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Gingerbread Houses

Daring Bakers
December 2009

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose Gingerbread Houses!

Anna: The recipe I tested is from Good Housekeeping - I chose it because it was simple and required only ingredients I personally always have in my kitchen. Plus, it was so funky I HAD to try it, and luckily that worked out. I made my house around Halloween and decided to take advantage of the spooky goodies I could only get at that time of year.

Y: I tested a Scandinavian recipe from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book. I chose a Beatrice Ojakangas' recipe because I love her book, and usually have great success with her recipes. I was also attracted to the ingredients she had in her gingerbread.

To download the recipe in .pdf format, click HERE!

If you're using this recipe, please be aware that in general, gingerbread for houses are usually designed less for taste and more for its ability to be sturdy and long lasting. My house is titled, "Steve the StormTrooper comes home for the Christmas holidays".

Posting Date: December 23-27, 2009

Anna's Notes: If you don't have an awful lot of time, the doughs can easily be frozen and then thawed when you are ready to roll it. The baked pieces can also be tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen for assembly later.

Y's Notes: I found this slide show very helpful. I didn't make the simple syrup, because I couldn't be bothered, but it's included as an added option for other people to try. Instead of using the syrup as glue, I just used the royal icing above. My house is quite small, so it held well together very easily, until the royal icing dried. The amount of royal icing you will end up needing will of course depend on whether you use it purely for decoration, or also as the 'glue' for the house.

Variations: You are welcome to use either recipe we tested, depending on your taste or what is available where you are.

Obviously, you are also allowed to use any sort of candy or sugar decorations you wish. You can even make your own candy to decorate the house! You may give your house any theme you'd like - you don't have to stick to the traditional Christmas house. We are providing a rough template but feel free to find or make your own (there are a lot of great books out there
with tons of fun blueprints and ideas). Some books you may want to check out:

Your house can be as big or as small as you'd like, but it MUST meet these requirements:

  1. Everything needs to be edible - no glue or inner non-food supports allowed.
  2. You must bake the gingerbread yourself, whichever recipe you choose. No graham cracker houses please!
  3. You must use some sort of template. If you don't use ours, take a picture or link to what you do use in your final post. It doesn't have to be super technical - Anna didn't even measure hers, she just cut out shapes from parchment and made sure the edges matched up.
  4. Your house must be able to stand on its own. If you want to go adding balconies with candy stick buttresses or whatever go right ahead, but the main house itself must be free-standing.

We feel that by having these simple ground rules in place but giving you the freedom to run with the challenge otherwise, anyone with a few hours of free time this month can tackle this. And if you have a bigger chunk of time, you can REALLY tackle it.

Preparation Time for Anna's Recipe: 10 minutes to mix the dough, 4-8 hours at least to chill it, then 5 minutes to roll, 10 to rest, and 10 to cut. Another 30 minutes to rest, if necessary. 25-30 minutes to bake, depending on the size of the pieces. I would estimate 2-4 hours to decorate, depending on how ornate you want to make everything. It could certainly take longer if you are doing a lot of intricate royal icing designs or making your own candies. Altogether, this will take 7-13 hours, including chilling time. But, as noted above, you can break this up over several days or even a couple weeks if the freezer is utilized.

Preparation Time for Y's Recipe: 5-10 minutes to mix the dough, 2 hours to chill, 5 minutes to roll, 10 to cut and 15 minutes to bake. Estimated 4-7 hours from start to finish including chilling.

Equipment Needed:
Stand or hand held electric mixer (not required but it will make mixing the dough a lot easier and faster)
Plastic wrap
Rolling pin
Parchment paper
Baking sheets
Cardboard cake board or sheet of thick cardboard
Foil, if desired
Small saucepan
Small pastry brush (optional)
Piping bag with small round tip, or paper cornets if you're comfortable with them

Anna's Recipe:
Spicy Gingerbread Dough
(from Good Housekeeping)

2 1/2 cups (500g) packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (360mL) heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups (425g) molasses
9 1/2 cups (1663g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon(s) baking soda
1 tablespoon(s) ground ginger

Directions:

  1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.
  2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.
  3. Grease and flour large cookie sheets (17-inch by 14-inch/43x36cm)
  4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness. (Placing 3/16-inch dowels or rulers on either side of dough to use as a guide will help roll dough to uniform thickness.)
  5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.
  6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (149C)
  7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1 1/4 inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.
  8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.
  9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not over bake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.
  10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

**EDIT**
A lot of people have been having trouble with the doughs seeming too dry. Sometimes it is a climate issue, but you also have to take into account the fact that the dough will need to rest in the fridge and during that time the liquid will disperse within the dough and make the dough more evenly moist. I actually had to make my dough twice and the second time noticed it was drier, but still had no problem with it at all.

And yes, both doughs are prone to a little shrinkage. Make sure you don't over mix the dough initially as you'll overdevelop the gluten and make your dough tough and shrinky.

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.
  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.

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.

VerySmallAnna
Y
Good Housekeeping and The Great Scandinavian Baking Book
Beatrice Ojakangas