4 in think strips of cookie for the spout) then cover with blue sprinkles.
Once every piece is set and has had another half hour to dry you can being decorating! Apply the chocolate fudge onto your living roof and cover with green or Christmas sprinkles and shredded coconut. Ice down your chocolate solar panels onto the slanted portion of the roof (if you feel your gingerLotus needs more power than 1.6 kw feel free to use more chocolate squares!).
Pipe icing along walls, roof, and windows however you'd like.
Don't forget to spread icing all over your "yard" and cover with more green or Christmas sprinkles and shredded coconut.
Step 4: Discuss Green Elements With Kids!
Now it's time to enjoy your gingerLotus by eating it and discussing with your children the concepts of green building you incorporated into your house! Here are some ideas to talk about:
Imagine that the walls of your gingerLotus are just like the walls of the real mkLotusTM: insulated to keep heat in during the winter and cool air in during the summer. This means wasting less energy.
Notice the large size and number of windows and doors you're cutting out? That's so they can let it lots of natural sunlight and so you won't need to have other lights on during the day.
When you're cutting out the doors and windows you can pretend to fill them in with the same kind of glass that's in the mkLotusTM. We use a special type of window pane that's two layers thick so it keeps in heat when you want it and cool air when you want that instead, just like the walls.
You'll use the icing to hold the ginger Lotus up or frame it. The real mkLotusTM uses FSC Certified wood to frame the floors and ceilings. This means it doesn't hurt the environment when this wood is cut down.
Try imagining that the floor is made from bamboo like in the mkLotusTM. Bamboo grows as fast as two feet a day so it comes right back if you cut it down.
Screen walls are an excellent way to shade rooms from sun and cool them cool naturally.
The slant of this part of the roof allows the solar panels to absorb more sunlight.
The green living roof feeds off of storm water and absorbs sunlight, which is another way to keep the house naturally cool.
Trellises are another great sun shading feature on the mkLotusTM that reduce the need for air conditioning.
The rain and groundwater catchment systems collect water to use for watering the garden.
The mkLotusTM uses 100% solar generated power which creates a zero electric bill.
Think of the icing on the outside was as what we call siding. The siding we use on the mkLotusTM is made from FSC Certified wood (like the framing) and also a long-lasting, low-maintenance cement with color already added, which means it doesn't need to be painted or repaired or replaced. That means less waste!
Step 5: Visit My Website and My Brand New Blog!
To learn more about my work you can visit us at www.michellekaufmann.com.
To learn more about the mkLotusTM visit www.mkLotus.com.
To learn more about green living and how you can go green visit my blog at http://blog.michellekaufmann.com. You can send us pictures of your creation through my blog, too!
I hope you enjoyed making your very own gingerLotus!