I really should have opted out of this month's challenge. Gingerbread houses?? More arts and crafts than baking. December has been such a busy month, between changing jobs and preparing for the holiday party in Salem... the last thing I needed to do was spend hours slaving away over an edible house. So what did I do? I decided to invite my friends over for a Gingerbread House party... because when you don't have time to make one house, you should make three or four. What a mess. The party itself was fun, but this challenge was so labor intensive that I am going to have to opt out of future decorating-focused challenges. Much to my embarrassment, this challenge kicked my butt.
recipe from Good Housekeeping. I had all of the ingredients on hand, and the lack of butter and eggs made it feel like a cheaper option. I doubled the recipe and had enough dough to make four houses and some accessories. I was too tired to make the accessories or the fourth house - but if I had wanted to, there would have been enough dough.
The gingerbread dough was pretty stiff and difficult to roll out right when it was pulled out of the fridge. I had better results (and my wrists were much happier) with the chilled dough that had sat out of the fridge long enough to return to room temperature. A number of daring bakers complained that shrinkage during baking was a problem. Once I had rolled out my dough, I chilled it in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking and did not really have any problems with shrinking. Problems with the dough itself? That is a whole other story.
I don't know if it was an error in the Good Housekeeping recipe or the weight conversions that our hostess used when reprinting the recipe, but my dough was a mess. A crumbly, dry mess. It took about a half cup of water and several tablespoons of cream to get it moist enough for rolling... and at that point the dough had been kneading so much that it was nearly unworkable. At about 2am the night before the gingerbread party, I had to call it quits... sweaty and tired with wrist cramps... I just could not roll out any more cookies.
Instead of making my own template, I borrowed a basic one from Martha Stewart. I chose the template because it had a pattern for a chimney, which set it apart from other patterns I found on the internet. After two days of rolling out and baking gingerbread, I decided not to make the chimney. So much for the cute pattern.
In terms of mortar or cement, I stuck with royal icing and passed on the simple syrup glue. For royal icing, I used a basic recipe - 3 egg whites beaten to a medium meringue. 1 1/2 pounds of powdered sugar were gradually mixed into the meringue and beaten until the mixture was stiff and fluffy, stiff being the operative word. When I first started to think about how I would attack this challenge, I had visions of beautifully decorated homes dancing around in my mind - homes with perfectly piped icing, precisely placed candies, and possibly even some fancy marzipan or fondant modeling. Yeah. Right. The icing was a mess. Thick... heavy... and not pipe-able. It squeezed slowly out of the tip in thick globs that were so messy that after a few tries, I resorted to slopping it on the house with my fingers.
On top of all of that, our gingerbread houses also had structural issues. Somehow I put them together incorrectly which meant that the roofs were too small. We had to resort to an elaborate support system (using chewed gum as cement) to get the roofs to stay up. Ugh.
And voila - our gingerbread village. I wish I could say that a small child decorated mine, but alas, it is my own clumsy icing work. I can ice a cupcake with my eyes closed, but gingerbread houses are just not for me.
My recap of operation gingerbread makes it sound like I slacked off on this challenge. The sad thing is, that could not be further from the truth. I WISH I had slacked off. Instead, I spent WAY too much time on this with little to show for it. I told A that if our unborn children wish to build holiday gingerbread houses, they will have to visit a friend. This is the first, and last time that I would be doing anything like this.
Here's to hoping that the January challenge is more up my alley.