Archive | December, 2011

Gingerbread house

20 Dec
This small-ish gingerbread house is just right for a first project or a fair-sized gift

A gingerbread house is the very essence of Christmas

For me, a gingerbread house is a necessity every Christmas. Even though I don’t yet have children, I relish the day that I will be able to make these with my kids, and long into the future, make them with my grandkids. They smell so delicious, are so fun to make, and look incredibly impressive once put together. With a few little tricks, you can make an amazing gingerbread house too. Let me show you how!

Makes one house approximately 15cm high by 12cm wide

Ingredients:

3 cups self raising flour
3 cups plain flour
260g caster sugar
3 Tbsp gingerbread spice mix
2 tsp ginger
250g soft unsalted butter
80ml thick cream
75g golden syrup
2 whole eggs

How to:

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl of an electric mixer.

With the mixer on low, gradually add in the soft butter until evenly spread evenly through and the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Add cream, syrup and eggs and mix until a soft dough forms.

Remove the dough from the bowl and knead on a floured surface until smooth. Rest the dough for 15 minutes before rolling out and cutting out your shapes.

Use the Cooking for Cheats gingerbread house template to cut your pieces to size, and use the remaining batter to cut a chimney, some trees and some gingerbread people.

Bake the larger pieces in the oven for approximately 30 minutes or until deeply golden. The smaller pieces (trees, chimney, people) will only need 15-20 minutes, so it’s best to put these on a separate tray and keep an eye on them.

Icing:

2 egg whites
3 cups sifted icing sugar

½ tsp lemon juice / vanilla essence (optional)

To make a gingerbread house, you need a very strong icing. Beat 2 eggwhites until stiff peaks form (you can tell it’s done, if when you hold it upside down over your head, it doesn’t fall on you!). Gradually add the sifted icing sugar in small amounts and beat until absorbed. Keep adding icing sugar until the icing resembles a thick paste. The icing should just about form stiff peaks itself, and should definitely not be runny. Add lemon juice or vanilla essence and stir through to combine.

To put it together:

Start on the actual surface you will be building the house on, it’s pretty hard to move it later, without it falling apart.

squiggle the icing in between the pieces to create a pretty effect

Lots of squiggled icing holds pieces together

Take the front piece, and a side wall, and squiggle the end of the side wall with plenty of strong icing. Making sure the bases of both pieces are firmly on the “ground”, press the side wall firmly into the back of the front panel and hold for about 1 minute.

The side pieces fit inside the outline of the front and back pieces

The side pieces fit inside the outline of the front and back pieces

You should be able to let go and have the piece stand up by themselves. Repeat the process with the second wall panel. Squiggle plenty of icing onto the remaining 2 exposed ends of the side walls and press the back panel into place, holding firmly on both sides for another minute until it holds. Allow the icing to set for 15-30 minutes before trying to attach the roof pieces.

stick the roof pieces on with plenty of icing

stick the roof pieces on with plenty of icing

To attach the roof pieces, squiggle lots of icing onto the slanted edges of the front and back pieces, doing one side at a time. With an even overhang on both front and back, line up the first roof piece at the top of the peak, allowing the bottom of the roof piece to overhang.

You can help the roof piece stick, by inserting a sharp toothpick carefully through the top of the roof piece, into the upright section of the front piece. You can remove these when the icing has set, or just push them right in and ice over them to hide them.

Squiggle more icing underneath the roof panel, to help it stick to the side wall. Repeat with the second roof panel. You can also add more icing between the underside of the roof panels and the front panels. Cement the gap at the very top between the two roof panels with plenty of icing. You can start adding sweets and candy decorations at this point and add the chimney, with plenty of icing to hold it in place.

Add a chimney and decorate the roof with sweets

Stick the chimney on with plenty of icing and decorate the roof with colourful lollies

Now you can decorate your house!

Suggestions:
Squiggle a good amount of icing around the base of the house to hold it firmly to the surface.

Add icicles to the roof and a bed of flowers along the bottom

Drip extra icing off the eaves to create icicles

Squiggle lots of icing onto the edges of the roof to look like snow and icicles.
Use the icing to stick the decorations onto the house and to hold trees upright, around the house.
Build a little fence using long thin sweets like licorice bullets or musk sticks.
Draw roof tiles on in a scalloped pattern with the icing, or apply a coating of freckles or white chocolate buttons.
Make a door out of lollies, or an offcut of gingerbread. If you want to get crafty, you can cut a door frame out of the template before (or after) cooking, and place a door in it, using a toothpick as a hinge in the top of the door frame.

For us, the gingerbread house looks different every year, depending on what’s going on in our lives, who is with us at the time, and what sweets we can find to hand. Go nuts and most importantly, have fun!

Enjoy!

cellophane and a pretty ribbon turn it into an instant gift

Wrap your gingerbread house in clear cellophane and tie with a Christmassy ribbon to present as a gift

Notes:

If you have to cut the pieces to fit better, don’t worry about it, you can easily cover up the cuts with icing and lollies and hide all your sins!

Make lots of trees and gingerbread men for people to eat, if you want the house to survive!
The house will keep, standing, for around a month, in moderate to cool temperatures (don’t refrigerate). It will stay standing, long after it is still good to eat, as it will naturally go stale after time.
If you want to eat the house, I wouldn’t recommend making it more than a week in advance.

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Gingerbread cookies

4 Dec

These gingerbread cookies are from a recipe given to me by my Austrian mother-in-law. They are similar to “Pfeffernusse” that you might see coming out at Christmas-time. They are a traditional German/Austrian Christmas biscuit, full of delicious spicy gingerbread flavour. You can’t use this recipe to make gingerbread men or houses, as it’s way too soft, but it makes excellent button-shaped biscuits that I can eat by the handful! Want to make a gingerbread house? Try this recipe.

Gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread cookies

 Ingredients:

(Makes about 50 small biscuits)

150g butter
4 eggs
100g golden syrup *
60g honey *
300g caster sugar
600g self-raising flour
1 1/2 Tbsp gingerbread spice **

How to:

Half fill a medium-sized saucepan with water and bring to a simmer. Choose a mixing bowl that will fit over the saucepan, as a double boiler.

Combine the butter, eggs, golden syrup, honey and caster sugar in the bowl and place over the simmering saucepan of water.

Using an electric mixer, beat the ingredients in the bowl until the sugar has melted and the mixture is frothy.

beat gingerbread mix over a water bath

Beating the gingerbread mix over a simmering water bath

In a large bowl, combine the flour and gingerbread spices. Make a well and pour in the warm liquid mixture, stirring till thoroughly combined.

Let the dough stand in a warm place for a couple of hours, or overnight.

When the dough has risen, take spoonfuls of the mixture and roll into balls, placing on a baking tray lined with baking paper, allowing room to spread. You can flour your hands occasionally to prevent the mixture sticking.

This dough is very soft, roll it into balls to bake little round cookies

This dough is very soft and fluffy

Bake in a moderate oven (180°C) for 10-12 minutes or until golden. It’s better to undercook than overcook these cookies, to maintain softness.

These biscuits are delicious straight out of the oven, but they can also be decorated. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

Decoration options:

Icing: Make a light icing with icing sugar, a splash of lemon juice and water or milk. The icing should be quite runny and coat the biscuits evenly. Leave plain, or sprinkle with hundreds and thousands.

Chocolate: melt some chocolate in a double boiler and fill into a piping bag. (If you don’t have a piping bag, try a ziplock sandwich bag and snip a tiny corner off.) Pipe the chocolate over the biscuits in a zig zag fashion.

Icing AND chocolate: do both the above for a delicious Christmas treat!

Store-bought gingerbread Christmas cookies in Austria come with a variety of decorations: icing, icing and sprinkles, icing and chocolate zig zags, just  chocolate zig zags, chocolate all over (you’ll want to thin out the melted chocolate with a little cream), chocolate all over with sprinkles, and pink icing with sprinkles as well.

Enjoy!

Notes:

* My mother-in-law’s original recipe called for 160g of honey, but I personally found this too overpowering, so I have adjusted the mixture to use more golden syrup than honey. Golden syrup doesn’t seem to be available in Austria though. If you can’t get golden syrup, you could try maple syrup, treacle, molasses, etc, anything that has a sweet taste and the consistency of honey.

** Gingerbread spices: I’m lucky enough to have a large container of Austrian gingerbread spices, thanks to my mother-in-law, but you can make your own for the above recipe using a mix of more common spices. I suggest using:

3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp something else from the list below:

Mixed spice (mine contains cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice), ground cloves, allspice, star anise, ground coriander or Chinese five spice (mine contains cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel seeds and pepper). You can substitute these as into the mix if needed as the flavours are right for this recipe. If it smells like gingerbread, you’re on the right track!

Ingredients for making your own gingerbread spice

Ingredients for making your own gingerbread spice

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