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.
Since this is my first attempt to make a gingerbread house from scratch, I choose the recipe from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, for its seeming simplicity. I mix and divide the dough with ease before I let it rest overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning, I roll the dough out. It's stiff and unwieldy. I set the dough aside to warm up a bit before rolling it out again. Not much changes, so I apply more pressure to the rolling pin.
This is more muscle than I think a gingerbread house deserves. Maybe the dough is over mixed or maybe I need to mix it again with a little more milk. At this point, I am so close to giving up on this gingerbread.
These thoughts pass and with great stubbornness I refuse to quit. After about an hour of stretching the dough flat, I cut out six pieces to build the house, two panels for the sides, one each for the front and back, and two for the roof. I bake them and leave them on the counter overnight.
I return to the gingerbread the next morning. I mix up a batch of royal icing to decorate and hold the house together. My d.i.y. piping method, a sealable sandwich bag with a corner cut off, fails, even when I make a smaller corner cut, so I use a butter knife and my fingers to apply the icing. Three of the panels crack so I ice the cracks and hope for the best. It's beginning to look grim, this house may never stand on its own.
But, I persist. I cover the house and decide to decorate it with oatie-o's and a few stems of dried rosemary. Like I said, it's minimal, clean, and with just enough light to pass through the windows.
I'm not sure if there will be other gingerbread houses in my future, but if there are, I will be sure to add more liquid to the dough and the icing.
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.
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.
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.