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.
Ok, before you lynch me, rest assured that we were allowed to post our Daring Bakers’ challenge a little earlier than the 27th to coincide with the holidays. So don’t take me off the ‘Good Girl List’ just yet!
Cathedral all dazzled up with christmas lights
December’s challenge was always going to be excitingly festive and this year didn’t disappoint. After the initial, ‘oh, shit’, I think I may have yelled, ‘holy crap, awesome!’. It was always something I’ve wanted to tackle year after year but was always hampered by Xmas mayhem and the fact that I really couldn’t be arsed after days of tackling crazy carpark rage and holiday shoppers. This year, miracle of miracles, I had more time for myself, which is a good thing as I would’ve gone insane if I did the challenge in one hit rather than spreading it out over a period of time.
The back of the church and the closest I’ll ever get to a white Christmas this year
I’ve always been a little gung-ho and I knew that I wanted to do something a little different for my first time. I love classic architecture so when I glanced at a photo of one of my favourite buildings – St Andrews Cathedral in Glasgow, Scotland – I knew I found my crazy muse. Of course, the gingerbread version had to be simpler and even though I wanted to, I couldn’t include every single intricate detail of the cathedral.
The inspiration: St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow, Scotland (image taken from Urban Glasgow)
Sketching the church and drawing all the template pieces to scale were the easy parts. Rolling, cutting and baking 35 different pieces of gingerbread were tedious but relatively drama-free. The scary part was always going to be the assembling and having the gingerbread collapse on itself.
I made Y’s dough for the challenge but found it a bit tough to work with after a small amount of shrinkage and puffage in the baked pieces so I used the rest for cookies (you can find the two challenge recipes on The Daring Kitchen). I chose to finish the challenge with the gingerbread recipe that I usually use, which is similar in some ways but it was one I knew would work for my needs.
The stained glass windows were done with coloured sugar crystals which I melted in a pot and ‘poured’ into the windows. Can I just reiterate that I hate working with caramel (and I’m sure I’ve told you all a million times!). True to form, this messy stained glass window business didn’t help.
The cathedral’s pillars were made with ‘building blocks’ of gingerbread. And in case I wanted to light it up, I added two pigeon holes at the back of the cathedral for string lights. Decorating the whole thing was kept simple with a liberal sprinkling of icing sugar snow (complete with footprints!) – after all, it’s Scottish and this is a white Christmas!
After some minor mishaps (and an odd bout of cursing at the caramel), I’m happy to see that my very first gingerbread ‘creation’ didn’t collapse or look like a primordial blob. The Captain is downcrest at the thought of ravaging my hard work (although he admitted it would be a delicious task). Sad thing is, I think I might’ve created a monster as I’ve already looked to even more wacky landmarks for next year’s project. The boy suggested my beloved Anfield Stadium. *Manic grin*. Watch this space lol.
And finally (yes finally… I will shut up soon!), a huge Merry Christmas and happy new year! So much has happened since my humble blog’s first Christmas last year and it’s all thanks to the myriad of amazing bloggers that I’m lucky to have as good friends and comrades as well as the lovely readers who visit, email and comment. I wish you all a safe and happy holidays and remember, drink responsibly and eat lots.
- 675g plain flour
- 3 tsps (8gm) ground ginger
- 2 tsps (4gm) ground cinnamon
- 1.5 tsps (2gm) ground cloves
- 1 tsp (3gm) ground nutmeg
- 185g butter, chopped
- 220g dark brown sugar
- 180g treacle or molasses
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1-2 Tbl water
- 1 egg white
- 1.5 C (240g) icing sugar
- In a food processor, process the flour, spices and butter until it’s crumbly. Depending on the size of your processor, you’d probably have to do this in 2 batches. Alternatively you can rub the butter into the flour and spices with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly.
- Add brown sugar, treacle and egg mixture and mix to combine. Sometimes weather can affect the dough. In my case, the dough was still a little dry so I added some water, half a tablespoon at a time until the dough just came together.
- Place dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Do not overwork the dough. Wrap with cling film and refrigerate for an hour or overnight. I divided the dough into four pieces and moulded them to a flat disc before wrapping them in cling film.
- Cut out your house templates from thin cardboard (there are plenty of templates available on the internet). Gingerbread houses can be assembled a few days in advance if you wish. I made my pieces a day or two ahead and stored them in airtight containers and they were still pretty hard.
- Preheat oven to 180°C. Remove the dough from the fridge (you might have to thaw them out a bit if they’re hard).
- Roll dough between sheets of baking paper until 5mm thick. Remove the top layer of the baking paper and use your templates to cut out your shapes/windows etc. Remove excess dough and slide the baking paper directly onto your baking sheet or tray. Be careful not to warp your shapes.
- Bake for around 12 mins or until the gingerbread is just firm. They will harden up as they cool. You can also place the template back onto your gingerbread to trim the edges if the pieces have expanded a little. Re-roll dough scraps to form more shapes, doors or whatever you need. Move all baked shapes to a wire rack to cool.
- Beat egg whites until frothy then gradually beat in the icing sugar. Cover any icing with a damp (not wet) cloth to prevent it from forming a crust.
- Tip #1 – I find that this dough doesn’t really need the baking paper as it’s not very sticky. I like to roll my dough directly onto my greaseproof baking sheet using a lightly floured rolling pin, before cutting the pieces and baking directly after.
- Tip #2 – a long, straight cooks knife is invaluable for cutting the dough along long edges. I then use a paring or fillet knife to cut out small pieces and windows and doors. Be sure that after cutting and removing the excess dough, that you neaten up the edges so your pieces don’t bake with ‘ragged’ edges. If the dough gets too soft to work with, chill the dough until firm.
- Tip #3 – To make stained glass windows, I used coloured sugar crystals, melted in a small saucepan (each colour separately). Then I quickly poured the melted caramel into the windows of the cooked gingerbread pieces. Be careful not to drip over your pieces or fiddle with it too much so it will set as smooth as possible. Allow toffee windows to set overnight in airtight containers (not in the fridge).
- Tip #4 – When assembling it’s always best to let the royal icing or sugar syrup ‘glue’ set overnight or for at least several hours before continuing to ensure it’s completely dry. Start off with the bottom pieces and let it dry using cans to prop the walls etc up. i assembled mine on a rectangular MBF cake board covered in aluminum foil.
- Tip #5 – When assembling the ceilings, I added an extra rectangle of gingerbread inside, between the windows, to prop up the ceilings for more stability.