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.
I’ve never made a gingerbread house from scratch, and my only memory of even decorating one is from Thanksgiving of last year. (Surely, my memory must betray me… Every child has decorated a gingerbread house at some point, haven’t they?) I was pretty excited about this challenge because I had to design the gingerbread house from template to finished product, so I knew I would end up with something that was very “me.”
Of the two recipes available, I chose Anna’s Good Housekeeping recipe. It seems like lots of folks in the Daring Bakers community had trouble with the dough being dry, but mine was plenty moist once I kneaded in the last bit of flour according to the recipe. The recipe made a TON of dough… The sides and roof of my house are only about 5 inches by 3 inches, so I definitely could have gotten away with a half recipe of dough (maybe even a quarter recipe!).
The dough was pretty sticky, so I devised a rolling and cutting technique that let me transfer the dough to a baking sheet without stretching it. I floured a large cutting board, placed two 3/16-inch dowels on each side (vertically), and placed the dough between the dowels. I floured my silicone rolling pin and the top of the dough (lightly), rolled the dough out a bit, then flipped the dough over. I added a bit more flour to the cutting board beneath the dough to prevent sticking, and then rolled the dough out completely to the height of the dowels. I had initially tried rolling the dough out on my counter and between two sheets of wax paper, but I had a major problem with sticking. The cutting board technique worked great, plus I didn’t have to worry about scratching any surfaces when I used a paring knife to cut my gingerbread pieces.
We had to create our own templates, so here’s a shot of mine (cut with an X-Acto knife from a cardboard cake board):
Once I had my gingerbread pieces cut, I transferred them to parchment-lined baking sheets. I chilled each sheet before baking for about 10 minutes to help prevent shrinkage. I baked my end pieces together (20 minutes at 300F) and my side and roof pieces together (15 minutes at 300) and then cooled them completely on wire racks before decorating.
To make my life and assembly of the house much, much easier, I decorated the pieces before I put them together. Since I had cut hearts out of the side pieces and one of the end pieces, I started by making sugar windows to cover the spaces. I melted 1 cup of sugar (way too much – I could have used less) in a small saucepan over high heat, pushing it around occasionally with a metal spoon, and then added a bit of red food coloring once it had cooled slightly. I put spoonfuls of the melted sugar on a piece of parchment paper and smoothed them out a bit with the bottom of the spoon. Once they had cooled, I glued them to the inside of the side pieces using royal icing. (I just used the recipe that comes with Wilton meringue powder.) For the rest of the house, I used royal icing to attach spearmint leaves, gumdrops, Jolly Ranchers, Life Savers Gummies, and coconut.
When I was ready to assemble the house, I melted another cup of sugar (again, too much) but left out the food coloring. To attach each piece to my cake board, I used the spoon to put a “strip” of hot sugar on the board and then placed the bottom edge of the gingerbread piece on the sugar. The sugar sets up fast and strong, so the pieces held very well. I had to be really careful to put things just where I wanted them, though, because there wasn’t much time to adjust a piece’s position once it was in contact with the sugar. I wasn’t sure how I would drizzle the sugar on the tops of the base pieces without making a mess, so I just used royal icing to attach the roof pieces.
Once the house was assembled and set, I finished decorating with candy canes, Jolly Ranchers, gumdrops, coconut, and pretzels. Here’s the finished product:
While this challenge was certainly messy and time-consuming, it was also a lot of fun. I’ll definitely use this dough recipe for any future gingerbread houses; it was relatively easy to work with and it baked up nice and strong. Thanks to Anna and Y for a great challenge!
TIPS: Be incredibly careful with hot sugar! Sugar burns are painful and dangerous, so it’s important to stay focused and take precautions (tie hair back, no dangling jewelry, etc.) when working with it.