Hello again. Just a little post with some photos of this year’s gingerbread house. I said back in this post that I would start to theme them, which I’m afraid I didn’t have the inspiration for in the end, but it does have a balcony which was my engineering feat of the year.
For those of you looking to squeeze a bit of gingerbread house making into what’s left of Christmas eve, other than needing your head examining, you might find the posts I did last year useful:
Last Monday night I found myself in Sainsbury’s lending a hand with the food shopping. Whilst queuing behind five of the most ridiculous locals in the bakery line, I happened to spot a something in the display case. Now, I don’t know whether I was more amused or horrified to see these little things. There was no way to describe them, so I bought some to show you. See below.
Now, I wouldn’t blame you for wondering what on earth they are. That, my dear friends is one of the ways Sainsbury’s is ringing in the Easter season this year. They’re chicks! I know right? Wow.
So in my slightly obsessive way I hit the chocolate aisle with plans to improve on Sainsbury’s rather bizarre little contribution to Spring.
You will need
A half batch of the fudge from last week’s post. See step one for more info.
(You may prefer to use a favourite truffle or cake pop recipe instead, I just really like fudge)
300g White chocolate
White chocolate buttons
200-300g Candy coating
(optional – substitute with more white chocolate if you prefer/don’t want to buy)
A tub of chocolate beans
(mine were from Dr Oetker)
A couple of squares of dark chocolate
Make up the fudge as seen in last week’s post. You don’t want to heat it to quite the same temperature though, or you won’t be able to roll it. Go with around 112 degrees C. The white stuff you can see on the board is icing sugar – the fudge was a touch sticky.
Apologies both for skipping the ‘making of’ in this post, and for using the same recipe twice in two weeks. This is just a suggestion, you can use any kind of filling as long as you can roll it into balls.
Cut buttons into halves for the little wings, and sort your beans out so you’ve just got the yellow and orange ones for their little beaks.
Now, this stage was all a bit too much to try and document all on my own, even with the help of self timer, so excuse the jump in photos.
You want to melt the candy coating and white chocolate in the microwave in heat-proof bowls (do one colour in full first then the other).
After my first and bad experience with candy coating I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of take two, but I really wanted yellow chicks and had plenty left over. So I did a little google, only to discover that Wilton’s Candy Coating (the one I have) is pretty much universally hated by all home bakers. Wish I’d known before I forked out £3…still, never mind.
The forum mums and bloggers informed me that this cement mix can be thinned out with some melted shortening (Trex is the best UK substitute), or oil. I didn’t want a whole tub of Trex with no other plans for it on the horizon, so I just used veg oil. It worked fairly well, and at least made the candy dipp-able. I will probably try to source an alternative next time though.
Anyway, you should check out my dipping technique, documented in this post if you’re not sure where to start. You need to dip your fudge, place on greaseproof paper, and straight away stick on the little beak and wings. Feel free to experiment with different positions for the wings and beak so that all your tiny chickens are unique.
Leave to dry.
NB: I also added little swirls and lines for hair with a cocktail stick to give my chicks a bit of extra character, not that they needed any…they’re a little bit bumpy and odd as it is but it all adds to the charm eh?!
Use a small sharp knife to trim off any chocolate that has pooled to form a base on the greaseproof around the bottom of your chicks. I wish I’d been a little more careful about this, so take your time. If you do it while the chocolate is still a little soft you will get a cleaner cut.
Melt a couple of squares of dark chocolate and use a cocktail stick to dot on eyes. I made a number of mine sleep with little semi circles and the wonkiest looking one was given glasses…mainly for my sister’s benefit as I knew she would find him endearing.
Put them on a plate and serve them up to your Easter guests!
They are a bit too cute to eat though. Even if they aren’t quite the polished product I had in mind when I turned my nose up at the Sainsbury’s ones, I hope they bring a little smile to your face.
This is by far the best bit, and your opportunity to hide any blemishes. For me, that was a whacking great crack down the front, the odd broken window pane and some darker than attractive edges. So fill your piping bags, stick on a Christmas film, or phone a good friend using hands-free and enjoy!
There are no steps in this post, just some ideas to get you going.
Things you need:
Royal icing of course (you can use regular but I find royal dries quicker and looks whiter)
Sweets Sweets Sweets
A little tip
When you’re buying your sweets you should have a think about roughly what will go where, specifically in terms of the roof. Make sure you overestimate how much you think you will need, it’s always surprising how quickly everything disappears. Particularly if you adopt a ‘one for the house, one for me’ approach, which is the correct way to do this in case you were wondering.
I chose button tiles for my roof. The key is to make sure there is some overhang on your first layer, and then just keep going in lines, overlapping slightly, until you hit the top. Chocolate fingers or matchmakers work for a sort of log cabin look, or I’ve seen shredded wheat for a thatched roof (not sure who would want to eat that though!).
Once I had finished I dusted my roof with some icing sugar snow for a wintery look.
The last couple of years I’ve done normal houses, but I’ve decided to start theming them more now I’ve got the hang of it a little bit. So this year’s effort is designed to be an old fashioned sweet shop (it seemed apt given the sugar coma it put me in). Obviously it needed an awning or two! I just coloured some of my icing red and alternated between the two colours until I reached the end. If you want straight lines then the trick is to hover away from the biscuit a bit so you have more control over the direction.
What cosy winter hideaway is complete without some snow caught in the window panes? The idea here is to fill one of the corners a little more than the other, which I realised after piping the window in the centre…
And now ladies and gents…the finished article! Complete with flickering fire light (an LED tea light candle pushed through the doorway)
As you can see I bought mainly different coloured and sized circles: chocolate drops, silver balls, smarties and chocolate buttons. I like little dots of icing to decorate with too, but you need to decide what works best for you, it should be fun! I don’t really pre-plan, but buying lots of similar shaped things helps I think.
That’s not all… remember this little guy?
Well I decorated him too. The base he was sitting on is actually the lid of a gift box, I won’t show you what’s inside though, incase the recipient is reading this (there needs to be some element of surprise!) This adds a lovely personal touch to any present, or can just be the present in itself!
The front and back are A6 size (A4 paper folded into quarters) and then measure everything else out based on that. You can get at least four of these guys out of one batch of mixture.
Before you go…just one more little idea…
A homemade festive gift without the fuss for someone you like, but not an ‘I made you a gingerbread house’ level of like.
To make a tree the easiest thing to do is to get your hands on star shaped biscuit cutters of at least three or four different sizes. You want around 16 or so stars for each tree, then just stack them with icing to stick each layer together. If you don’t have cutters then make some templates to cut round instead (you can do this using auto shapes on the computer). One batch of mixture should make at least 8 I reckon.
Pipe lots of blobs of icing and add silver balls, chocolate drops and smarties for decoration.
I used a candle holder turned upside down for the base, but a disc of cardboard covered in tinfoil would work just fine too. Remember, whatever you use, you aren’t going to get back!
The cellophane I used to wrap it was bought from a florist supplies shop online and was about £3 for the roll, which I’ve been using for various projects for about 2 years!
Cut a big square (bigger than you think), I made one as large as my roll would allow. Place tree on the middle and bring all the corners to meet in the middle. scrunch the remaining edges together and call for help (this will save your little finger aerobics when you’re tying the ribbon). With someone else holding it all together, double knot a few pieces of gift ribbon and curl the ends with scissors. Chop off the messy bits of plastic.
So, I have a confession to make, I didn’t actually photograph the assemblage of the big house. All my fingers and toes were required to hold it together until the icing dried, so there was nothing left besides my nose to press the camera trigger.
Instead I whipped up another half batch of dough and made a little one to show you how to, aren’t I lovely?
Things you need:
Piping bag/Strong sandwich bag (snip a corner off to pipe)
An extra pair of hands
Cover base in tinfoil/something pretty. Tin foil works well because it doesn’t soak up the icing. I used an upturned tray for the bigger one, and stuck ribbon where the tinfoil didn’t quite meet the edges. Chopping boards and baking trays also make a good base (but make sure you don’t need them for Christmas dinner first!) Alternatively you can buy one, but that would just eat into your sweets fund. Nobody wants that.
Mix up your royal icing and put in icing bag. It has to be pretty thick, or construction will be hard going. At the same time, make sure you can pipe it without getting hand cramp.
Place back wall on a flat surface (if you use your base you have less far to travel when you flip it). Pipe along the two sides, as shown above.
Attach sides and hold for a while until the icing starts to dry, you might want to get another pair of hands involved here, or the salt and pepper shakers to everything in place. Pipe along the top edges.
Place the front on top. Definitely don’t drop it on your way over and crack it. That would be really silly.
Flip it! This is where with anything bigger, you will need someone else to help.
Now you can see the crack *sob*. So this also happened to my big house, I might show you in the next post, but I’m still deeply saddened by that (the sugar windows stuck to the tray rather than me dropping it but still, a perfectionist’s nightmare). I’m basically a massive klutz. All is not lost though.
At this stage you are unlikely to want to make any more gingerbread. So if this happens you need to make do and mend. This can be done with royal icing, but you’ll get a white line along the cracked bit. A better (albeit more perilous) way to fix the cracks is by making a sugar syrup. Essentially all you need to do is melt down some sugar in a frying pan and voila, you have baking’s version of super glue. Dip the broken pieces into the sugar and stick. Be careful though, definitely not a game for children to play. Sugar syrup is dangerously hot. If you end up dipping your thumb in it, don’t let your gut reaction be to stick it in your mouth to cool it off. That is a most unpleasant experience.
Some people use sugar syrup to put their whole house together, but quite frankly, I value my life more than that, I’m far too clumsy.
Now you have it upright and relatively stable, ice it all over. This looks a bit messier on a little house than a big one, but basically go around all the edges inside and out with icing. You can really go to town on the inside corners as nobody will see them, the more you can reinforce at this stage the better.
Stick the roof on and leave as long as you can to dry before decorating.
Three and a bit years ago I stumbled across a marvellous young lady called Anna. She gave me the inspiration to start a new Christmas tradition. I implore you to do the same, there is very little as satisfying as creating a freestanding gingerbread structure – and I won’t lie, it helps that you have a year in between to recover and block out all the royal icing acrobatics it took you to get there.
Apologies in advance for some of the slightly odd measurements below, the recipe is a bit inbred at this stage. Original credit goes to Anna, but I’m not convinced she would still want ownership given my Canadian to English translations and elaboration on the method (I lost the original).
Things you need:
Plain flour: 1lb 10.5 oz/750g/5 cups
Soft light brown sugar: 5oz/140g/1 cup
Unsalted butter: 7oz/200g/1 cup
Treacle: 5 tbsp
Golden syrup: 8 tbsp
Salt: 1 tsp
Baking powder: 1 tsp
Ground ginger: 2 tsp
Cinnamon: 2 tsp
Nutmeg: 1 tsp
Royal icing: probably 2 boxes
A lot of sweets
A base (I used an upturned tray)
Patience: a generous glug
Draw out your design on greaseproof paper. I did write down the dimensions of mine but I suspect it ended up in the recycling with a flurry of lists and post-it notes, but it is relatively straightforward maths.
Measure your baking trays and base first. I hope that doesn’t sound too obvious, I’ve had to go back to the drawing board before now, after realising to my disappointment that I don’t own industrial equipment.
When drawing the chimney, draw it directly onto the roof so that it is definitely at the right angle to put on your house later (see photo above left). Don’t forget you need two little rectangles as well, one the same height as the short edge, and one the same as the longer side – they should be the same width.
Draw the front and sides first so you can take the measurements for your roof from those, make sure you add a little for overhang etc.
Mark x2 or x1 and something to identify the pieces on each – they have a tendency to become unrecognisable at some stage.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. You will need a large bowl.
Put butter, golden syrup, treacle and sugar into a saucepan and gently heat until sugar has melted.
Beat the eggs with a fork in a small bowl and mix into flour mixture. Alternatively you can mix them with the treacle and syrup at an earlier stage and not heat these with the butter.
Pour in butter and treacle mixture.
Stir wet ingredients into dry. Place bowl outside or in the fridge until completely cool.
Dust a large work surface thoroughly with plain flour. Take a third to half of the mixture and mould into a ball.
Sprinkle dough and rolling pin with more flour and roll out. Make sure you keep turning the dough to keep it as square as possible. You want it to be about 5mm thick.
Grease baking trays well and then cut out all your shapes.
A tip with the larger pieces is to define the rough shape and then transfer to baking tray, in order to finish cutting once it’s on the tray. This will stop it stretching when you move it, as it’s fairly important to keep the edges as straight as possible. Of course, if your baking trays hate you as much as mine do, then they will warp themselves in the heat of the oven just to mock you.
When cutting out the chimney, flip the template over so that you can have pieces with right sides facing out all around.
Keep rolling and cutting until you have all the pieces you need.
If you want a stained glass window effect then put some boiled sweets in a sandwich bag and pound them to dust with a rolling pin. This takes a bit of welly, so best to do it at a sociable hour to keep the neighbours happy…sorry Audrey…
Fill your window gaps with the crushed sweets.
The bottom-right photo shows you my fatal mistake. For any pieces with windows like these, put greaseproof on the tray first. Otherwise you might have a spot of bother removing it due to its size, fragility, and your patience levels…more on that later.
Bake the pieces in the oven at gas mark 4/180 C/350 F.
Keep an eye on them, as different pieces will bake at different speeds, from 10 mins to 25! It’s always better to go a bit over than under though, as you can cover the darker areas in sweets, but nothing can hide/save a caved in roof because the biscuit was too soft. Having said that, my sister did prop my first roof up with a gingerbread dinosaur when I had that exact problem, so all is never lost.
Stay tuned! I will be posting a guide to assembling and decorating later this week.