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.

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

The best chicken soup ever

29 Nov
The best chicken soup ever - really fills the house with delicious aromas

Chicken soup with tarragon and cheesy croutons

How good is a chicken soup on a cold, rainy day? This one’s really easy, you don’t need to pre-cook anything, you can just throw everything into the pot and turn it on.  I love the way this soup fills the house with its delicious aroma – it really gets the mouth watering. The tarragon makes a real difference – it doesn’t matter if you use dried tarragon out of a jar, the time it has to infuse brings out the flavour.

Ingredients:

Serves 4

2L water

2 Tbsp powdered chicken stock (I use Vegeta)

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3-4 bay leaves

8-10 peppercorns

Salt to taste

4 chicken thigh fillets, diced

3 rashers bacon, diced

3 whole bacon rinds

1 large stick celery, sliced

1 large carrot, sliced

2 tsp fresh thyme

2 tsp fresh or dried tarragon

1 tsp fresh or dried rosemary

½ cup cream

Optional: other veges I might add sometimes are pumpkin, potato or mushrooms. Small pasta like risoni or vermicelli also make a hearty addition. Add pasta about 15 minutes before serving so they don’t get overcooked.

To serve:

Bread stick, sliced

Cheese slices

 

How to:

Bring the water to the boil, bung all the ingredients in except for the cream. Bring to the boil again, and then let it simmer gently for 30-45 mins.

To make the croutons, slice the bread stick to your desired thickness, place a slice of cheese on top, taking care not to hang over the edges of the toast. Place under a hot grill for 3-5 minutes, and keep an eye on it, so that it doesn’t burn. The cheese should bubble and go slightly brown.

Just before serving, stir in the cream and test if it needs any extra salt, stock powder, pepper etc. Take out the bacon rind and bay leaves before serving. (And watch out for the peppercorns – they bite!)

Place the cheesy croutons into the soup, or on the side.

Enjoy!

Easy peasy guacamole

20 Nov

Avocadoes are in season right now in tropical Queensland, indeed some people have them falling off trees and are giving them away! They’re also cheap at the supermarket at the moment. To make guacamole, you need really ripe avocadoes, so if you see some on special, pick those, they’re ready to go straight away.

Easy guacamole - perfect for a party

Ingredients:

1 soft, ripe avocado
2-3 Tbsp  sour cream
¼ onion, chopped finely
½ tsp minced garlic
Squirt of lemon juice
2-3 Tbsp salsa / chopped tomatoes
Chilli flakes
Salt & pepper

How to:

Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed, and scrape the avocado flesh into a bowl. Add the sour cream, lemon juice, onion and garlic and mix thoroughly. If you have some salsa lying around at home, add a couple of heaped spoonfuls of this into the guacamole. If you don’t have any salsa, you can chop up some tomatoes, or use diced tomatoes out of a can. If you don’t use salsa, you might want to go heavy on the chilli, salt & pepper, to give it extra flavour. If you use salsa, taste the mix before you add any further seasoning.

Stir it all up well and transfer to a serving bowl. Decorate the bowl with a dollop of sour cream, some grated parmesan or romano cheese and a sprinkling of chilli (anything red stands out really nicely against the green guac, instead of chilli try paprika, cayenne pepper or sumac). Serve with plain corn chips.

Enjoy!

Easy Gluten-Free Pistachio and Carrot Cakes

13 Nov

I have a few friends who need to eat gluten-free and I often have trouble catering for them. I recently discovered that White Wings has both plain and self-raising gluten-free flour and they’re available in my local supermarket here in regional Queensland. This recipe worked beautifully, and you can hardly tell the difference. They were just a tiny bit more delicate than when made with regular flour, so just be careful handling them.

Individual Gluten-free Pistachio and Carrot Cakes

Individual Gluten-free Pistachio and Carrot Cakes

Ingredients:

185g softened butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
3 eggs
2 cups grated carrot (about 4 smallish carrots)
¾ cup chopped pistachios, unsalted, or washed
¾ cup gluten-free plain flour
¾ cup gluten-free self-raising flour (Note: I found White Wings gluten-free plain and self-raising flour in the health/gluten-free section of my local Coles)
1 ½ teaspoons mixed spice – or double that for zingier cakes!
(Note: you can buy ‘mixed  spice’ in the spice section, or just use a mix of ground spices like cinnamon  & nutmeg, and you can add some ground cloves or ginger if you like.)

Icing:

100g Philly spreadable cream cheese
30g softened butter
1 ¼ cups icing sugar
Zest of 1 lemon (zest is the grated skin of a lemon – use the finest part of your grater, being careful to get only the yellow skin, not the white pith underneath).
¼ – ⅓ cup chopped pistachios for sprinkling on top.

How to:

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl using an electric mixer, until light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.

4. Stir in the grated carrot and the chopped pistachios.

5. Sift in all the dry ingredients (flours & spices). Stir all together until thoroughly mixed.

6. Pour the mixture evenly into the muffin cases in the muffin tray and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Let the cakes cool a bit before icing them.

7. To make the icing, add the cream cheese and butter to a bowl, and sift the icing sugar on top. You can mix either with a spoon or whisk, or with an electric mixer, until combined. Stir in the lemon zest. Spread on top of the cakes and sprinkle the remaining grated pistachios on top.

Notes:

Pistachios: you can find these already shelled and unsalted in some stores, but not where I live. I buy the shelled, salted kind from the fruit & veg section, and then shell the lot by hand (eating a few as I go!) then wash them in a sieve and dry them on a bit of paper towel before use. I also use my trusty stab mixer’s chopper attachment to chop them up into 2-3mm size bits really fast.

Cake or loaf: You can use this recipe to make a round carrot cake or loaf, you will just need to adjust the cooking time to about 1 hour, and test it with a skewer inserted right into the middle, to check if it is done. If the skewer comes out cleanly and the cake looks golden brown, it is ready.

Chocolate lava cakes

6 Nov

It was a pretty big decision, to choose the very first recipe for my site, but I made these chocolate lava cakes for a friend on the weekend and they went down really well. They were so good, she tried to propose to me, and then changed her mind, and proposed to the cake!

Chocolate lava cakes with the molten centre - easy to make, divine to eat!

Chocolate lava cake

These chocolate lava cakes are quite easy to make, they don’t require many steps. And, it actually helps to make them a few hours in advance and let them sit in the fridge to chill before cooking. This means if you’re having a dinner party, you can prepare them in the morning and just leave them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. Very little stress for the host! They do also work with only half an hour in the fridge, but if you let them chill for a couple of hours, the centres will be really gooey and delicious.

Ingredients:

(Makes 6)
200g chocolate (good quality dark couverture chocolate works best but you can probably use any good quality chocolate off the shelf. I found Lindt cooking chocolate in the baking section at Coles so I have used this)
240g unsalted butter
4 eggs
90g caster sugar
60g plain flour
icing sugar for dusting

How to:

1. Chop the chocolate into small pieces (I use my hand mixer with the blade attachment for this as it pulverises the chocolate in about 20 seconds.)

100g of Lindt dark couverture chocolate, before chopping    100g of Lindt dark couverture chocolate, pulverised

2. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally. (Investing in a good set of pots that includes a melting pot that fits snugly over one of the saucepans is a good idea, as you should never melt chocolate directly in a saucepan, right over the heat – it’s likely to burn if you do that.) Set this aside and let it cool to room temperature before using.

3. Grease 6 ramekins and lightly dust them with flour, shaking off any excess flour. (*see note about greasing). You can get a set of ramekins cheaply at a supermarket or store like BigW/Target, or a specialist homewares store. If you have an oven-proof set of tea cups, you could use those instead, or just use a muffin tray lined with patty cases.

4. In another bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together for a few minutes, the mixture should look thick and pale. You can use a hand whisk, an electric whisk, or your mixer to do this.

5. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and gently fold in with a spatula or spoon. Add in the flour (sifting it in helps give an even texture) and gently fold in again.

6. Pour this mixture evenly into your prepared ramekins and pop them in the fridge for as long as you can hold out.

7. When ready to start cooking, pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F, or gas mark 6). Place the ramekins on an oven tray (just easier, no other reason!) and put them in the oven. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until they have risen a bit and look like muffins on top.

8. Take them out of the oven and let them sit a minute or two. You can serve them in the dishes, but I prefer to take them out, so when you crack into them the chocolate centre runs out. It’s up to you whether you serve them upside down, or the right way up (the photo of the lava cake above is upside down, out of a ramekin). Serve them dusted with a little icing sugar and a dollop of ice cream on the side. Or get creative and serve them with berry coulis and/or vanilla anglaise.

Enjoy!

Notes

Greasing: take a piece of paper towel and rub it in butter, use this to grease the inside of the ramekins, then sprinkle a little flour in and shake them around, tapping them upside down to get rid of the excess flour. As an alternative to butter, you can spray lightly with a light vegetable oil spray, used for cooking, and then flour as above.

Cooking 4 Cheats!

3 Nov

The website for people who want to cook but don’t have access to a pantry worthy of Masterchef. Make good, wholesome, simple dishes that are easier to make than you might think, and look and taste far more impressive than they really should!

You should be able to find all the ingredients you need in your local supermarket, without a visit to a specialist deli.

It’s cooking 4 cheats! But it’s not really cheating, since you can proudly boast that you did make it yourself!

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