Daring Bakers and the Gingerbread Village
I love the winter holiday season; there is something magical about this season filled with lights, the feeling of anticipation and holiday traditions.
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.
Since I already had plans to travel this holiday season I knew I would be really pressed for time to complete the challenge and the accompanying post, but I was so excited about the challenge that I just could not pass it by. I just had to try it all out for myself.
Rather than make one large gingerbread house I decided to make a couple miniature houses so, I could try out all kinds of decorating techniques with royal icing. What started as a couple of miniature gingerbread houses very quickly turned into a whole village with snow-covered spruces.
I had a pretty hard time finding molasses at the local stores, maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had no idea what exactly I was looking for, so I just substituted the molasses with honey and since the honey made the dough already sweet enough I've decided not to put any of the brown sugar in.
I figured the royal icing on the house panels will more than make up in sweetness for all that brown sugar.
I used 1/2 of the amounts listed in the original recipe and found the dough to be too dry. It was so dry that it barely came together into a ball and after a night of chilling it in the refrigerator there was no way it was going to roll out without adding extra liquid to it.
Even though I used only 1/2 of the amounts in the recipe I had quite a bit of dough left after making the houses and spruces for the village so, from the dough leftovers I've made a few gingerbread house facades and a handful of gingerbread cookies.
I really enjoyed this challenge and come next holiday season at least the gingerbread house facades will definitely make an encore appearance in my house.
Spicy Gingerbread Dough
source: Good Housekeeping
- 2 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream or whipping cream
- 1 1/4 cups molasses
- 9 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp baking soda
- 1 Tbsp ground ginger
- 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.
- 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.
- Grease and flour large cookie sheets
- 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.)
- 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.
- Preheat oven to 300F
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Note: I've substituted the large egg white with 3 Tbsp pasteurized liquid egg whites.
- 30g sugar
- 15ml water ( 1 Tbsp )
- Place sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer till thickened and light brown. Use immediately.
Note: Since caramel syrup hardens pretty quickly, I've found that using just a little bit of sugar at a time (30g) to make the syrup leads to best results and little sugar wastage.