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Short and sweet

December 23, 2009

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.

For weeks now I have been trying to figure out a way to do justice to this month’s Daring Bakers Challenge. I was planning to make a gingerbread house with my two girls during the holiday season.  However, were it not for the Daring Bakers Challenge aspect of the project, it would have been abandoned.  Why? Not because it is hard, not because it is time-consuming, not because of all the candy I bought that they will now consume.  It is not for any of those reasons, and also for all of those reasons.

The house was not hard to make, per se, it’s just that it requires working in stages.  So, the 7-13 hour time commitment is no joke, but for me that was spread out over several weeks.  Naturally, by the end of it, I am somewhat annoyed with and sick of the gingerbread house sitting on my kitchen table.  At the same time, it is the most beautiful and fun creation I have possibly ever made, factoring in the help from my daughters, their neighborhood BFF, my husband and my father.  Yes, my parents happened to be visiting when I decided to do the baking portion of the challenge, and I put my father to work creating the template (which I took from The All-American Cookie Book, a fabulous tome by Nancy Baggett).  Had not each of these people helped me out at some point along the way–the girls decorating, my husband helping me glue and support different parts of the structure, and my father precisely measuring and cutting out the design–this house would never have been made.

Perhaps my frustration lies in that fact: this was not a Daring Bakers Challenge, but a Daring Baker and her entire family challenge.  It could also have something to do with the fact that this time of year is insanely busy for any normal person. Add a cookie business to the general holiday mayhem, and a gingerbread house may just put one over the edge.  My father chuckles as he fondly refers to this project as my “death wish.”

Without any further ado, I bring you some photos of this gorgeous gingerbread house that perhaps only a mother (or Willy Wonka) could love.

The template for the front and back of the house, cut out of a file folder.

The template for the front and back of the house, cut out of a file folder.

Two roof panels, and the back of the house, decorated by my daughters and one of their friends. In retrospect, adding candy after gluing the structure together may have been wise.

Here is the complete house, with portico, chimney, marshmallow smoke and snow, and gingerbread man.

"Did you hurt yourself when you fell out of heaven?"

Below is the recipe for the dough, given out by Anna, and adapted from Good Housekeeping. I found it to be extremely dry when I mixed it together, resembling sand. To remedy this, I simply added heavy cream until I thought it was moist enough to hold together. The end product was fine, although even more heavy cream would have been fine, too, and probably would have helped in the rolling stage, which was quite difficult. Also, I used my Hobart 10 quart mixer to do this. I cannot imagine anyone having success assembling this dough either by hand or with a 4 or 5 quart KitchenAid mixer. There is simply too much dough.  Perhaps divide the quantities in half to solve this problem.  And finally, I used the Royal Icing recipe also found in Nancy Baggett’s book.  I like that her recipe calls for the addition of lemon juice rather than vinegar, as a matter of taste (literally). I found it to be easy to work with, and well-sealed it lasted for over a week in the fridge. She also provides a recipe for creating royal icing that looks the color of the gingerbread itself, thus masking any messes that might come up.  Perhaps after the holidays I will edit this post to include that, because it is a nice trick to have up one’s sleeve.

(And don’t forget to visit my other labor of love, TasteStopping if you’re looking for more great photos, recipes, blogs and ideas.)

Anna’s Recipe:
Spicy Gingerbread Dough (from Good Housekeeping)…

2 1/2 cups (500g) packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (360mL) heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups (425g) molasses
9 1/2 cups (1663g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon(s) baking soda
1 tablespoon(s) ground ginger

1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.

2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.

3. Grease and flour large cookie sheets (17-inch by 14-inch/43x36cm)

4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness. (Placing 3/16-inch dowels or rulers on either side of dough to use as a guide will help roll dough to uniform thickness.)

5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.

6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (149C)

7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1 1/4 inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.

8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.

9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not overbake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.

10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 23, 2009 4:10 am

    Hi Casey, I think you and your family did an amazing job! I love your square marshmallow snow too. I ended up using a recipe posted in the DB forums by Alison and loved the result. Happy Holidays!

  2. December 25, 2009 12:01 am

    Love the gingerbread house! Looks great and totally better than mine ever did! Love the marshmallows everywhere!

  3. December 25, 2009 11:07 pm

    I love all the candies for decoration and the pink icing! Your marshmallows just add a special touch too! 🙂
    Merry Christmas!!

  4. December 28, 2009 12:31 am

    very cute!

  5. December 28, 2009 7:54 am

    What a beautiful house. The color of the house is so rich and lovely. Good job!

  6. December 28, 2009 1:16 pm

    Great looking house! Having the whole family chip in makes it sound even more fun. My son mostly just contributed to the candy eating.

  7. January 24, 2010 3:35 pm

    You mean I never left a comment about your fabulous gingerbread house! How awful of me!

    Here – let me make it up to you by presenting you with a couple of awards I received lately. Drop by when you can!

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