The Magic of a Gingerbread House : Daring Bakers Challenge, December 2009
Having been a Daring Baker (Daring being the operative word here) for exactly 2 years now, I knew that our challenge for this month would definitely be in keeping with the season. I did however think it might be some complicated-to-make cake I had never heard of before. I certainly didn't expect to be asked to bake and put together a gingerbread house!
That's right, 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 don't celebrate Christmas and this month hasn't been very celebratory in my home so I almost didn't do this challenge. My daughter was however, taken up with the excitement of making a gingerbread house from scratch. Since my sister was down for a short stay, we both decided to indulge Akshaya and make the gingerbread house after all.
We decided to make the gingerbread house after her school term exams were done (on the 22nd) but when we finally got to doing it, my sister and I were left with the gingerbread on our hands as Akshaya was too busy celebrating the beginning of her vacation with a movie and a sleepover at her friend's place!
Gingerbread was not something I grew up with except in books and the gingerbread house decorated with sweets, cookies and chocolate from the story of "Hansel Gretel" always made me think how wonderful it would be to live in a house one could snack on every now and then. No veggies, just a lot of chocolate seemed perfect to my then 8 year old mind!
Gingerbread always brings back memories of reading the "Gingerbread Man" to my daughter when she was 3 or 4 years old. She loved the story of how the gingerbread man would outwit everyone and not let them eat him, but would never let me finish the story because the wily fox would finally eat the gingerbread man and that would make her so sad.
All done up at the back of the house too!
I have never ever made a gingerbread house (or even seen or eaten one) but I must say this challenge was something my sister and I had a lot of fun with. Even though I studied to be a biochemist, my dream was to be an architect and this challenge satisfied that dream somewhat! This month's challenge definitely had a lot more to do with being a Daring Engineer rather than a Baker!!!
I chose to use Y's recipe (based on Beatrice Ojakanga's recipe)because Anna's recipe required molasses which isn't available where I live. A lot of fellow bakers seemed to have issues with weight/ volume of the wet versus dry ingredients and a crumbly texture to their dough.
I am one of those who cooks/ bakes without a kitchen scale (Did I hear gasps?) and just used my standard measuring cup (a cup which is left from a set of coffee mugs I had!) and my gingerbread dough had the perfect texture.
I did reduce the spices a bit, and used only half the baking soda suggested. Like Y, I didn't use the sugar syrup but the royal icing for "glue"
The detailed recipes for the Gingerbread Houses challenge can be found on the Daring Bakers site. As usual, this challenge meant many "firsts" for me. This was the first time I made gingerbread, a gingerbread house and decorated with royal icing.
It took us a while to figure out just how we were going to make our house and what we were going to decorate it with.
All decorated and ready to be "glued" together.
I used this template as a guide to make my gingerbread house and the specifications of the individual pieces I used were as following:
For the side walls:** Two rectangular pieces each 5" wide and 3" high.
For the front and back walls:** Two pieces (front and back) 51/2" wide and 61/2" high (at the highest point). On the front wall, the door measures 21/2" high and 1 1/2" wide. The round window is 1 1/4" in diameter.
For the roof:** Two rectangular pieces each 6" wide and 6" high.
Cut out other shapes as desired for decorating the house.
Useful Tips For This Challenge:
I found it easier to divide the dough into 2 (or 4) equal portions, flatten each portion into a disc and then wrap and refrigerate them.
I rolled out the pieces for the house (sides and roof) to 1/4" thick and the pieces for decorating into about 1/8" thick. This made the parts of the house sturdy enough to stand while the pieces that were used to decorate were thinner and looked nicer.
It is very important to check that your pieces of your house measure the same at the edges where they are to be joined together. So check this as soon as they come out of the oven, and trim to them to fit!
I found it easier to use disposable pastry bags (without the metal tips), as it kept the royal icing from drying out and whenever the bag tips got blocked with dry icing, I just needed to press them out to get the icing flowing smoothly.
While assembling, a use heavy object to lend support to the pieces being joined together till the royal icing dries. I used my spice jars. They were especially useful to provide support to the roof.
My cardamom jar (and other spice jars too) lends roof support!
Never having eaten gingerbread before, I'm not sure how exactly it was supposed to taste. I understand gingerbread recipes used for gingerbread houses are usually more about texture and strength rather than taste.
My sister has had gingerbread before and she said it tasted good. In fact, half the gingerbread house is going back with her to the U.S. as I type out this post!
I personally have always found Beatrice Ojakangas recipes to work well for me, and I have to say the same about this one too.
The gingerbread was not too sweet and once the royal icing was used, just right where sweetness was concerned. The aroma of the spices every time we went anywhere near the gingerbread house was also something worth mentioning.
As I mentioned before, we had fun putting it together and it felt sad to have to take it apart after so much work went into it.
Please do not forget to explore the magic world of gingerbread houses in the world of the Daring Bakers
"Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays"
"Best Wishes for a Very Happy Prosperous New Year!"