Monday, December 23, 2013

Tudor Gingerbread House

I like making gingerbread houses, and I love looking at pictures of gingerbread contest winners. I am by no means professional, have never been formally taught anything by anyone who really knows what they are talking about, and don't claim to do everything the best way.

I have to admit up front here that I live in a desert climate. Since living here, I have never had any problem with gingerbread bending from weight and the royal icing I use is nothing fancy (egg whites, powdered sugar and cream of tartar), but I have never had a problem with it and it drys rapidly enough that my problem is not getting the gingerbread to stay together until it drys, but getting it together right the first time because the royal icing will be partially dry before I get a chance to move it around. In other words, I live in a pretty ideal place for gingerbread house experimentation and I am not sure how this would hold up in, say, Houston, TX or Canandaigua, NY.

A few years ago Patrick and I made a stone mill. I remember I was first going for a brick pattern on my gingerbread walls as I was cutting out the dough before baking. I could tell in the cutting process that that was going to be a disaster, so I came up with the idea of making stone walls by cutting up gingerbread into random shapes and pressing them into a sheet of royal icing that was the size I wanted the walls to be. Surprisingly, this worked out (thanks to my fantastic husband who whipped the frosting by hand because we didn't have an electric mixer at this point). I baked the pieces and let my walls dry for about 12 hours before carefully peeling the wax paper off the back and turning them over. I waited another 12 hours or so before I assembled the house. This wait time would probably be longer in a very humid place, but was more than enough for where I am (I didn't wait anywhere near as long this time around, but I was paranoid the first time).

For those that are interested, the water wheel was something I made by just cutting out two wheel shapes and putting some rectangle pieces in between. I really think I just straight up cut out the shape and baked it and it worked just fine, but, to avoid potential warping of the skinny spokes, you could employ the same baking technique I will detail below. The wreath was made from cut up gumdrops stuck back together; we were rather proud of the result. The chimney is made of "bricks" that are actually some of the stones cut sideways.

Last year, I did not make a gingerbread house; I had a baby instead. This year we decided to make a Tudor style house, partially because we live in one. The other part was that I wanted to see if I could make my walls using a bunch of royal icing again.

The first thing I tried was making boards of gingerbread and then cutting them to make a frame. This does work. It is also a pain in the neck. The back wall of the house (on the left in the picture to the right) is made this way and it really doesn't seem to be less structurally sound. Still, cutting all the "boards" down to the right size without breaking them in the wrong place and keeping them all together is not fun. As it became clear that I was going to need to bake more boards due to the excessive breakage, I decided I might as well try something else in the oven. I think the second way is a much better method.

I heard somewhere from someone that you can bake your gingerbread halfway as a whole sheet and then cut out your walls and bake it the rest of the way to get your walls to be more precise. This way, any spreading of the dough has already happened by the time you cut out the pieces. That is precisely what I did. I actually did cut the pieces before baking but left a bit of dough around the outside, and I didn't remove any dough from the center. Then, I cut on the lines I had cut before and carefully removed the center.

After everything was baked and partially cool, I carefully turned it over and removed the wax paper from the back. Actually, the first time I tried to remove the wall from the wax paper, but it cracked. I was able to salvage it without much trouble, but peeling the wax paper from the wall is the way to go.

When all was cool I simply piped royal icing into the spaces between the gingerbread and let it harden overnight. Then I flipped it over (again removing the paper from the wall), and let the back harden. Due to a slight mishap with the first technique (namely Patrick trying to straighten a board after the top of the icing had already developed a shell thereby making a crack), we decided to texture the white part by tapping it all over with a finger after the first shell formed. I think it created a cool effect, but that is strictly optional. When all was dry, I  put it together.

I decorated with leftover Halloween candy from the trick or treaters we did not get. I never did go out and get other candy before I started building and was too exhausted to do much by the time I was done. It would probably be much cuter with a better roof like the frosted shredded wheat I did last time or maybe some Necco wafers, but I was beat and so was Patrick. This gingerbread house probably took two weeks to make, but most of that time was feeling overwhelmed about what I had decided to do and being puzzled about how exactly to proceed. The end result is that I can report this method works and shows promise of a very impressive house in the future, but the house this time is a bit lack luster in comparison to the stone mill.

1 comment:

  1. I think this year's house is still pretty impressive.


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