Teach history with cookies

Did you read that title twice?

When you mention the word HISTORY to your kids…do their eyes glaze over? Are you looking for activities to entertain them at home? What about combining historical events, STEM (via baking skills), hand-eye coordination, creativity, and learning? How is this possible you may ask?

We love ancient history. We both took the class in high school. Chariots, archers on horseback, moats, archeology, ancient languages…hidden treasure!

But, we realize that not all kids are so interested in history. So, we had a bunch over and involved them in the retelling of a historic event…and it was a huge success. Build a historical city with gingerbread and then destroy it (maybe even how it actually happened in the past). And what kid will say no to eating the delicious ruins?!

Then sent the hyped-up sugared kids home to their parents. And clean up. Our floors needed a few washes (edible glitter…yep, gets everywhere), but, it was fun!

We decided on the ancient city of Babylon. We took the kids through a brief journey of its history while they constructed it, and then through the fateful night when it fell to the Medes and the Persians (they loved this part). Honestly, the kids had a blast, and afterward, parents told us they were definitely more interested in history!

Construction List

At the bottom of this page, there are separate lists and instructions per item, and one list with all ingredients on a complete shopping list.

The free recipe is below, using meringue powder instead of raw eggs. An example of meringue powder is a well-known brand Wilton

Decorating Icing dries non-tacky (Crusting Buttercream, free recipe below in Resources)

Gingerbread Construction Cookie Recipe (Note: this isn’t the same as a normal cookie recipe. Free recipe below in Resources)

Depending on the scale, make a single batch, double it – or be unwise like us and make cookie dough until you can’t take it anymore. This level of cookie dough making may make it into your dreams…

Thickness Guide & Rolling Pin: These rolling pin thickness sets are pretty handy to help you learn how to roll even thicknesses (and correct thicknesses!)

City Plan (or free shapes. See the guide below in Resources)

You can easily cut your own, or you can buy a cookie-cutter kit and just use the pieces you prefer.

Squeeze bottles will make things much easier for construction, so try a squeeze bottle for the Cement Icing (Royal Icing). Different bottle sizes are helpful if making small batch colors for cookies too (to use with buttercream icing for example).

Piping bags with different tips make decorating more fun, so you could buy a piping bag to use with the Decorating Icing (Crusting Buttercream).

Mini gingerbread people cookie cutters for the action figures. This one comes with three sizes.

Parchment paper, for example, this one from If You Care (silicone coated)

Decorations (see suggestion list in Resources)

Food dye if you desire

Tips

Make-Ahead

Gingerbread Dough Recipe: Dough can be made up to 3 days before and kept tightly wrapped in the fridge. Baked and cooled cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 7 days, or frozen for up to 2-3 months.

Crusting Buttercream (Decorating Icing): Can be made 1-2 days before and kept in the fridge, in an airtight container. This can also be frozen for up to 2 months. Just thaw and whisk before use (before putting in squeeze bottle or piping bag).

Royal Icing (The Cement): Can be made 3 days before and kept in the fridge, in an airtight container. It can also be frozen for up to 2 months. Just bring to room temperature and whisk before use (it can then be put in a squeeze bottle or piping bag).

A Regular Gingerbread Cookie Recipe is Too Soft

A regular gingerbread cookie recipe will be too soft. You can use the recipe we included in the download, or use one you have and adjust it:

  • Decrease the baking soda a little so the cookies don’t rise as much. This will make them sturdier
  • Decrease the butter and molasses so the dough is not as soft
Chill the Dough Before Rolling

Divide the dough into two balls before chilling. This will keep the other half from getting too warm while you roll out the first ball.

Don’t skip chilling or the shapes will not hold. Chill for 2 hours or up to 3 days

Rolling the Dough

Roll out the dough between two parchment sheets, it’s way easier.

We LOVE bench scrapers, such as this one by OXO. They help lift off the dough and keep its shape, and if you don’t have parchment it is a miracle worker (plus you can scrape off the leftover dough without damaging your counter which makes cleanup easier).

Leftover dough: just roll back into a ball, chill, and re-use.

City Plan

Get your kids to do a little research on an event in history, and a map of a city plan (or characters involved).

We laid out our city on paper (loosely designed, we were aiming for reasonable accuracy…this is gingerbread after all).

We mostly made various sizes of basic shapes, like rectangles, squares, triangles, circles, and used them to build. As you build you can always cut up pieces to suit your design.

Baking Time

We cooked the pieces a little longer than usual so they were a little harder so they wouldn’t crumble while being built, but not so hard they crack teeth.

Setting Before Decorating

Let your house set about 5 hours before decorating. We made ours the night before.

Icing and Decorating

Keep some frosting on hand when decorating, in case of falling walls during the enthusiasm. Although – that would be a good time to each about disaster relief.

Use the “Cement” or royal icing for building, and the buttercream for decorating.

Additional Ideas

If your kids really want to go all out, use tinfoil to make crowns and armor or whatever historical items are associated with your gingerbread event, as seen in the photos above.

Or, even more involved, you can make masks, armor, helmets out of paper Mache.

For more information see Paper Mache Masks & Creatures

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resources

Here are some free downloads for you to help you with your project!

The recipes are kid-friendly, meaning there are pictures and some basic baking tips to learn. However, we still recommend adult supervision.

Cookie Dough Recipe

cookie shapes

Rolling & Shaping Dough

Adjust the sizes and shapes or create your own!

Crusting Buttercream Recipe

Cement Icing Recipe(Royal Icing)

Assembly

Not a complete guide as it depends on what you are making, but a guide with tips

Combined Shopping List