For Jim McGuinness, Christmastime is synonymous with gingerbread.
An owner in Uptown Greenwood’s Inn on the Square, with a culinary degree from Culinary Institute of America, McGuinness, 64, said he has long loved gingerbread.
“It’s all about the kids,” McGuinness said. “I always got excited at Christmas and I come from a large family -- eight kids. We baked, but I didn’t really get into gingerbread until I had kids.
“I went to cooking school, but baking was something I was really terrible at,” McGuinness said. “As an executive chef, it was my Achilles heel. But, I found I was really good at making gingerbread houses, and I started with that, and with my kids. My boys loved it so much that it was a little ‘let’s make it bigger and better.’
“Working with kids and cooking is fun,” McGuinness said. “It’s interesting what you can learn from kids when they are cooking, especially decorating. Some of them are chaos... some are very defined... Then, you have a group where everything has to be huge and big and crazy, or those who have a tendency to keep things small.”
Children make their culinary creations their own, McGuinness said, whether it’s custom gingerbread house designs or pizzas.
“Every kid comes out with a different personality,” McGuinness said.
Tuesday, the inn hosted more than 90 children and adults for its second Build a Gingerbread benefit supporting Bowers-Rodgers Children’s Home.
“Pretty much, gingerbread recipes are the same -- it’s just you can throw a little variation in there with your spices,” McGuinness said. “When it comes down to it, it’s flour, brown sugar, corn syrup or molasses, butter and some leavening. The difference between gingerbread cookies and gingerbread dough for houses, no leavening is used in dough for houses. Otherwise, humidity gets to it. It sags and it doesn’t stay solid.”
“With any kind of flour and dough, the harder you work it, the harder it gets,” McGuinness said. “If you are making a big gingerbread structure, you really want to work the daylights out of it.”
That, McGuinness said, is exactly what he had to do in making dough for the Inn on the Square’s scale replica of the Uptown Market building at 220 Maxwell Ave.
“That way, it really keeps solid,” McGuinness said. “With structural dough, you’ll create your forms, cut them and bake them a little bit in the oven. Then, roll them again. That takes the air out of it. Air in a structure can make it fall also.”
McGuinness makes a pattern of his gingerbread structure designs in cardboard first.
“I can break designs down to scale,” McGuiness said. “Then, I can cut cardboard pieces out to scale and tape it all together. So, I actually have a model that’s exactly like the gingerbread house.... I can roll out my dough onto cardboard disassembled pieces, put the pattern down on the gingerbread and cut pieces with an X-Acto knife.”
Roofs can be tricky, with a tendency to collapse. McGuinness recommends internal support structures if needed.
“I’ve also done two and three story buildings,” McGuinness said. “You can also use molds, including inflated balloons or even PVC pipe in different diameters, to create curves or arches.”
Gingerbread Cookie Recipe, courtesy Inn on the Square
1 1/2 sticks lightly salted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups brown sugar
1 orange, zested
The dry ingredients:
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup additional for rolling, if needed
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon dry, ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 lemon, juiced
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, add butter, sugar and orange zest. Beat until smooth, 5 to 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, dry ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Whisk to blend. Set aside.
In another bowl. whisk together eggs, molasses and lemon juice.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
When butter and sugar are integrated, lower mixer speed and add dry ingredients. Add egg mixture. When blended, remove bowl from machine. Divide cookie dough in half. Press one half of dough in between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Chill for 15 minutes. Repeat with second half of dough.
Lightly flour a flat surface. Use a floured rolling pin to gently roll the first half of the dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Lightly flour cookie cutters and cut shapes, making as few scraps as possible. Use a metal spatula to gently transfer them, cookie by cookie, to a baking sheet. (Cookies should be similar in size.)
Repeat with the other half of the dough and transfer to another baking sheet. Bake until brown around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes.