Daring Bakers, December: A Gingerbread House
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.
I used Y's recipe, which is linked above. And I'll preface by saying that I'm a pretty grinchy gingerbreadist.
I saw a cute design on the Good Housekeeping website. It featured at tall, sloping roof, so I incorporated that and kept the rest simple.
I'll admit. I don't like gingerbread. The kits might be fun, but I've never had much luck, baking one up from scratch. It's not the building aspect, either. I studied architecture in high school and college, and had to make many architectural models. I do, however, remember hearing some wise old professors warn us aspiring architects: "Never use gingerbread to build architectural models--it doesn't work well." Okay, that's a lie. Although there were points during this process when I wanted to stop and use chipboard covered in royal icing to finish this recipe. And it was hard at times to not use some mighty grinchy language, like when rolling out the initially stiff, crumbly dough. Or prying delicate pieces off the bottom of the baking sheet. Or trying to assemble those same pieces and watching them shatter to dust in my hands, leaving my wondering if icing could fix THAT problem.
Here's the template I used. I didn't want to make it too big, and the final house is only about 9 inches tall.
The dough rolled out into the pan, as directed by the recipe. At first, the hunk of dough crumbled, which was discouraging (*cue more grinchy language*), but after beating it with my French rolling pin for about 5 minutes, it started to "relax" and do what mama told it, like a good little dough.
I made the dough a few days before I actually baked it. I think the long resting time in the fridge dried it out quite a bit, so it baked up brittle and cracked at parts. In addition, one of the big pieces buckled as a bubble built up under it, rounding it up. (Argh, razzum frazzum.) It also stuck to the cookie sheet, but the recipe said not to grease the pan or use parchment paper. So I didn't. Ok, at one point, while baking the roof, I did use parchment, and it came up like a charm. Anyway, I hid the cracks using a load of icing, and whatever appropriate foodstuffs I could drag out of the ill-stocked-for-gingerbreading cupboards.
I'll pause here and say that the only other time I've made a gingerbread house was in cooking school, during Classical Desserts class. It sucked butt. Our chef-instructor, who was subbing in and not really a pastry chef, had us roll out ginormous house pieces (almost a foot tall at their longest points) out on floured benches, then move them to our baking sheets. Big mistake. We deformed the pieces in transit; we should've rolled them out on the sheets. Then the giant pieces would keep falling because each weighed about 20 pounds, and royal icing, while mighty, is not THAT mighty. Pieces would fall, break, we'd try to repair them with more icing, that would also fail. Basically, at best, we ended up with gingerbread dilapidation--holiday shacks. The Fall of the House of Ginger. Thus, I went into this project already soured on it.
I was hoping the gingerbread would be at least a little pliable fresh out of the oven so I could curve it over the roofline, but it came out already hard, so I just used slats. I was able to turn some of the bigger roof pieces, which I'd baked on parchment (just as an experiment) into slats, but many of them shattered. I baked more, sans parchment, and those stuck to the sheet (I never learn), and several broke. I used what was left and what I could repair, so it's not the smoothest-looking roofline, but you get the steep, sloping message.
I filled the slats in with royal icing. Wah-lah!
-I'm not sure why the recipe doesn't talk about parchment, but if you bake this recipe, I highly recommend using it.
-Don't wait too long to bake the dough after making it. It can rest overnight, but in my case, I feel like it dried out too much before I baked it. I baked the walls more than 2 days after making the dough, and the roof, the day after that.
-Make sure you roll the dough out evenly, or some parts will be too thin and bake up brittle and dark. I'd also start checking for doneness a bit early.
-I was pretty sure I wasn't going to eat the gingerbread (it's not that tasty, now that all is said and done), so I wish I'd used shortening instead of wasting good butter in the recipe.
-The royal icing in the recipe was a bit stiff, so I watered it down to varying levels, according to what I needed it for. A little bit of water goes a long way, so separate out what you need for a certain task, and add a drop at a time.
-Go in armed with ample amounts of candy decorations. I ended up just using what we had around the house--some old Jelly Bellies and chocolate rice krispie treats. It's humble, but I got what I asked for.
And that's this month's project! It's my first one in the new house, so I'm glad that I broke in the new house with a new house. Want to check out some gorgeous gingerbread from my fellow DBers? Click here.
Happy Holidays, jolly New Year, hip hop hurrah, and all that! I hope you're all in a safe, happy place, surrounded by loved ones during this chilly season!