Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Challenge: Gingerbread House

It seems Mum's and I's Christmas Challenge is now an annual thing. (See last year's Buche de Noel).

I rang her up a couple of weeks ago, basically hinting that I'd like to do something other than a buche. When I mentioned a gingerbread house, she said 'I've always wanted to do one of those!', so we settled on it.
I knew it couldn't be that hard, because I made one in Guides when I was about fourteen.

We used the simple gingerbread house recipe from Good Food.

The trouble with this recipe is that the roof is very, very steep. It worked without too much hassle, but I think next time I'd save myself the worry and use one with a shallower roof.

 First of all, we made gingerbread and cut out the pieces to the template. This recipe (I keep calling it a pattern) suggests sticking in almonds as roof tiles. Mum liked the idea, so we did it. I wanted to use Jules Destrooper biscuits for the roof, but in the end, we used them somewhere else. The almonds did fracture in our hands, and it's worth remembering to leave places to handle the gingerbread round the edges.

Then bake, allow to cool slightly and trim the pieces to the template. Slightly's the key. I left it too long and wound up chipping bits of solid gingerbread across the kitchen. Also, at the time, I was all 'if it's not exact it won't fit perfectly!', whereas in reality 'stick some more icing on it!' fixes 100% of all house engineering problems.

The recipe suggests piping long snakes of icing down the sides and then sticking the pieces together. Round about this point, I swore more volubly then I ever have in front of my mother, because I'd forgotten the icing set. I had to send Mum to a neighbour. (Thanks, neighbour!).

The icing (500g sifted icing sugar, two egg whites) is like putty, so rolling snakes and placing everything together would actually have been much easier. And I'm sure you can see my finger-dimples in this photo as I did everything possible to make sure it stayed up. If you're making this yourself, do bear in mind that the icing hardens, so you can cut down on the engineering and just hold-and-wait.

The roof, as I mentioned, is steep, and our gingerbread roofs had flared in the oven, so we had to pad the eaves with icing. A few nervy moments as Mum held the roof and I stuffed icing into every crevice, using a mirror to see under the eaves. That 'snow' across the top of the roof? Just a decorative device and definitely not an integral part of the structure...

The two yellow-ish circles in the pictures are acid drops. I thought they were clearer, so next year I'd use clear boiled sweets or Fox's Glacier Mints. (Or possibly gelatine sheets as used to great effect in Su-Lin's Mies van der Rohe Barcelona pavilion).

The chimney's a Cadbury's mini-roll, sliced and stuck on with icing. Mum and I agreed it's too big for the scale, and can we just not mention it's directly over a door?

Then we decorated with liquorice spogs (apparently, that really is their name!) and gumdrops.

Then we got really silly.

The thing I most enjoyed about doing this house is that it gave us free rein to do what we wanted, to say 'Hey, how about this?'. If we could think of a way of doing it, we did.

We knew we wanted front and back paths. In the sweet shop (Sweet Memories of Twickenham, who were patient with us and let us order 'four of those, six of those'), I'd seen the rainbow strips and decided they'd make a great path, while Mum spotted the Pontefract cakes and suggesting stepping stones. We used the Destrooper biscuits for the doors.

As we were laying out the stepping stones, I said 'why don't we make a river?' I used the chipped-off spare bits of gingerbread as banks (essential because I was using runny icing), coloured some icing blue and trailed it across the corner of our surface. Then we put a 'stepping stone' in it.

Mum's genius idea was a log pile. The recipe suggests using Cadbury's mini-fingers, but Mum bought Elizabeth Shaw Amaretto flutes, which taste and look better. As we were snipping off bits to fit the sides, Mum said 'I see a log pile' and constructed one from off-cuts at the back door.

Then I got carried away and daubed 'snow' absolutely everywhere, running down the roof, forming icicles on the roof, and so on.

I placed it on two sheets of baking paper, to save the tablecloth, and dusted everything with icing sugar. I also put 'ice' (clearish icing) in the river. The baking sheets made the house easy to slide around and work on.

Even my dad got involved. As we were all sitting around after the Christmas meal, he got his (clean!) knife, and drew ski-tracks and the marks of a snowplough stop, which you can just see at bottom right in this pic.

We're already brainstorming all sorts of ludicrous things for next year. My brother wants a yeti, so a yeti he shall have!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Picture special

I am quite, quite lousy at posting.
This has become embarrassing after meeting a lot of other food bloggers and definitely joining the food Tweetosphere (that really shouldn't be a word).
I cook quite a lot of interesting recipes, but I often don't write about them, or finish writing about them.
As I was looking for good photos on my camera to be the backdrop to the blog, I realised I had lots of rather nice looking photos but often no posts to go with them.
So this is a picture special.

This is a lemon meringue pie from, oops, LAST Thanksgiving. No view of the lemon, but this is the meringue before (top) and after (bottom) baking. I didn't make an extra pie this year (you have to have pumpkin obviously), because we were so bloody full last year.

This is a mint creme thing from, I think, the front of a Sainsbury's mag. One of the reasons it wasn't written about was the cream essentially turned to butter as we churned it. 

Pie! Quite proud of making pie. Steak and ale recipe from Delicious.

I went through a crumpet phase, starting with pikelets (top), which were way too small to be any use, graduating up to crumpets in my cookie cutters. It is ridiculously easy, but they always tasted a little 'short' to me, and the different ring sizes was a bit awkward. 

Wholemeal rolls. Probably Joy of Cooking. (Recipe not online)

Baguette. Again, almost certainly Joy of Cooking, because if you do everything it says, it will work. 

Must've burnt this one. The stuff that looks like kibble at top left is toffee chunks for toffee apple ice cream from BBC Food (which is highly recommended),

That's more like it. 

So, there's your picture special. No one say anything about 'making a virtue out of a necessity', ok?