Monday, January 16, 2012

2011 Gingerbread Houses (Part One)

Completed Gingerbread House One
Completed Gingerbread House Two

One of my favourite decorating books for 2011 is “Fantastic Party Cakes” by Mich Turner. It includes a wide variety of small projects for virtually any occasion: weddings, baby showers, birthday, Christmas, etc. I have made a few gingerbread houses in the past, but the one included in this book looked so sweet with its white frosted roof and tiny white flowers, I just had to try it.

Un/fortunately, I ended up deviating from the author’s decorating example and reverted to my usual “lets stick as much candy on as possible” approach. To be honest when you are decorating for children, you can never have too much candy. Perhaps next year I will mimic the author’s decorating style to make smaller gift houses for our adult friends. Could you imagine a setting a lovely Christmas table and using miniature gingerbread houses as “place cards”? I think it would look gorgeous.

One of the things I love about gingerbread is how well it keeps. As mentioned in an earlier post, I try to make, shape and bake my gingerbread ahead of schedule, and keep it in the freezer until needed. I find this saves a lot of time. Each house can be decorated a few days a head of time and stored in an airtight container (assuming you have one large enough). It will still taste lovely. To be honest, I do not know exactly how long you can keep gingerbread, before it starts to taste stale because it has never hung around much longer than a week.

For the last 5 years, I have been using the same gingerbread recipe. This year I decided to try something different. Mich Turner’s gingerbread house, is not made from ginger bread per se, it is made using Lebkuchen, which according to Wikipedia is a traditional German treat that was invented by monks in the 13th century.

What drew me to use Lebkuchen rather than gingerbread was the use of ground chilli. I was curious to see how it tasted. It tasted great. The heat of the chilli and other spices cut through the sweetness of the candy to create a very more-ish combination. Everyone who tried it loved it. I will definitely be using this recipe again.

As per usual, I never manage to follow recipes and instructions to the letter. The original recipe calls for light muscovado sugar, which is not available at my local supermarket. From what I understand, it would be similar to using light brown sugar. Unfortunately, I was out of light brown sugar. A deep rummage through my pantry produced dark brown sugar and caster sugar. I opted to use the caster sugar because I find dark treacle can taste somewhat bitter. I have written my altered recipe below, feel free to try it and let me know if you think I should have used brown sugar.


115g unsalted butter, softened
115g caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten
115g black treacle
400g self raising flour
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground chilli

1. Cream together the butter and the sugar until it is pale and fluffy.
2. Bean in the egg and black treacle
3. Sift the flour, ginger, cloves and chilli into the bowl and mix well.
4. Knead the dough gently and wrap in cling film. Chill for 30 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Celsius fan forced)
6. Roll out your dough and cut around your pre-made templates.
7. Place each piece of cut dough on a lined baking tray and bake for 8-10 minutes

Now that I have altered the recipe, it was time to deviate from the instructions. The author says to roll the dough into a 5mm thick rectangle and bake. Once cooled, the pieces for the gingerbread house are cut from this sheet. Personally, I though this was a bit wasteful. I opted for the traditional method of rolling the dough and cutting the pieces before baking. To my surprise, using my method, I had enough dough to make two gingerbread houses (sans base) as opposed to the single house as stated by the author.

I can see that the author’s method of cutting pieces from a baked sheet would result in even sized pieces with clean straight corners. There is a definite benefit to having this. Thankfully, this dough is easy to cut if you have a sharp knife, so I was able to trim my pieces accordingly without breakage and then eat the crumbs.

Once the cookies have cooled, I pop them in an ‘airtight’ plastic bag and pop them in the freezer. I do not find that they loose their freshness if they are frozen. Freezing your cooked gingerbread house pieces allows you to bake a week or so ahead of time. Personally, I try to avoid baking and decorating on back-to-back days. Perhaps this is lazy of me, but I prefer to make decorating as enjoyable as possible and rushing around is never as enjoyable as taking your time.
I will talk about the decorating in another post, until then, happy decorating!

Darkbyte xxx

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