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Monday, November 15, 2010

Is it really too early to start the festivities?

I am pretty sure it is too soon. I know that Thanksgiving has not even happened across the pond in America, and here I am pushing Gingerbread House ideas in to your kitchens in the hopes that a few of you will give it a whirl. I know this looks intimidating, but trust me, it is relatively easy to bake and make.  

So, to get started, draw a template. We have used different ones over the years an if you just do a bit of digging around on the internet, you will find a gazillion different templates. If this is your first time, then keep it simple and make sure you are very accurate in your measuring.

Next - Make your Gingerbread on a Friday evening, and leave it to chill overnight.
Here is our recipe, and it really does taste YUMMY. It dries rock hard like gingernut/snap cookies and the kids fought over it last year, right down to the last crumb.

Gingerbread House

6 cups of cream/all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
4 tsp ground ginger
4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp finely ground black pepper
1 cup dark brown (moist) sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups of treacle (or molasses)
2 large eggs
1 cup unsalted butter

Sieve together the flour, baking soda and baking powder.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. 
Mix in spices and salt, then beat in eggs and   treacle. Use an electric mixer.
Add your flour mixture and mix on low speed until it is mixed in well. 
Divide the mix into three parts. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least one hour. 
This is imperative. The gluten needs to rest before rolling it out and it is easier to work with a 
‘cold’ dough as it holds its shape better. We chilled ours overnight.
Heat your oven to 240 degrees celsius. 
Roll out the dough (on a floured surface) to 1/8 inch thick.
Cut into desired shape. Place your dough shapes on un-greased baking sheets.
Chill gain until firm. (At least 15 mins)
Bake until Gingerbread is firm in the center but NOT dark around the edges. (15 - 20 mins). 

(Sometimes, when one should be 'watching' the Gingerbread, one might get distracted 
and even  forget that this is in the oven. It is possible that the GIngerbread might even burn. 
Fear not, if this happens. Once it is fully baked, you can take it out of the oven and scrape it off
before any husbands might see it, or smell it.  Amazingly, it still tastes good! Or, so I have heard)

Whilst you are waiting for this to bake, start sorting thorough your candy stash and figure out 
what you need to get for your decorating the next day. 
Remember, candy canes, and red and green M&M’s are a must, but if you are creative, and I know you all are,
you do what we do and use up all that left over halloween candy!

Now to stick it all together. OK, before I give you this recipe, I know you can buy royal icing in a bag and 'just add water', so if you want to do that, go ahead. I just want you to know, that if you make your own you will have a lot more fun because it has an amazing taste and texture, and it is great to work with. There is going to be some finger licking going on. Also, if you do not get finished (like ours is not done yet!) then the icing/glue will stay in the fridge for a few days. Great stuff and you can dye it different colours too!

The Glue
3 egg whites
1lb powdered/icing sugar
A pinch of cream of tartar
5 drops lemon juice

Mix together and spoon into a piping bag with interchangeable pipping nozzles.

Ok. So, you are baked (well your gingerbread is, right?) and ready to go. Now, find some canned tomatoes or FULL coke/beer cans to use as props. Remember, as you start to assemble the four walls of your house, that once glued, you will not be able to move your house. SO, put it on a tray or cutting board that you will NOT NEED on Christmas Day to carve the Turkey. Otherwise, you might be getting a new cutting board in your Christmas stocking for forgetting that important fact. 

You really need the emotional and physical support of a partner or friend for this part. Although you may end up doing nothing except 'stand there and look pretty' you are on hand incase the walls fall down around you. If you have taken care to measure your template carefully and then have cut out your dough according to the measurements, and you have baked everything on a nice FLAT baking sheet pan (not a wonky old warped one), then all will fit together like it is supposed to. If it is warped, you can wrap it in a warm damp tea towel, let it soften a little and wait till tomorrow to try again after it has dried and hardened.

Glue the interior wall joints and the exterior wall joints. Also run a nice thick line of the icing/glue around the exterior and interior base lines. 

It is best if you wait for several hours before you try to 'roof it'. We use a nice large roof, for the desired effect, and needed to prop it up on both sides with large coffee mugs to hold it in place for a few hours. The icing/glue mix is great though and we were able to start decorating much faster than expected. If you are planning on doing this project with your kids, it really is best to try to do these few steps when they are in bed. Less stress for everyone.

Now, let the fun begin. Of course, you need some REDs and GREENS. So, the large Christmas Peanut M & M's are in the shops right now - go get some! Everything else we used was just leftover halloween sweets. We cut up a lot of stuff to get the look we were after, and we still have some work to go on it, because I have to get some RED licorice and a few other sweeties to finish it off.

Once you start decorating, it could take as little as a few hours to get it finished and ready for display, or it might take a little longer if you let adult friends that have never had the experience the kids dive in.

Either way, this is a very very inexpensive activity for the whole family to do together. Not to mention it will also be an awesome conversation piece for all your friends and family to see when they stop by to bring you tidings of good joy over the Holiday Season. Next weekend we are making Gingerbread people to use as decorations on the Christmas Tree - stay tuned. 

It is just FORTY days till Christmas. The whole year has slipped by us in the blink of an eye. I think I have been fighting the Christmas Spirit for way too long now, mostly due to the fact, eleven years ago, that my Dad was buried Christmas Eve. I finally feel like that weight has lifted, and I think this is mostly due to the fact that our house is filled with screaming-kid-chaos and I no longer have time to dwell on my own misery, but have to put their happiness first.

There is a very cool Continental Christmas Market coming to Galway (starting this weekend!) for the next month and I hope lots of you will come to do your Christmas shopping here and stop in for some egg nog and tasty treats at our place when you are done! 

Those are all the WiseWords I have for today as I have successfully managed to avoid at all costs another evening of homework and study for my pending exams!


PS - if anyone wants the Gingerbread recipe emailed to them just email me here or find me on Facebook!


The Healthy Foodie said...

Hi Mona. That looks like quite a fun project. Definitely not too early to "start the festivities" in my opinion. Thanks for your great blog.

WiseMóna said...

Hey Pama, thanks!
I know, the kids are getting so excited here, and with the Continental Christmas Market opening this weekend, it is hard to fight it. There is a raging storm outside tonight, so that cools our heels a little, but all the more reason to break out the egg nog :0)
Hope all is well with you and George!

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