The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge us 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 wanted to have backup information in case I ran into problems so I started looking online for a reference book. Besides I’m always looking for an excuse to buy a new cooking. Also, I wanted to make something that did not have a seasonal theme. I found the book Gingerbread for All Seasons by Teresa Layman, which contained a pattern for a lantern, which I though would be really cool.
I also decided I was only giving myself one chance to do this. If it didn’t work, there wouldn’t be a repeat (Actually I was praying I would be able to stop myself after one try if it didn’t work). I’m not a big fan of futzy projects with a lot of repetitive steps, like fancy cookies or hors d’oeuvres, and this looked like a lot of work. Plus, wasn’t I feeling just a little resentful of a recipe that was going to fill the house with the smell of gingerbread that we wouldn’t be eating!
I picked Y’s recipe because it’s adapted from a recipe by Beatrice Ojakangas (who’s a local Minnesota girl) and, well, because it used less ingredients than the other option. I also decided to give myself plenty of time and break it over over 3 days. So first I mixed the dough and chilled it. The dough was really dry and I had to keep adding water until it came together. I think I still didn’t add enough water, but I was worried about making it too sticky. In the end, it was really stiff to roll out.
The next day I copied the pattern onto a plastic template and then cut it out. I took the dough out of the fridge to let it warm a bit to make it easier to roll out. This was one solid brick of dough. Even at room temp, I had to whack it like crazy with the flat of my rolling pin to help loosen it up enough for rolling. I was able to release A LOT of aggression. Was I starting to get tired of this?
I rolled it out a little at a time and cut out the pieces and the design. Four times for each piece. What a pain! I’m glad I decided to use a simple pattern. And I used a little fondant cutter of a star for the roof pieces. I was definitely getting tired of this.
The baking went smoothly and I didn’t have much distortion upon baking. I laid the pieces on a cooling rack in a safe place until I would have time to assemble the structure. Time to take a couple of days off.
Since my goal was to keep it as simple as possible, I was only going to use royal icing for the construction and decoration. Once again, this mixture was really dry when I mixed it, so I added some extra egg white. I thought I had whipped it stiff enough, but discovered that wasn’t the case later on when I was time to pipe on the decoration. Although it was yummier than I thought it would be.
When it came time to put the pieces together I discovered some of my edges weren’t as straight as they should be. I discovered they could be straightened a bit by gently planing a bit with a microplane grater.
I inserted a ginger scented candle and added the roof, which was tricky and needed a second pair of hands. Thanks Ben! I piped on some frosting and this is when I discovered the royal icing wasn’t stiff enough. It wouldn’t hold a good texture so I just did the best I could. I was very frazzled by now.
I lit the candle, took my photos, and Whew! Safe! Done! And even though we don’t get to eat it, I smile every time I walk into the dining room and smell that heavenly gingerbread smell.
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
Adapted 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.
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.
4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]
5. 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.
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.