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GINGERBREAD HOUSE DOUGH:
2 cups sugar
2 cups shortening
2 cups dark molasses
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
9 to 10 cups all-purpose flour
ICING AND ASSEMBLY:
8 cups confectioners' sugar
6 tablespoons meringue powder
3/4 to 1 cup warm water
Large dot (#12) decorating tip
Candies and cookies for decorating
Dough: In a large saucepan, cook the sugar, shortening and molasses on low, until shortening is melted and sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add the cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Stir in flour, 1 cup at a time, until dough can be formed into a ball.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead until even in color and smooth (not crumbly or dry), adding more flour if needed. Form into a log. Cut into five equal pieces; wrap in plastic. Cut patterns out of paper or cardboard.
Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly grease the foil. Lay a damp towel on counter; place prepared pan on towel (to prevent slipping). Unwrap one portion of dough. Using a very lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough directly on baking sheet to a 15x10-1/2-in. rectangle about 1/4 in. thick. Position patterns at least 1/2 in. apart on dough as shown. Cut around patterns with a sharp knife or pizza cutter; remove patterns. Remove dough scraps; cover and save to re-roll if needed.
Bake at 375° for 10-14 minutes or until cookie springs back when lightly touched. Remove from oven; immediately replace patterns on dough. Cut around the edges to trim off excess cookie. Cool 3-4 minutes or until cookies begin to firm up. Carefully remove to a wire rack; cool Repeat with remaining dough and patterns.
Icing and Assembly: In a large bowl, beat the sugar, meringue powder and 3/4 cup water on low until blended. Beat on high for 8-10 minutes or until stiff peaks form, adding additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed. Place a damp paper towel over bowl and cover tightly until ready to use.
To assemble frame of the house, test your cookie pieces to make sure they fit together snugly. if necessary, file carefully with a serrated knife or an emery board to make fit. Fill decorating bag two-thirds full with icing. Beginning with the front of the house, squeeze a 3/8-in. wide strip of icing onto the bottom edge of the front piece. Position on the cookie base, 3 in. from the front edge of the base. Prop it upright with spice jars for 2-3 minutes or until icing hardens; remove jars.
To add the sides, squeeze icing on lower edge of one side piece and side edge of the front piece. Align pieces at a right angle, making sure they are as tight as possible. Repeat with the other side.
To add the back,squeeze icing on the bottom and side edges of the back piece; position with the other assembled pieces. For added stability, squeeze icing along the inside edge of all pieces and corners.
To assemble the roof, working with one side at a time, squeeze icing on the upper edge of the slant of the front and back pieces on one side. Also squeeze icing on the adjoining side piece. Carefully place roof piece on the slants so that the roof's peak is even with the pints of the front and back. (There will be an overhang of 1/2 in.) Repeat with other side of the roof.
To decorate, add a chimney if desired (see photo for assembly). Decorate the house with remaining icing, candies and cookies of your choice.