As well as being members of the Daring Cooks, Saskia and I are also Daring Bakers.
The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.
We were very excited about making our first gingerbread house (and significantly more excited than the December Daring Cooks challenge). We decided to make two houses, one from spelt flour that I can eat and one with regular flour, in case the spelt one didn’t work out.
Making the gingerbread
First up I got my ingredients together:
I then but them in my mixer, together with a mixture of golden syrup and honey (the recipe called for molasses which I couldn’t find). I beat the mixture until the sugar had dissolved and the mixture was smooth:
I then measured out my flour – there was a lot:
I added bicarbonate soda and ginger to the flour, mixed it together, then added the dry mixture to the wet mixture, it was hard going:
I then transferred it to my kitchenAid and the dough hook brought it all together:
I then wrapped the mixture and refrigerated it. The recipe said you need to chill it for at least 4 hours or overnight. I made this a bit in advance so I chilled it overnight, then froze it for a couple of days. The dough came up fine.
Making the house – planning
Saskia came over early on Saturday morning to commence the designing, baking, building and decorating. Saskia had a vision of making a gingerbread ‘outback shack’. I thought this was a great idea and more appropriate than making some kind of snow covered chalet, given we are in the middle of a hot Australian summer:
First we had to make a model, here are all our bits and pieces:
From the top of the picture above, there is the walls of the house (make 2), then the wide roof section, end of the chimney, back of the house (make 2), short roof section, bits and pieces for the chimney and the balcony roof.
We fitted the cardboard pieces together to make sure it would work:
Making the house – baking
We rolled out our chilled dough in between 2 sheets of baking paper, until it was 5mm thick and cut out shapes based on the cardboard pieces:
I will note here that my dough in particular was quite moist and sticky (even though I reduced the liquid quantities). We ended up placing the cardboard pieces over baking paper so they didn’t stick to the dough. This worked pretty well.
After each piece was cut it went into the fridge for 30 minutes, then into the oven (150 degrees) for about 20 minutes:
We pulled the pieces out of the oven when they were not fully cooked and re-trimmed them against the cardboard. My dough tended to expand quite a lot, so this was a key step. After they were trimmed back to the correct size they were put back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes to firm up, then put on a wire rack to cool.
I will mention that the process up to this point had taken several hours – by the time all my pieces and Saskia’s pieces had been through the oven we had been working for about 5 hours. How long it will take depends on the design of your house – ours had 7 main pieces plus some smaller bits. Only 2 or 3 pieces can go in the oven at once as they expand. Plus, we also made two houses, so we needed to roll, cut and cook 14 main pieces all together. I now understand why people often make gingerbread houses over a couple of days.
Making the house – assembly and decoration
We waited until all the pieces were completely cooled before we started making the house. The recipe stated you could either use royal icing or sugar syrup to hold the house together. Saskia had read on Martha Stewart that sugar syrup was the better choice, so we used it. I am very glad we did – that stuff hardens like glue.
We made a sugar syrup by heating caster sugar over a flame (no water added), until it liquified. We then dipped the edges in the syrup and stuck them on our tray. I was so pleased when the house actually stood by itself:
We then added the other bits so we had the four walls:
We separately assembled the chimney:
Then attached that to one side of the house:
Next was the fun part – decorating! We purchased an inordinate amount of lollies to decorate the house:
I will say that we didn’t use anywhere this amount to decorate the house, but it was nice to have ‘options’. We made some royal icing (recipe below) to attach the decorations to the house.
We decided to decorate the walls and chimney before we put the roof and balcony on. Here is the house once we had finished decorating the walls etc:
You can see in the picture above that we also piped some royal icing on the joins inside the house, over the sugar syrup, for extra strength. To be honest I am not sure this was necessary, the sugar syrup was super strong, but we were a little nervous about the roof holding up.
We made some more sugar syrup and started the most stressful part – the balcony, which was only being held up by wafers:
Seriously, the sugar syrup was awesome. We then added the two roof pieces and kept on decorating. We actually used quite a lot of sugar syrup to decorate the house at this point, including making our tree, koala, kangaroo and people stand up.
After a couple more hours decorating, here are many photos of our hard work:
The wreath was made of trimmed mint leaves and jubes, the door from pretzels, there is a smartie border around the house, wafer balcony and candy cane supports. The edge of the balcony is tiled in chocolate caramels, with the grass made from tinted coconut stuck on to green icing. The man and woman are made of gingerbread, with mint eyes.
The chimney was tiled in the caramel part of jersey caramels, with chocolate caramels at the side.
The windows are made from the inner part of a jersey caramel, with trimmed liquorice straps as the border and a fruit stick as the window sill.
Windows are made from brown liquorice coins. There is a bit of dripping sugar syrup which we will pretend was deliberate (to make it look like a shack!). In reality I was stressed the roof would cave in and wanted some extra strength. It probably wasn’t needed.
We used chocolate fingers on the roof, with Christmas baubles on the roof line. The balcony is decorated with fruit sticks, with a border of wafers.
Here is a look at some of the other bits and pieces:
Our Koala (not to scale!) is made from gingerbread, then dipped in sugar syrup. He has mint eyes and a liquorice nose.
Our tree is made from wafers (stuck together with sugar syrup), mint leaves and some pieces of jube. There are some chocolate caramels at the base to support the tree.
Our kangaroo (lurking in the background), is made from gingerbread, with chocolate sprinkle fur and mint eyes.
The smoke in the chimney is made from pulled sugar syrup strands.
So all in all it was a successful, but long day (I think it was 9.5 hours from start to finish and we only assembled and decorated one house!). I think I would make a gingerbread house again, although I would probably break it up over a few days, maybe made dough one day, bake another and decorate and assemble on another day. This was a really fun challenge and something great to do with some friends.
Spicy gingerbread dough
(from Good Housekeeping) http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/recipefinder/spicy-gingerbread-dough-157…
500g packed dark brown sugar
360mL heavy cream or whipping cream
1140g all-purpose flour – I used spelt flour
2 tablespoon(s) baking soda
1 tablespoon(s) ground ginger
As I can’t tolerate wheat, I made the dough with spelt flour instead. I varied the recipe slightly as spelt flour requires less liquid.
- I used 300mls of cream and my mixture was still quite sticky. Perhaps add a little less.
- I used about 400g of honey and golden syrup instead of molasses as I couldn’t find it.
Saskia followed the recipe but added about 2 tsp of cardamom to the mixture as well. She baked with regular flour and used the full liquid quantities noted above – her dough was the perfect consistency, not as sticky as my spelt dough.
- In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.
- Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll. Note: I froze mine for a couple of days and it was fine.
- Grease and flour large cookie sheets (17-inch by 14-inch/43x36cm)
- Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 5mm thickness. Note: some of mine were different thicknesses and it didn’t make any difference to the finished product.
- Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (149C).
- Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave a bit of room between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.
- Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.
- Bake for 20 minutes – pull the pieces out and trim against your cardboard.
- Put them back in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch.
- Cool on a wire rack.
1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) pure icing sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren’t using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.
Note: consider making double quantities of this as it doesn’t give you heaps of mixture. Also, I found the icing to be too hard to pipe on, so added another teaspoon of almond extract and later, a couple of teaspoons of water.
2 cups (400g) sugar
Place in a small saucepan and heat until just boiling and the sugar dissolves. Dredge or brush the edges of the pieces to glue them together. If the syrup crystallizes, remake it.