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Gingerbread House – Daring Bakers Challenge December 2009

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna [1] and Y of Lemonpi [2]. 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.

I hadn’t planned on making a gingerbread house in December, for Christmas or for any other occasion. It just seemed like I already had enough on my plate around this time of year, without complicating it even further with making a gingerbread house.

This didn’t stop my enthusiasm when I found out what we were making. I’d never made a gingerbread house before – not even plain gingerbread… So I went straight to the internet to get ideas (I even asked a friend from work about the structural plans her husband had used last year – as that was an awesome gingerbread house!)

I decided to scale it down and not attempt the two storey magnificent house and found a cute (what I thought would be relatively easy and not too time consuming) gingerbread house with very cute decorations.

I’m not particularly good with my estimations, as everything seemed to take a lot longer than I had intended (everything except my plans for the house I drew up, along with a cardboard contraption to ensure the roof had a curve to it). The dough was very easy to make (except – I ran out of plain flour – who does that?) plus I think the conversion we were given may have been wrong, as it says 5 cups of flour was 875g not 625g, which is what other internet resources say.

I left the dough in the fridge overnight, as I was having a busy weekend. The next morning it took ages (more than an hour) for the dough to come to a workable consistency – I had to bring in the big guns to roll it out for me.

I had been given a hint, that you should cut out your gingerbread pieces once the gingerbread is baked and still warm – as it tends to shrink and warp while cooking, giving uneven walls etc. That was very useful in making sure I had the correct shapes. I just cut out the dough a bit bigger than my templates and cut out the templates from my cooked gingerbread while it was still warm – leaving the roof to set on my curved cardboard (a 24cm long piece of cardboard stuck to a piece of paper to measure 23.7cm on the paper.) I stabilised it with two rolled up overhead projector transparency sheets.

Once it was all cooked and cooled, I had to find my decorations. Why is it that every time you’re looking for something in particular, you can never find it?? This happened with a few of my items, although in the end, I couldn’t really fit anything else on the large pavlova plate I was using.

The royal icing was a first for me, and I found that 330g icing sugar seemed a bit too much for the amount of egg white (maybe I had to mix it more). I used some reasonably runny icing for the decorations, although it wasn’t great for holding up the walls of the house. So I added more icing sugar and eventually got quite a hard icing, which worked well for stabilising the walls and roof. All a part of learning, I guess.

I had help with all the decorating and holding of pieces from my mum and sister (thanks ladies), with them making the very cute snow men out of marshmallows, royal icing and sour strips. (How cute are the scarves and gloves? 🙂 )

Holding the leaning side walls, chimney and especially the large roof were a bit nerve racking, although with a bit of icing and patience, it held together.

The gingerbread was quite flavoursome (with everyone eating the off cuts and lollies while working), although I think I would put less ground cloves in next time (most people loved the strong flavours, but it was a bit strong for me).

Now…. To transfer it to my place for Christmas… why didn’t I do it at my home?

Thanks again to both our hosts. I really enjoyed this challenge (even though I am unlikely to make a gingerbread house as elaborate again).

I used Y’s chosen recipe:

Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)

from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas http://astore.amazon.com/thedarkit-20/detail/0816634963

1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g] (I found this to be 625g)

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour.

Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight. (Mine went very hard after chilling overnight).

Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.

Update: Click my link for my template [3]

Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.

For the tiles on the roof - Use a small circle cutter to make semi circle indents in the dough before baking

Y’s notes: [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]

Preheat the oven to 375’F (190’C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

For the roof I quickly cut out the roof when the gingerbread was cooked and placed it on a curved piece of carboard to get the curve for the roof

Royal Icing:

1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar (I used a little less)
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.

Simple Syrup:(I didn’t use this, and assembled everything with the royal icing)
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.

My photos of the assembly: (using lots of royal icing)

Place all decorations and piping on before assembling

I did one wall first (held up by a glass as it is a leaning wall) then the back of the house.

Pipe royal icing on the plate and the sides of the wall before placing walls in place. Pipe extra royal icing in the inside of the house. Make sure the walls are stable before attempting to put the roof on.

Pipe royal icing on all the edges the roof will attach to. Place roof on top and hold in place until stable.

Pipe lots of royal icing on the remaining piece of roof, as you won't be able to pipe any more on the inside. Hold in place until stable.