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CIA Gingerbread House

 From: Valerie 
Sent: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 9:39 AM
Subject: Gingerbread House

Greetings Uncle Phaedrus, 

I am in search of a recipe for the Gingerbread House as demonstrated on Cooking Secrets of the CIA, Season 1, Episode 9, 
originally aired on 11/26/1995.  Series was produced by KQED for PBS and a companion book was sold; however, the recipes 
for this particular episode are not included in that book (I've already checked).

The recipe produced a sturdy, construction-style gingerbread dough used to craft a gingerbread house.  
It contained dried cake crumbs.

Any help would be appreciated!


Hi Valerie,

Sorry, I had zero success searching for this Gingerbread House recipe and instructions.

A few video episodes of the TV show itself are available on the Internet, but the only ones that I could find were from Season 2. I had no success finding Season 1 Episode 9 – “Gingerbread House and Holiday Treats” - on the web, not even on You Tube. I also had no luck locating the programs on DVD.

There were actually three cookbooks with similar names put out by the Culinary Institute of America: “Cooking Secrets from the CIA”, "Cooking Secrets from the CIA: The Companion Book to the Public Television Series“, and “More Cooking Secrets from the CIA: The Companion Book to the Public Television Series.“ They all have different covers and the last two, at least, have different content. You say you checked the companion book, but did you check both of the companion books? I’d check all three of those cookbooks. See:



It seems unlikely that very many people actually copied down the gingerbread house recipe and process while watching the program back in 1995, but I suppose it’s possible. I’ll post your request on my site in the hopes that someone did so and will send it to me. If a reader has one or more of the above three cookbooks, they might check and see if it’s in there and send it to me if it is.

Other than what I’ve mentioned, I see little way to proceed with this. I found this blurb about the show, with the names of some of the people involved with it. As a last resort, you might try to locate and contact some of them, as well as The Culinary Institute of America itself, and even PBS:

“In 1995, Canada's Knowledge Network began producing a series of cooking programs with the CIA and another secretive group, Marjorie Poore Productions. The result was Cooking Secrets of the CIA, which ran five years on American public television. Guides for this and several other Marjorie Poore cooking series (including Cook-Off America, Seasonings with Dede Wilson and Master Class at Johnson & Wales) would not have been possible without the good grace of Jeff Moss, the son of Cooking Secrets of the CIA's first director.”


Quote: "It seems unlikely that very many people actually copied down the gingerbread house recipe and process while 
watching the program back in 1995, but I suppose it’s possible."

Yes it's possible, and now you've met one. Below is the CIA's recipe for Gingerbread dough for making either cookies 
or houses, including the royal icing for the houses.                                            

Timm in Oregon

Gingerbread Dough

For cookies or houses


For the Gingerbread Dough:

Flourless cooking spray
3-3/4 cups all purpose flour plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon plain salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 large eggs

For the Royal Icing:

2 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
2-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Liquid or paste food colorings as needed


Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Lightly spray cookie sheets with cooking spray or line them with parchment paper. 
Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, allspice, and salt and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and honey on medium speed 
until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and mix until smooth and light, another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sifted dry 
ingredients and mix on low speed just until the dough is evenly mixed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, pat into an even disk, and chill for 10 minutes. Roll out the 
dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Use 5 1/2-inch cookie cutters to cut out cookies. Transfer to the prepared cookie sheets, 
spacing them about 1 inch apart.

Bake the cookies until they are firm, about 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely before 
decorating, if desired. Bake the remaining dough in batches as directed.

For the Royal Icing: In the very clean, grease free bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the 
egg whites on low speed just until they become loose, about 1 minute. Add the cream of tartar and continue mixing on 
low speed until the whites become frothy, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar gradually with the mixer on 
low speed.

Continue to mix until the icing holds a soft peak and is dull in appearance, about 2 minutes. The icing is ready to use 
for piping lines. Or, add a small amount of water until the icing reaches a looser consistency for flooding, or filling in, 
an outline. If desired, divide the icing among smaller bowls and add coloring(s).

If you won’t be using the icing right away, take the following steps to keep the icing from drying out: Clean the sides 
of the bowl or container to remove any drips; if a dry crust develops on the bowl, small pieces can drop into the icing 
and clog the tip of your pastry bag or parchment paper cone. Place a dampened paper towel directly on the surface of the 
icing and then cover the bowl very tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Notes: You may prefer to use pasteurized egg whites in this recipe to eliminate any food safety concerns.

Working quickly is very important as Royal Icing dries very fast once it has been piped.

Royal Icing dries very quickly. In order to keep it from hardening while you are working with it, store the icing in a 
sealed container with a damp paper towel directly on its surface.

If you don’t have a pastry bag available, simply use a heavy duty resealable plastic bag with one small corner cut off 
for the piping tip, to decorate your house.

Be sure to let your assembled gingerbread house dry for at least one hour before adding the candy decorations. This way, 
you can ensure that the weight of the candies will not collapse your structure before the Royal Icing has set.
If the Royal Icing seems too thick, it can be thinned with a little bit of water.
It is best not to rush this process and to allow plenty of time between assembly steps so that the Royal Icing can properly dry.

For ease of piping, designs such as latticework can be piped on the pieces before gluing them together, but no candy should 
be placed until the house is assembled. The weight from the candy could make the house more likely to fall down while the 
icing dries.

Looking for healthier options when it comes to gingerbread house decorations? Try nuts, raisins, pretzels, dried fruit, 
or any other snacks that are readily available in the bulk foods section of most supermarkets.

Once you have completed decorating the gingerbread house, spread any leftover icing onto the base to look like snow.

Any leftover Royal Icing should be thrown out once the house is decorated, as it contains raw egg white, and should not be 
saved for later use.

For a finishing touch, sift a little bit of powdered sugar over the house for a “freshly fallen snow” look.

Below is a link to a video of how the CIA makes a gingerbread house.

Hi Phaed,

Thanks for posting my request and for sending along this recipe.  While it does not contain the dried cake crumbs 
I remember from the show, I am sure it makes a fine gingerbread cookie!  No doubt that the Culinary Institute of 
America has more than one recipe for holiday gingerbread.

My search continues; will keep you posted if I am able to track it down.

Best, Valerie

Jawbreakers Biscotti

-----Original Message----- 
From: Frances 
Sent: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 8:46 PM
Subject: Jawbreaker cookie recipe

Hi Uncle Phaedrus,

I am searching for a recipe for what were called "jawbreakers" or a very 
hard (hence the name) almond biscotti that we used to buy at Madonia 
Brothers Bakery in Arthur Avenue, the Bronx. These were had whole almonds, 
and looked like wide, short biscotti with a slightly bumpy but shiny top, 
quite light in color. My guess is they were made with egg whites and very 
little fat.

Any ideas?



Hello Francis, I looked for a Madonia Brothers Bakery website in the hopes that there might be a photo and description of these cookies on it. However, they don't appear to have a website. The website at appears to be bogus and has nothing to do with Madonia Brothers. Madonia Brothers Bakery in the Bronx does have a Facebook page at Madonia Brothers Bakery , however, there is no mention of these biscotti on it. There is a photo in this review of Madonia Brothers Bakery that appears to be of their almond biscotti: Dishtip

Frances, from what I found while researching this, "jawbreakers" or "jaw breakers" is just a term used to refer to any hard-baked biscotti, as opposed to "soft biscotti", which are crunchy on the outside, but get softer in the center. "Jawbreaker" might often be used to refer to a particular kind of biscotti from Tuscany, called "cantucci" or "cantuccini" there. I found no mention of jawbreakers or jaw breakers from Madonia Brothers Bakery, and only a few brief mentions of their biscotti. I would not expect their actual almond biscotti recipe ("jawbreakers" recipe) to be available on the Internet. A copycat or tastes-like is what you'd look for.

There are some cantucci, cantuccini, and hard baked almond biscotti recipes on these sites:

Midnight Hausfrau

Atelier Christine

Key Ingredient

Google Groups


1970s Spice Crumble Cake

-----Original Message----- 
From: Valaria
Sent: Thursday, December 12, 2013 8:00 PM
Subject: A cake from the 1970's


I hope you can still answer requests. I am listening to Firestone Christmas 
records recalling Christmases past. My aunts on my fathers side would make a 
cake for Xmas eve. Everyone is deceased including my father--From what I 
recall it was a type of spice cake with walnuts that you would crumble and 
add cool whip ...if you know the recipe please send it

Ciao Bella

Hi Valaria,

I had no success with this. I need more information. I can't find a spice cake like that, but I did see some fruit cake recipes that were similar. Did it have any fruit in it - apples, cherries, etc? Too bad we don't have the name of the recipe.

I'll post this on my site in case a reader can help. However, it will be January before it appears on the site, much too late for Christmas, even if a reader has the recipe. If we're lucky, though, you will have it for next year.


Salsa Plus

From: "Donna" 
Subject: Heloise Salsa/Plus
Date: Saturday, November 23, 2013 10:34 AM

My version begins with a basic recipe from the paper, “Hints from Heloise” who is a native Texan with Hispanic heritage
living in San Antonio and writing a column her mother started.  Below is her recipe and beyond that are my changes, 
additions, and variations.  I find that mine is always a bit different each time but the base is the same.  Roasting some 
of the peppers and leaving others fresh gives a nice blend of smokiness and crunch with HOT!
3 jalapeno
1 small onion
1 small
garlic clove
1 teaspoon
cilantro (sometimes called fresh coriander or Chinese parsley)
Salt and
pepper to taste
2 teaspoons
lime juice
1 large can
whole tomatoes
Chunky-type salsa, finely chop onion, garlic, cilantro and jalapeno peppers.  
You may want to remove the seeds from the jalapeno peppers before chopping them, 
because they more seeds, the hotter the sauce!  Mix together and add the tomatoes, 
lime juice, salt and pepper.
Mix well until the tomatoes are partially liquefied but lumpy.
For smoother salsa, one of my secretaries puts all the ingredients in a blender and 
blends the salsa into a smooth consistency.
Keep salsa in the refrigerator for two to three hours before service so all the 
ingredients have a change to mix well and complement each other.
My Version
3 medium Serrano peppers
3 medium jalapeno peppers
Pierce the skins of 2 jalapenos and 2 serranos.  Place on a piece of foil, and broil in 
the top of the oven the peppers until the skin is brown to almost charred.  You will have 
to turn the peppers to roast them on all sides.  Either use plastic gloves or baggies over
your hands and split the roasted peppers.  Remove most of the seeds.  Put the skin of the 
peppers with the char into a bowl of a small food processor or hand held blender.  Split 
the remaining 1 fresh jalapeno and 1 fresh Serrano and remove the seeds.  Again be careful 
to avoid getting the peppers oil on your hands because it can really burn your eyes or skin.  
Put into the chopping bowl with other roasted peppers.  Add some of the tomatoes and blend 
to a fairly fine consistency.  
Increase amounts of:
Juice of l whole lime
1-2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
Omit black ground black pepper
Add to taste:
Ground cumin (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon)
Ground red pepper (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon)
Ground chili pepper (1 teaspoon)
McCormick Mexican Seasoning
Texas Gunpowder (ground dried jalapeno pepper)
Tabasco sauce
Start by chopping the onion, garlic and fresh cilantro in the bowl of the hand held processor.  
In a large mixing bowl use the long blender blade of the hand held unit.  Process tomatoes to 
texture/consistency you like.  Add the blended peppers, lime juice, onion and cilantro mixture, 
and dried seasonings.  Be careful with the salt as there will be salt on the chips for dipping 
but salt is needed to smooth the acid of the tomatoes and lime juice.
Each time you make this you can vary it.  I am thinking of trying roasted garlic sometime.  
Recipe is easy to double, too.   Just use more tomatoes and a larger onion.  
This keeps in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 

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