Gingerbread House for the Daring Bakers

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.

I have never made a Gingerbread House before and this was hands down the most fun challenge for me. Since I was out of town for most part of this month, I didn’t quite get a chance to start on my Gingerbread House until this week. I was almost not going to make it but the experience of baking and decorating a Gingerbread house from scratch was just too tempting to resist.

We were allowed to choose any theme for our GB house as long as we used the given recipes. I chose to use Anna’s recipe which is from Good Housekeeping.

Equipment Needed:
Stand or handheld 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

I made a Ginger Bread Stone Cottage using my own template. I used Wilton’s Royal Icing recipe to keep the house in place and candy for decoration.

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

I halved the recipe which was just right for the template I used.


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.

Wilton's Royal Icing: (Makes about 3 cups icing)

3 tbsp Meringue powder

4 cups (about 1 lb.) Confectioners’ Sugar

6-7 tbsp warm Water

Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer). Cover mixer with a damp cloth to prevent icing from crusting.

Store remaining icing in an airtight container, do not refrigerate.

NOTE: Keep all utensils completely grease-free for proper icing consistency. Tint the icing using icing gel color to match the color of the gingerbread pieces.

Instructions for Gingerbread House Assembly:

Find a clean, flat, sturdy piece of cardboard, foam core, or wooden board that measures about 12-inch square. Straighten all edges of gingerbread pieces by trimming on a cutting board using a serrated knife or microplane and a ruler.

STEP 1: House Base Fill a piping bag fitted with a #3 tip with 1 1⁄2 cups of royal icing. Pipe icing along both edges of one side wall and join it to one end of both the front and back walls. Press to create a tight seal. Place a heavy aluminum can (such as beans or soup) along the inside and outside of each wall to provide support. Pipe icing along both edges of the remaining side wall and adhere it to the opposite ends of the front and back wall to form a rectangular box. Pipe icing along the inside joints and along the base to help ensure that the connections are secure. Place heavyweight aluminum cans against the house sides--both inside and outside the box--to support the structure while it dries. Allow to dry completely (at least 3 hours).

STEP 2 Roof:
Pipe a thick line of royal icing along the top edge of one roof piece. Secure it to the top edge of the other roof piece so that an “A” is formed. The distance between the base of the edges should measure about 5 inches. Stand the connected pieces on end on a piece of parchment or waxed paper. Pipe icing along the inside joint to add extra support to the connection; and place heavy aluminum cans against the pieces to provide support while the icing dries (at least 3 hours).

STEP 3 Decorating:
Everything must be completely dry before beginning this step. Place the roof on top of the house base.

Thatched Roof: Pretzel sticks lined with sticks of red gum, finished with a sprinkling of powdered sugar

Eaves & Masonry: Jelly beans

Window Frames: Sticks of red gum
Windows: The gingerbread pieces have to be cool and hardened before you try to make the windows, so bake these pieces first. By the time you are done baking the rest of the pieces, these would have cooled down. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Place the side portions (the ones with windows) of the Ginger bread house on the cookie sheet. Pulverize hard candy (I used yellow candy) in a Ziploc bag by hitting hard with a rolling pin. Spoon candy pieces into window openings. Place in the oven for about 2 minutes until the candy melts, do not let it bubble up. Remove and let cool completely- about an hour. Slowly peel off foil from pieces. Now you have candy windows.

Mortar: Royal icing is the "glue" that holds the gingerbread house pieces together and the embellishments in place.

I am glad I made the Gingerbread House. Thanks Y and Anna for a fun challenge!

Buttermilk Biscuits

It feels great to be back home to a familiar kitchen. Much that I enjoyed baking and cooking using the new appliances over at my cousins’ place in Boston, I missed my good ol’ kitchen. And it definitely feels good to be back to a much ‘warmer’ Winter here down South.

Nothing is more inviting to a breakfast or dinner table than freshly baked biscuits. They are far simpler than you think and can be baked up in less than an hour.

You will need:

2 cups All-purpose flour
2 tsp Baking powder
½ tsp Baking soda
½ tsp Salt
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tbsp, melted
¾ cup cold buttermilk
1 tsp ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Using a dough cutter, combine until ingredients are incorporated. Scatter the cold butter pieces over the top of the flour mixture and continue to combine until the mixture resembles coarse meal. If you don't have a dough cutter, use the tips of your fingers.Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Add the buttermilk and pulse until the mixture just begins to come together.

Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pat the dough into a 5 by 6-inch rectangle about 3/4-inch thick. Use a 2-inch round cutter to cut out biscuits. Press together the scraps of dough, and repeat process. Place the biscuits on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper and sprinkle with black pepper. Bake the biscuits for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush the tops with the melted butter. Serve while still warm.

We had ours with Orange Marmalade and home-made Strawberry Jam. The pepper added a little bite to the biscuits.

Asian style Bean Burgers

I have been in Boston the past week helping my cousin moving into their new home. Moving homes is an hectic ordeal no matter how well organized everything is. With only a few boxes unpacked, we are trying to make the most of the ingredients we have on hand to make our meals. One such meal was from last night - Red Kidney burgers infused with Asian flavors. With the temperatures in the mid 20s, a warm meal with familiar flavors was just perfect.

You will need:

For the Burgers:
1 (8oz) can Red Kidney beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup Bread crumbs
1 tsp light Soy sauce
1 tsp Ginger Garlic paste (or ½ tsp each, ground ginger and garlic)
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Red chilli flakes
1 tbsp minced Scallions

For the sauce:

¼ cup light Mayo
½ tsp light Soya sauce
½ tbsp minced scallions
1 tsp hot sauce
A pinch salt

3 Burger buns(halved), slices of tomato and cucumber

Mash the kidney beans using a fork or potato masher. Add the rest of the burger ingredients, mix well and shape into three patties. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook patties 3 to 4 minutes per side until heated through and crusty. While its cooking, mix all the sauce ingredients in small bowl and set aside. Drain patties on paper towels. In the same pan, place the burger halves and toast for a minute.

Assemble the burger: Place a patty on the bottom half of the toasted bun, spread a tablespoon or more of the sauce, top with slices of tomatoes and cucumbers and the bun. Serve while still warm.

These burgers were moist I was pleasantly surprised that the soy taste was distinct and added that extra zing.

Chayote Squash (Seemebadnekai) Gojju

This is one of my ajji's signature dishes. Mom didn't make it as much because Dad doesn't like Chayote Squash. Ajji often cooked with Seemebadnekai (Chayote Squash) and when we went to ajji's place for the summer holidays or any other time, if she had the squash on hand, we knew what was for lunch.

You will need:

1 Chayote Squash (Seembadnekai) cubed

3-4 Dry Red chillies

½ tsp Cumin seeds

¼ tsp Turmeric powder

1 tsp. Fried gram (Hurgadle)

5-6 tbsps fresh grated coconut

1 tbsp chopped corriander

½ onion, chopped

½ tsp Tamarind paste

2 tsp jaggery, powdered

¼ tsp Hing

¼ tsp Mustard seeds

Few curry leaves

1 tbsp Oil

Boil the chayote squash until soft and translucent. A piece should still hold shape when pressed gently between your fingers and not turn into mush. Grind red chillies, cumin seeds, turmeric, fried gram, coconut, jaggery and tamarind in a blender with sufficient water to make a smooth paste.

Heat oil in a pan. Add mustard and when it begins to splutter add the asafetida and then curry leaves. Now add the chopped onions and fry till they are soft.Add the prepared paste and cook for a few minutes till the mixture begins to simmer and the raw smell is gone. Keep stirring to avoid burning.

Now add the boiled squash, mix well. Season with salt. Add little water if required to make a gravy (gojju). Garnish with chopped coriander.

Chayote Squash Gojju, Tomato Rasam & White steamed rice

This is best eaten with hot rice and a little ghee. Also makes a great accompaniment for rice and yoghurt.

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