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Recipe by Marguerite Grifka, the Starlite. I have always been an avid home cook. I would characterize my food philosophy as using the best, freshest ingredients and highlighting the natural flavors. I try to screw things up as little as possible. As a home cook, I like simple comfort food from big pots of beans and greens to a nice meat loaf.

I used to live in New Orleans, and I managed a coffee shop there. Once, as a favor, I filled in for a chef in a restaurant and loved it. After a few years I went to culinary school and did an apprenticeship/model program where I worked full-time in a restaurant. I moved back to San Diego and have been at the Starlite since it opened a year ago in June.

At Christmas, my uncle — who’s a chef in Wisconsin — always makes gingerbread houses. At this point, he makes entire villages. When I got together with my current partner and her kids three years ago, they were five and ten, and we thought this would be a great way to connect over the holidays. Now the kids are eight and thirteen, but we still do the houses. We usually do all the baking —the kids help and I put the walls up. That’s the hardest part and it’s done best without tiny hands. We invite friends over to help with the decorating and the kids have free reign with the sugar and candy decorations. We build gingerbread houses to represent their houses and their friends’ homes — we even add in gingerbread pets. If kids have two residences, they can build houses for each — it’s a pretty modern gingerbread village.

INGREDIENTS

Makes one medium house

3⁄4 cup butter, chopped
1 egg
3⁄4 cup sugar
3⁄4 cup molasses
2 T + 2 tsp ground ginger
2 T + 2 tsp cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp baking soda
5 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour

TIPS

Kids will enjoy helping mix this up and roll it out. The template cutting and construction are easier for adult hands.

Plan to make and bake the dough on one day. Construct the house, using royal icing as “mortar” for walls and decorations. It’s best to do this in quiet moments, as it is the most difficult part. The house can be constructed several hours to days in advance of decoration. A can of soup or two make handy supports for walls while you are building your house. Don’t worry if it’s not beautiful, the addition of kids and candy will make it so by the end.

HOW TO DO IT

Obtain templates for the gingerbread house online or in a book. Photocopy the templates and cut them out so that you have paper templates the size and shape of the walls and roof you want on your gingerbread house.

Set out butter and egg and bring to room temperature. Bring sugar, molasses and spices to boil in a sauce pan — this is very hot, so be careful. Add baking soda, which will cause the mixture to foam up.

Pour sugar mixture over butter in a mixing bowl and mix well. Beat egg and add to sugar-and-butter mixture, mixing thoroughly. Add flour to form a stiff dough. Using your hands, form the dough into a ball and divide in two. Shape the dough into flat rectangles, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for an hour or two or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325˚. Roll dough out to 1/4” thickness. Cut out shapes for the house by laying paper templates on top of dough. Bake at 325˚ on nonstick baking sheets for approximately 20 minutes. Let cool before removing from sheet.

Royal Icing

1 lb powdered sugar
3 egg whites
1⁄2 tsp lemon juice

HOW TO DO IT

Sift sugar if there are lumps. Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Mix on low speed with whisk attachment, gradually increasing speed to high. Mix about 5 minutes or until the mixture is stiff.

Keep icing covered with damp towel until ready to use. You can put some into a plastic bag, cut a small corner off, and use as a pastry bag to easily apply “cement” to hold the walls together. After the house is complete, decorate, using the royal icing to adhere small candies and gumdrops.

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