Another month and another Daring Bakers Challenge.
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.
Last month when I discovered we were baking cannoli I joked about how I thought the daring bakers were reading my mind as I had wanted to give them a try for a while. At the end of my post, I continued the joke with predicting the fact that this month’s challenge would be Gingerbread houses as I had wanted to make them this month as well. Well, imagine my surprise as I read that this month’s challenge was – in fact – going to be gingerbread houses! I just about fell out of my chair! How awesome!
Homemade gingerbread houses instantly bring me to memories of my childhood. I can remember going over to grandma’s house every year for Christmas or Christmas Eve and spending a majority of the day decorating my gingerbread house with as many pieces of candy I could get my hands on as if it was yesterday. While those houses were not made from scratch, unlike the one we did for this month’s challenge; I still enjoyed every little bit of it!
Another thing I remember from my childhood was the snow. Growing up in Minnesota I got plenty of it. We spent many a Christmas sledding through the woods outside my grandmother’s house and engaging in afternoon long snowball fights and loved every moment of it. It truly has been a long time since I enjoyed a white Christmas seeing as how I have lived in.
Texas for a little over 10 years now.
Well lucky me because this month not only gave me a flashback of my past with the making of gingerbread houses but I also got a white Christmas as well! For the first time in many a year we received snow here in Dallas and I doubt that there could have been a bigger smile on my face for the holidays! The only thing that is unfortunate is that shortly after taking pictures of our gingerbread houses and some of our newly fallen snow our camera decided that it was time to quit! I was extremely disappointed as I wanted to share with you pictures and recipes of all our favorite Christmas cookies!
I guess we will have to be on the lookout and pick one up soon so that we can get everything back to normal around here as soon as possible.
Now back to the gingerbread houses!
I never knew it could be so difficult making gingerbread houses from scratch. In an effort to save myself some time with this challenge I wanted to make my dough in advance and have it ready to go so that I could really have some extra time in decorating it. However, while the instructions say you can refrigerate the dough overnight, I highly recommend you do not. The dough cools too much and becomes impossible to work with. It also dries out significantly despite being wrapped in plastic and got to the point where I decided to just throw it out and start over. I also added an extra 1/2 cup water to the recipe to give it a little more workability.
Then came the Royal Icing…. What a pain! This icing recipe sets up so fast that I could barely squeeze it out of the pastry bag. I ended up using it for a couple of pieces and then opted for a fallback Royal Icing recipe that I had saved from some cake decorating classes I took. It was much more workable and I think saved myself a tremendous about of time. While it takes a little more time to set your wrists with thank you!
Basically, the recipe mimics the one we used for the challenge but adds a quarter cup of water to it and removes the vinegar. You can then add powdered sugar to stiffen it up a little bit if it is runny or add more water to it if it becomes difficult to work with. All in all, I was really happy with my final result and still had a blast doing it. After all the point of a challenge is to challenge your capabilities right?
With the last of our out of town guests starting to leave tonight I am reminded of all the wonderful memories we have created over the past few weeks and look forward to the ones that we will make in the future. I wish you all the happiest of holidays and ask you to hold those who may be less fortunate in these times in your thoughts and hearts.
- 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]
- 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.
- Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney, and door out of cardboard.
- 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.
- [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for the 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.
- 1 large egg white
- 3 cups (330g) powdered 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.