A Gingerbread House: December 09 Daring Baker Challenge

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 didn't procrastinate this month's challenge as much as I thought I would. Even though I was excited to try my creative hand at decorating a gingerbread house, and even with dreams of Hansel and Gretel-ish ideas populating my brain, I have never been overly excited at the idea of creating a gingerbread house. Usually, they look like things that I would never want to eat... and isn't that my whole point of baking? I decided that since it could turn out to be a "decoration" instead of sugary sustenance, I was going to do my best to be excited.

I'm doing things differently this month, and putting the end result picture first!

The only problem, was that the day I started my baking and decoration endeavor, my son was overtired and was being, what some parents like to say, "Difficult". The day before the baking began, I searched for patterns on the Internet, and settled on a very small house. Since I have never tried making such a concoction before, I figured smaller was better. I found this picture, and imagined myself making a whole tiny village of decorated on the inside gingerbread homes.

Reality set in, however, and I settled on a windowless house that was based on a 3 inch square: as seen below.

I kind of scared myself by reading the thread of comments concerning the gingerbread dough. Many people found it difficult to work with and much too dry. I settled on the Lemonpi recipe taken from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, thinking that then this gingerbread would be something I'd love to eat. I think I cut back the amount of cloves slightly, (it called for a whopping 3 teaspoons!). I actually found that the dough wasn't too dry, and I could have rolled it without refrigeration right away. I think it was harder to roll because I left it in the icebox for 48 hours before I actually got around to rolling it out. I cut it into quarters, and bashed it with the rolling pin several, hard times before it succumbed to my wishes of a somewhat rectangular shape.

At this point, I momentarily lost sight of my decoration goals, and was upset that the dough did not knock my socks off. It seemed ok, but a little bland - not something I was too excited about. When I think of gingerbread I want to eat, I think of a fat, slightly chewy, gingerbread man that will run away out of my oven shouting "Run, run, as fast as you can, you can't catch me - I'm the Gingerbread Man!!!" at the top of his pudgy little lungs. Yes, overly spiced, cream cheese frosted, man-eating bliss.

I cut the pieces, and baked them, still unenthralled with the taste of this Scandinavian Baking Book delight. I rolled and cut about 4 houses, which was about as many as a whiny, overtired Boy-O would allow, and then cut a couple of extra sheets of holly, trees, shooting stars and the like.

Then, I began to build. I forgot a cardinal rule of 3-D construction - the walls have WIDTH! How could I forget something so silly? I was a whiz at non-CAD drafting in highschool, and though I now could not probably make a 3 view drawing of a cog wheel (by hand, with only my drafting arm as aid...) at one time I could. I started building and gluing with royal icing and the roof was much too short. One thing highschool drafting did not drill into my head, it appears, is that one of the three views is most certainly a width. I remedied (or so I thought) the problem by "gluing" together my holly to approximate a roof-like structure. As you can see, it wasn't going so well:

I set this one aside, and decided on starting over and putting the walls on the outside instead of the inside.

So far, so good. I made sure to use a lot of that royal icing on the inside, and really glued it well. I'm impatient, and have a still-whining Boy-O to attend to. I need a bath, and some sleep. So, obviously, I didn't take the time to let the walls set up too much before continuing.

It turned out so much better than I thought! I started feeling a bit happier, and more like a happy Gretel wanting to sink my teeth into the walls of my home.

I figured, since I had royal icing left over, I had to do something with my poor first attempt. So after my photo-op was complete, I attended to my sorry-looking, leaky roofed structure. That royal icing really is amazing stuff, and I do live in a snow region and was not trying to complete a Gingerbread Alamo like Homesick Texan. Snow, is seems, is my answer!

I loaded her up with gluttonous amounts of icing. The next morning, that structure was so strong I could have dropped it out of the window and it would have survived. I was able to take it and move it without fear of crumbling.

I actually like how it turned out. It looks homemade and childish, and like some thing I'd want to eat since there isn't a metric ton of candy attached to it.

I was even more excited to add it to my china cabinet:

where it blended in nicely, and didn't at all look as if it was a second place to my showpiece...except that I put it in the back corner.

This was another fun challenge, and another thing I never thought I'd actually make. My Mom has asked me, "Why do you do this? It's just so much stress." Sometimes, that's true. And more often than not, these tests of my baking prowess are much heavier in calories and fat than I normally go for. But I have to say that I must agree to the quote I recently read "A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch. " — James Beard .

And, I'd like to add, nothing could be more true than my own mantra: "Everything in Moderation".