Daring Bakers: Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread Houses--one of my favorite Christmas traditions!

When I found it was this months Daring Bakers Challenge, I began planning immediately how I would fit it into my schedule. But before I get into those details, let me introduce our two fabulous hostesses!

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.

A few days later I had a client ask if I was selling Gingerbread Houses on my holiday menu this year. I explained that although it wasn't on my menu, I'd be happy to make one for her to purchase. It worked out great, since I was already planning to purchase the supplies (candy) for one house, what is one more? And then I had a second client order another house as well. I used my long-time favorite family recipe for my client's gingerbread houses, since I knew exactly how the dough would turn out.

I set aside a few hours and began to make what ended up being three batches of my favorite gingerbread dough and one batch of Y's recipe. I decided to try Y's recipe because I was intrigued by the Scandinavian dough that didn't have any molasses in it and my recipe did. Y's recipe yielded a bit more than I had expected, so I made a large house and a smaller house; turning the three gingerbread houses into four!

Gingerbread House for Client #1:

Gingerbread House for Client #2:

My favorite aspect of creating desserts is the decorating part of the process. I enjoyed every single minute and hour in creating those gingerbread houses for my clients, but I was antsy to begin work on my own house. Finally after about four or five days of being extremely busy with Jillicious Desserts orders, I was able to start construction on my houses.

Jill's Gingerbread Village (I don't know if two houses make a village, but it has a village-like feel to the scene):

I really enjoyed creating these houses and I probably went a little picture crazy, but I just wanted to share all the fun details from this project.

Large Gingerbread House:

[Close up view of front door.]

[Windows made from melted butterscotch candy pieces. I used a battery-operated tea light inside the house. It fit easily through the front door and the light flickered through the candy windows.]

[Star is also made from butterscotch candy pieces & the Christmas lights are chocolate covered sunflower seeds. They were the perfect outdoor light shape!]

[The roof is made out of chocolate frosted mini-wheat cereal.]

[The rocks on the chimney are chocolate candies--I love how they look like real rocks. One of my favorite elements are the candy cane trees that I found at one of the supermarkets while searching for candy.]

[Every gingerbread house I've made over the years always has some sort of peppermint candies on it; this one has mini candy canes and the round peppermint candies.]

[Aerial view of large house and Santa with all nine reindeer.]

The second part of my gingerbread project was the Bake Shop. This was probably my favorite house to create, because I had nearly a week to decide what I wanted to do with it. I made several small, very small bake shop items and most of them you can look through the door and see them in the shop. Next year, I may have to make another one, but larger, so it's easier to see inside.

Jill's Gingerbread Bake Shop:

[Notice the door with the open sign on the Bake Shop; in honor of the Jillicious Online Bake Shop that opened earlier this month.]

[This is the only picture I took while putting the houses together. I got so involved in the process, I completely forget to take step-by-step pictures. This was taken before the front and roof was attached.]

[All of these were made out of fondant and the writing was from an edible ink food pen. They were so much fun to make and I just love how cute they turned out!]

[The roof was made from Christmas hard candies, something I remember getting in my stocking every year as a kid. I really had to track this candy down and finally found them in the fifth store I went to.]

[View from the large house--one of my favorite views of Santa.]

[Santa, his sleigh and the reindeer were all made from fondant. The trees are made out of chocolate, each layer piped separately, then attached with chocolate to create the tree shapes.]

[More Santa pictures, because he is just so dang cute!]

[View from the back of the houses.]

Now for the recipe! I was pleasantly surprised at how good this gingerbread dough tasted; especially since it didn't have molasses and I was worried at the amount of cloves it had in the recipe, but it was really good.

Thanks for sharing it Y!

*My notes are in green.

Y's Recipe:
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight. *I chilled my batch for about 2 hours and it was enough time.

2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.

3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place. *I used a really good technique I've used for years with gingerbread dough. Line the baking sheet with foil and place the dough in the middle. Using a regular rolling pin, roll the dough from the middle to all four corners, until the dough is evenly rolled out. The dough should be smooth and even (see pictures below).

4. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet. *After 15 minutes, remove the foil from the pan, with the gingerbread still on it and carefully move the pieces to a cooling rack.

Royal Icing:

1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Simple Syrup:
2 cups (400g) sugar

Place in a small saucepan and heat until just boiling and the sugar dissolves. Dredge or brush the edges of the pieces to glue them together. If the syrup crystallizes, remake it. *I didn't use the simple syrup, but many Daring Bakers said it worked really well.

I wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!