Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gingerbread House Baking

This past weekend Walter, Manuel and I took the time to build a gingerbread house.  Not just your regular five-year-old gingerbread house, but a house that we could practically move into!

Before we got started I checked out the internet for both a recipe and building plans.  The recipe came by way of The Alison Show.  A great website full of crafting and baking.  For the plan ... well, although I found some great ideas, I couldn't find a plan that was quite right.  So, I had to wing it.  Things I learned from winging it?  Don't!  Take the time to draw it out on cardstock, cut it out, tape it out to test it.  It'll save you so much time.

In any case, Walter and I started getting all the ingredients together and making the dough.  (Actually, I sent him off with Daddy to do some storage re-arranging so I could complete this step more quickly.)

  • Flour - 6 cups
  • Baking Powder - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Ground Ginger - 4 teaspoons
  • Ground Cinnamon - 4 teaspoons
  • Ground Cloves - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Salt - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Butter, softened - 3/4 cup
  • Brown Sugar - 1 1/2 cups
  • Eggs - 2 large
  • Molasses - 1 cup
  • Water - 1 or more tablespoons, if needed
Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.  In a mixer cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy (since I don't have a stand mixer I did this by hand).  Add the eggs, one at a time, until blended.  Then add in the molasses.  Now, start adding in the flour mixture, in small batches, blending in as you go.  It will be quite dry - if it's too dry add a tiny bit of water.  It should end up being blended but not sticky.

Divide the dough into four parts and roll each out to 3/8" thickness on wax paper.  You may need a bit of flour if your rolling pin sticks.  Layer these four rolled out dough portions on a cookie sheet using the wax paper as dividers, and place in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Now you can cut out your gingerbread house using whatever plan you devised.  I doubled the recipe at Manuel's insistence because he thought we would be building big.  I ended up with a LOT of dough - some Walter and I made into gingerbread people, animals, and Christmas images, but I still ended up freezing a lot of dough for a future time.

I found that I needed to spray the cookie sheets with some Pam in order to help the baked gingerbread loosen more easily.  In any case, place your pieces on a cookie sheet and bake for 7-9 minutes.  I used my convection setting and found 8 minutes just right.  Cool on sheet before removing to completely cool.

The next part - the Royal Icing - is the sugary "glue" that keeps all the pieces together.  Alison taught me something new here - meringue powder!  I found mine at Galloway's.  This is a lovely local store that is a great source for European cooking needs as well as having wonderful bulk-style organic items and personal/home care products.  I bought two bags just in case - I have way too much, so I'll have to figure out what else I can make besides royal icing :)

  • Meringue Powder - 1/2 cup
  • Water - 1 cup (almost)
  • Powdered Sugar - 2 pounds (one of those bags you get in the grocery store)
  • Light Corn Syrup - 2 teaspoons
First, sift the powdered sugar and set aside.  Next, you need to whisk the meringue powder and water until foamy.  I used my hand mixer for this.  It doesn't take long.  Now, slowly add in the powdered sugar.  Mix on low until blended, about 5 minutes.  Then, add in the corn syrup and mix on medium speed until it is glossy and stiff peaks form.

I used a jar and placed sandwich bags over the jar, pushing the bag around the jar opening.  Then I could scoop the royal icing into the bag, press out the air, and zip it up before snipping off a corner - this became my "piping" bag.  I would have used my piping kit but it's in storage until we move.

Because we had made such big sides and roof pieces we found we needed to butter the back side of the pieces with royal icing and let this harden before proceeding.  This made the pieces firmer and more stable.  Even doing this we needed to allow the frame of the house to set over night before completing things the next day.  Yes, a two-day gingerbread house!  To help stabilize the whole structure even more we used toothpicks and bamboo skewers.

Now came the part that Walter was impatiently waiting for - decorating!  We spent Friday morning before work at Save-on-Foods in the bulk section picking out candies to use for this purpose ... plus we picked up some more at Galloway's on Saturday.

I piped while Walter followed behind placing every single piece of candy he could.  He even placed large handfuls inside the house!  We had a great time ... although, when the last piece was stuck on Walter wanted to know if we could start eating the gingerbread house.  I said NO - we need pictures.  And Daddy said NO - we want Oma to see it too!  Every day he asks - so far, we've had enough gingerbread men to keep him occupied!

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