Ok, so this blog is being written because even though this year I made my third gingerbread house (not this year… overall), every year it feels like I am starting again from the very beginning. This year before I started baking I spent all morning looking through the internet and my cookbooks trying to remember which recipes I had tried and liked and despite my efforts, I just couldn’t remember… so now that it is done, I have decided that this year, instead of just posting a picture of the gingerbread house I am posting everything, the recipe, the template and the things that worked and the things that didn’t, so that next year I might save myself some time, stress and probably money.
Each year I like to make something slightly different from those I have tried before… except in 2014… where it appears I didn’t make one. Anyway, so far my gingerbread creations have been a basic house, a few little houses and a village:
This year I made a mixture… I returned to some of the houses from 2013 and added in a few new elements… a Christmas tree and a sleigh. After all the searching beforehand I ended up returning to my trusty Donna Hay back catalogue where I pulled out the recipes for basic gingerbread cookie dough… which I used for my sleigh and tree and the recipe for the houses as well as the template from Donna’s website.
Ok, so lets start with the houses… because lets face it… they are the most important… Donna Hay’s Recipe comes from Issue 72 (Dec/Jan 2014 page 139) and the recipe is as follows:
1.2kg plain (all-purpose) flour
2 tsps bicarb soda
1 1/2 cups (265g) brown sugar
1 tbsp ground ginger
380g unsalted butter, melted
1 2/3 cups (580g) golden syrup
icing sugar to decorate
4 cups (640g) icing sugar
1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Place half the flour, bicarb, brown sugar and ginger in a large food processor and pulse until combined. Add half the butter and golden syrup and process until the dough comes together. Transfer to a large bowl.
2. Repeat with the remaining dry and wet ingredients. Add the two batches of dough together and knead until smooth and combined.
3. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Using your fingers, press each piece into a 37cm x 25cm Swiss roll tin. Smooth the top with the back of a metal spoon.
4. Bake in 2 batches for 12-15minutes or until golden.
5. Transfer gingerbread sheet onto a large chopping board and start cutting out the shapes while it is still hot using a metal ruler and a sharp knife. Don’t forget to print out the template found here.
Donna Hay suggests the following order:
• Large house walls
• Front of small house
• Back of small house
• Small house roof
• Small house walls
• Large house roof
• Front of large house
• Back of large house
6. To make the icing; place the sugar, egg-whites and cream of tartar in an electric mixer and beat for 4-5 minutes or until light and fluffy.
7. Add the lemon juice and beat for a further 2 minutes or until well combined.
8. Use a piping bag to use decorate the house with the icing and glue the houses together. I used the icing recipe as my glue and for my own free style decoration rather than the prefect and very beautiful lattice design intend… as my decorating skills just aren’t that good.
Initially I was worried that the pieces for each house were quite hard and tended to snap rather than break of nicely when cooled. However, once assembled and no longer trapped in an air tight container, the gingerbread softened enough to break and eat, but not enough to collapse… which turned out perfectly, despite my initial concerns of broken teeth.
I only have a small oven, so I needed to cook the sheets of gingerbread all separately, and because I took a little longer preparing my dough, my oven was well and truly at temperature before starting. I had to keep a close eye on the sheets and the more I cooked, the less time they required as my oven is also not as good at keeping temperature without going over as I would like. So make sure you keep watch as you need all of the sheets to get all of the parts so some burnt sections can make it tricky to fit all of the template in… plus they taste and look pretty average.
The glue is also very good, it sets quickly and holds well, but once set is still able to be broken with ease for consumption while remaining strong enough to hold the untouched parts still in place.
The Sleigh and the Tree:
Okay… so once the house was done I started on the sleigh and tree. For both of these is used Donna Hay‘s ‘basic gingerbread cookie dough’ recipe which can be found online here, or if you are bit lazy like me… I have done the non-lazy thing and typed it out, just in case I lose my copy of Issue 78 (Dec/Jan 2015 page 156) or the website changes. Anyway the recipe is as follows:
• 125g unsalted butter, chopped and softened
• ½ cup (90g) brown sugar
• ⅔ cup (230g) golden syrup
• 2½ cups (375g) plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of (baking) soda, sifted
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice
Method (Emma’s modified version):
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2.Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 6−8 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until pale and creamy.
3. Add the golden syrup, flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and mixed spice and beat until a smooth dough forms.
4. Roll the dough out between 2 sheets of non-stick baking paper to 5mm thick and then use the sleigh template (see below) and star cookie cutters (see tree assembly below) to make the pieces required. If there is some left over use a gingerbread man cookie cutter to cut out men from the dough, re-rolling the dough as necessary.
5. Bake on trays lined with non-stick baking paper for ~8mins or until golden (Donna’s recipe was for a gingerbread man wreath, so this is where the instructions get a little messy, but I left my oven hot from the gingerbread house and cooked for shorter time, but they turned out perfect, you just have to watch them).
6. Allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.
The sleigh template I used can be found here, it is one that I found thanks to Pinterest and I used the template to cut out the shapes before baking them. I used the left over house ‘glue’ (icing) to put the sleigh together, using large candy canes as the sleigh’s runners as suggested by the blog. The sleigh requires some holding while the glue sets as my pieces warped a little in the over, and the candy canes will only support the whole thing once it is just that… one piece.
For this one I googled a couple of things to get the idea but didn’t follow anyone’s instructions so to speak. I made the tree using different sized star cookie cutters. I got a set of 5 sizes from my trusty k-mart and made ~4 of each size, so that I would have at least 3 good ones for my tree (I also made some extra ones for eating with the left over dough). Once the cookies were cooked, I used glue which I used green food dye to turn green to layer the stars on top of each other in height order. At the very top of the tree I used a small star cookie standing up to make a tree topper (with Davo’s encouragement I dyed some icing yellow just for a better star effect). This actually worked out much better than I thought it would, and was the most popular component on movie marathon day.
Once all the bits were together and decorated, this is how it turned out…
Pretty good if you ask me! Well at least not bad for an amateur. Hopefully I will remember that I wrote this blog and save myself some time next year… Oh and this also crossed no. 21 ‘Make some kind of festive seasonal dish’ off the list.
Ok so there you have it… I am going to go and eat some of the left overs.
Ok so while I started writing this blog on thanksgiving Thursday… I didn’t quite finish it but now it’s the second week of December, but hey, they Christmas season is like that and I think that it might even be a better time to stop and be thankful… to wrap up my month of deliberate thankfulness. Not to stop being thankful though… well at least I hope not. I have really enjoyed pausing this month, and I am hoping that through out December, even thought I am not blogging about it, that I will continue to remember to stop and count my blessings, because there are a lot.
Nov 22: Worship – I always love worshiping God with music, but sometimes it’s extra good… and tonight was one of those times! In fact today I am thankful for my church, for learning new things and for having some great time in worship.
Nov 23: Good Team Peeps – Sometimes I get a chance to reflect on who I work with and today I am thankful for them because they are actually grand! They are hardworking and encouraging and I love being in a team with them.
Nov 24: Walking catch ups – so the spring time weather has on occasions like today been delightful and allowed for a wonderfully long catch up walk with my friend Julia. The walk was good but the catch up was even better!
Nov 25: Glasses – tonight I picked up my glasses and I am just very thankful that some genius worked out how to make blind people like me see… The world is so much more interesting when I can actually see it with crisp clarity.
Nov 26: Dave’s never ending list of talents – You’ve probably already worked out that Dave is a winner, but tonight at his school’s presentation night I watched him work his musical magic and it was so good. He is a teaching and conducting wiz and I am very proud of him.
Nov 27: Wise Friends that tell us where things are at – While it wasn’t quite how we expected the night to go, Dave and I got to hang out with our friends Matt and Fee which is always fun, but they also speak wisdom into our lives, they are honest and loving and push us to be our best selves.
Nov 28: Holy City – even though it’s only November Christmas can now happen, I have heard someone sing ‘Holy City’… all is well and I am ready… we not really, but if it happened tomorrow, my heart would be ok because I have heard this song. This song that seems to be so ingrained in my Christmas experiences that it simply doesn’t feel right without… even if it is sung by David Hobson… my love-hate relationship with him and this song only seems to make the nostalgia attached to this song worse. Oh and I am thankful for the Langham and it’s deliciously wonderful dishes, both actual dishes and food dishes.
Nov 29: The Salvos – it’s who I am, and even though there is lots about it I would like to change, there is even more that I love and cherish and today was an army day of celebration… Commissioning and the festival of mission. Thank God for the Salvos.
Nov 30: Thankfulness in November – This month has made me stop and actually look at my days and to be thankful for what I have. But it’s actually been more important than that, it has given me a little attitude adjustment just in time for December. I am not really sure how, or when it happened, but it has. Leading up to November and December I had found myself cringing every time I got a text message or looked at my diary because there was so much to do and no more time to offer. I hate saying no, but I also hate not having time, time to prepare, time for Dave, time for me… just time and December makes these two parts of my being feud in ways I never imagined they could. But I have decided that I just need to change my perspective… I have to look at it differently. So instead of looking at my diary full of things I need to do as obligations, I have decided to celebrate that I actually get to catch up with people that I might not see regularly, I get to hang out with friends and family and celebrate all that they mean to me and I get to practice generosity and be blessed by being a blessing. It doesn’t always work, but so far it’s made a pretty big difference. I am finding that because I have changed my perspective on why I am going, I am open to enjoying things more, so it’s a double bonus. So while this whole month of reflection hasn’t changed my daily practice as much as I perhaps thought it would, it has helped me face December with much more Christmas joy than I have had in many years. Here are some of my Christmas joys so far in December…
… List adventures, fun runs, special birthdays, family Christmas celebrations, church nativities, Myer windows, light displays at the Town Hall, catch ups with friends and work Christmas parties… And there is still two weeks until Christmas, but at least now I feel a little more prepared to face it.