My most exciting achievement this Christmas was making my very first gingerbread house. Every time Sylvia suggested another present for the family and I was low on energy I mentioned the gingerbread house. It wasn't easy nor quick but it was so satisfying to look at the finished version on the sideboard at my parents' house on Christmas day and think, I made that!
did a lot of research before starting. Because I was nervous. I toyed with the idea of a vegan gingerbread house. Then I saw Charlie's elegant gingerbread house on Hotly Spiced. It looked great and the instructions were clear. This was my house. With colour! Here is what I did and what I learnt.
Some of my mistakes were so obvious I can't believe I didn't see them coming. First hurdle was making the dough. This should have been the easiest part. I make gingerbread quite often. Foolishly I threw all the ingredients into the food processor together. After all my regular recipe just mixes everything together. However this dough was so crumbly it felt wrong. I checked the recipe. Oops. I tried the second half of ingredients as instructed. That means I mixed the dry ingredients, added the wet and processed for a few minutes. Then I left the dough in the fridge for a few days before moving on.
I then enlisted E's help to recut my templates using baking paper (you know the non-stick paper you buy). This worked far better. Yet I was too focused to make dinner. I handed that task to E that night. It was a simple matter of yum cha leftovers and fudge that night.
I also used lots of baking paper because I rolled out dough between baking paper and rather than remove large pieces to baking tray, I removed excess dough to leave the piece on the paper and baked it that way.
The gingerbread had baking powder so it was slightly more puffed than the pieces I had cut out. I saw someone suggest that you trim the pieces of gingerbread using the original templates. I didn't do this with all of them except the doorway that suddenly seemed so much smaller than the doorway.
It was while baking that I found myself discombolbulated. I was really paranoid about getting the texture crisp enough to hold up the house. My main paranoia was that the house would collapse. Some of the pieces looked smooth and perfect. Others looked slightly mottled and I thought perhaps they were underbaked because they were from the half of the dough I made without following instructions. I baked them more and then worried (with good cause) that they were too well done.
vegan recipes. I also found recipes which used caramel or chocolate to join the house together. In the end I used a traditional recipe of egg whites and icing sugar. It was easy to make and easy to pipe. Now that I know how it works, I might try other recipes and see how they compare. If I ever do this again.
I started to pipe very small roof tiles and then I thought I would be doing it for the rest of my life. I rubbed it off. I figured it was on the bad burnt side of the room and I would sprinkle with icing sugar to cover it up. It was a good decision to make the tiles bigger as we ended up sticking on lollies in the tiles. I used a thin writing nozzle for most of the decoration and a thick one for the window frames and door frame.
My paranoia about the house collapsing was in full flight when I assembled the house. My expectations were low. I didn't even have straight sided glasses so I used water bottles and coffee mugs. E helped hold things together. It was not perfect. There were gaps. The roof sagged slightly. Enough to put fear into my heart. The next morning I arose fearing the house would be in pieces but it held. That was a great feeling.
I was wary of loading the house with too many lollies that would drag it down. Yet I knew that was just what sylvia wanted. Lots of lollies. So did I. At first I piped icing onto each piece to go on the house. Then it got too slow and I found dabbing a bit of royal icing with spoon or knife worked just as well. We didn't have a pattern and I wasn't quite sure how to put the lollies on the walls but we used up all we had. If I had bought more I might have used them. After all, jubes are very light.
A week of the gingerbread house. (Some people do it quicker!):
- Friday - make dough (before night market)
- Sunday - bake walls and roof (after yum cha)
- Monday - assemble house (before and after seeing Christmas lights)
- Tuesday - finish off the lolly decorations and in evening create the overhanging icicles on roof (while Carols by Candlelight on during Christmas Eve)
- Thursday - eat gingerbread house (on Boxing Day with family)
Let's Cook Christmas Party Food.
And since this is my last post of the year, I wish you a very happy and healthy new year. I'll be back in 2014 with a reflection on the year.
Adapted from Gourmet Traveller via Hotly Spiced
Two batches of the following gingerbread dough (I have written x2 after each measurement because I tend to glance once at a recipe for how much of each ingredient I need to have on hand, and one while I am baking it - this is my way to minimise mistakes in either glance!)
2 1/3 cups (x2) plain flour
1 cup (x2) light brown sugar
1/2 tbsp (x2) baking powder
1/2 tbsp (x2) ground ginger
1 tsp (x2) ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp (x2) freshly grated nutmeg
110g (x2) cold butter, cubed
1/4 cup (x2) golden syrup
2 tbsp (x2) treacle
1 (x2) egg
4 egg whites
900g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
Lollies to decoration (jubes, freckles, smarties, candy canes, liquorice strips, marshmallows etc)
Make the gingerbread:
Place dry ingredients of the first batch in the food processor and mix lightly. Add butter, golden syrup, treacle and egg. Blend until the mixture comes together into a soft dough. This could take a few minutes. Remove from food processor, wrap in clingwrap. Repeat with second batch of dough. Place wrapped discs of dough into fridge for at least an hour. Mine was left a couple of days.
Bake the walls and roof:
Preheat oven to 180 C.
Cut out template pieces of the house (I used baking paper):
- Side wall: 24cm wide x 14cm high
- End wall: a 13cm wide x 14cm high rectangle with a 6cm high pitch for the roof (ie the wall is 20cm high in total)
- Roof pieces: 10.5cm high x 27cm wide
Now bake the dough for about 10-12 minutes until darkening on the edges and smelling cooked. Cool on tray for 5 to 10 minutes and transfer to wire rack to cool completely. I let mine cool overnight.
Make the royal icing:Lightly whisk the egg whites in a medium bowl. Gradually add icing sugar until all used up and you have a stiff white paste. It will be hard to stir and set fairly quickly. I kept mine covered with clingwrap while I worked and then left in a tub with a lid in the fridge overnight.
Decorate the walls and roof:
While the walls and roof piece are flat, pipe as much royal icing decoration as you wish. I did some edges of windows and the door, roof tiles and a few curly bits. I also stuck a few lollies around window panes at the point.
Assemble the house:
Using a thick nozzle, pipe a generous among of icing along the base of one long wall and place on your cake board. Let set a little with a tall glass or water bottle beside it (I had some helping hands at this point to keep the pieces up). Now pipe icing down the side and base of an end piece and attach to the side wall with the corner of the long side wall on the outside. Place glass or water bottle inside (and outside if needed) to keep it up while it dries. Repeat assembling the remaining sides. Also take the door and pile down the side and on it's base and arrange by doorway slightly open. Leave for a few hours.
Pipe along the edges of each wall on the outside to strengthen it before removing glass or water bottles (at this point you could add lollies or liquorice strips). Remove all supports such as glasses and water bottles. Pipe along the top edges of the walls and place the roof pieces on top. Pipe along the top of the roof (you can add lollies at this point) to join it together.
Decorate the house:
Add lollies for decoration, dabbing a little royal icing on the back of each. Use them for the door knob, between the roof tiles, around the door and make little hearts with candy canes. I wanted to make some flowers on the walls but it just didn't happen.
When lollies in place, pipe short strips of royal icing close together to hang down from around the roof like icicles. (I used my fingers when done to push together at the edges of the house. Don't worry if a few strips fall off - that is the way with icicles!)
Use the remaining royal icing to spread a snowy edge on the board around the house. If you want to put Christmas trees or snowman, press them into some royal icing to stand them up. Now sift a light shower of icing sugar over the roof and it is finished.
On the Stereo:
Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Novelty Records of All Time, Volume VI: Christmas