The Alternative Gingerbread House – Gingerbread Cave and Christmas Tree (or how not to make a gingerbread igloo)

The gingerbread Christmas Tree and Cave with the Bear and the Hare

The gingerbread Christmas Tree and Cave with the Bear and the Hare

I had a grand plan to bake a Gingerbread Igloo for this year’s Gingerbread House Challenge to raise money for The Sick Children’s Trust. In my mind this would be wonderfully easy. Simply slap a circle of gingerbread dough on a greased upside down pyrex bowl and bake. Easy?

Melted ingerbread mess

Melted gingerbread mess

Perhaps if I had given myself enough time to chill the dough before baking it or used ribbons of greaseproof paper to line the outside of the bowl I might have managed to salvage the igloo. But as it happens I did none of these helpful things and ended up with a lot of gingerbread on the floor of my oven instead.

Taking my sharpest knife I hacked away the excess gingerbread leaving a rather rugged (and uneven edge). Returning it to the oven for a second bake ‘to crisp it up’ was an equally bad idea as the gingerbread then firmly welded itself onto the bowl. Once cooled it then had to be chipped off the bowl. Leaving behind a cave-like gingerbread construction instead.

The first gingerbread igloo/cave

The first gingerbread igloo/cave

‘Who lives in a cave?’ I asked Chris. ‘What can I make this this gingerbread mess?!’ ‘How about the Bear and the Hare from that John Lewis Christmas advert?’ He suggested. I took the idea and ran with it. Whipping up thick white royal icing to cement my cave onto my cake board and adding extra for support. But this gingerbread was far too thin to hold it’s own weight, even with internal gingerbread scaffolding it self destructed over night.

Collapsed gingerbread cave - yet another gingerbread mess

Collapsed gingerbread cave – yet another gingerbread mess

I had now really committed to the idea and already fashioned some fondant animals so I had to construct another cave. A new and improved cave.

Using a half sphere cake tin I layered up gingerbread bricks (or rectangles of rolled out dough) about 3mm thick on the inside of the tin after greasing it heavily. I also included 2 ribbons of greaseproof paper laid (like a hot cross bun cross) inside the tin to act as lever and help me remove it later on. I decided to use a pastry technique and ‘blind bake’ the dough by filling it with a layer of greaseproof paper and kidney beans to hold it in place and avoid disastrous meltage. It worked!! I put it all in the freezer to chill it before baking and help it hold it’s shape. Then 15 minutes in the oven with the beans and 5 minutes baking without the beans led to a good solid cave!

Almost finished Gingerbread Cave

Almost finished Gingerbread Cave

I also experimented with a cave baked on the outside of the half sphere tin, but this spread and looked more like a tortoise shell… Perhaps another alternative gingerbread house for the future!

With the leftover bits of gingerbread dough I thought I best bake some emergency-if-it-all-goes-wrong gingerbread houses. Making it up as I went along (as who has time to make precise templates and measure things?!) armed with a palette knife and a pizza cutter I cut out 3 large (similar size and shape) triangles to make the walls of my wigwam.

This wigwam was then magically transformed into my Christmas tree. It didn’t really look substantial enough to be a house in it’s own right, after I had joined the triangles together to make a 3d wigwam shape. (Using just a line of royal icing on the inside join of each triangle). Inspired I added food colouring to my royal icing and zig zagged the pine needles in place using a  piping bag with the end trimmed off. (Not too large a hole or too much icing gushes out!) Returning with red and yellow coloured icing to dot on baubles. With a generous sprinkle of glitter a rather festive gingerbread Christmas tree had arrived. Once the icing had set I carefully prised the tree from it’s resting place (on a baking tray lined with cling film) with a cocktail stick and plopped it onto even more royal icing on the cake board.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree how lovely are your baubles

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree how lovely are your baubles

To decorate the cave I whipped up a batch of royal icing, using merriwhite (pasteurised egg white powder that you can buy from cake shops, so you don’t have to use raw egg whites if children or pregnant women might eat your baking). I smeared a good rough layer of royal icing all over the board to cover the silver foil and give a snowy effect. This is then the perfect base for glueing the gingerbread cave in place. I then piped more ‘snow’ around the the edges of the cave, all along the join between the cave and the board to hold it in place, but also to suggest a snow build up. I let the icing flow freely and smoothly to give as natural an effect as possible.

Piles of icicles

Piles of icicles

I wanted to create icicles to dangling from the cave mouth. Once the initial layer of snow had dried I could then use this icing to ‘hook’ the icicles on to. I piped a blob of icing behing the inside lip of the cave attatching it as far in to the roof (and joining on to the snow trim) as possible. Simple strings of icing didn’t hold and didn’t look right. I found it easier to squeezed the piping bag gently letting the icing build up and then stretch the icing with the nozzle of the piping bag before you stop piping. THis means you can then shape it as you wish. You can then even add more layers to your icicles if you want to build them up further. A good sprinkle of edible glitter (white hologram glitter is my preferred choice with a hint of blue) gives it a frosty twinkle.

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As I added my Gingerbread Cave to the amazing array of Gingerbread Houses I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I had successfully managed to get it there in one piece! Here’s some of the beautiful gingerbread creations from the day. There were over 20 houses to gaze and wonder at. What a wonderful start to the festive season!

Things that I used to bake my Gingerbread Cave and Christmas Tree

  • 675g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
  • 1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground all spice
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 225g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 large, free range egg
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 3 tbsp black treacle
  1. Beat all the ingredients together and chill.
  2. Roll out to 5mm thickness
  3. Grease and line tin. Place dough in a spherical tin (lined with paper inside and baking beans) and chill for 1 hour in freezer. You can bake it from frozen, no need to defrost
  4. Bake for 10 mins with beans at 180 degrees c.
  5. Remove beans and bake for 5 more minutes
  6. Allow to set in the tin but remove it whilst still warm

For the Royal Icing

  • 16g merriwhite
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 6 -10 tbsp cold water (enough to create a really thick pipeable paste with a smooth shiny finish)
  • Red, green and yellow gel food colourings (if you want to colour some of the icing too)

Beat the ingredients together adding the water gradually until you get the right consistency for you. It should be shiny and thick. It might take 5- 10  minutes of beating. Keep it in an airtight container to stop it drying out.

Put a little in a separate bowl and add colourings if you wish to colour some icing. I used 3 bowls for my 3 colours and kept the white icing in the mixing bowl to fill up my piping bags as needed.

To Decorate

  • edible glitter!
  • silver lustre spray (I sprayed the bear silver)
  • gold lustre powder (I painted the hare gold)
  • fondant icing to model animals and clock
  • a fork/cocktail sticks (to add details to the animals… eg. claws, eyes, mouth, whiskers, textured fur)
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21. Whatcha cooking Lebkucken – Germany

Lebkuchen

I’ve always loved lebkuchen. It always seem like Christmas when the shops start selling these chewy and crunchy pink and white sugar coated cookies. This year seemed the right time to attempt to make my own. I’ve not visited Germany (yet) but if the continental Christmas markets are anything to go by I know that I will love it.

A quick google later and I came up with a simple yet effective BBC Good Food Recipe. (I seem to use this website a lot for my continental recipes!) They seemed fairly easy to make with honey, eggs, spices (cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon)  ground almonds, a bit of flour, black pepper and butter. Simple! Although in my case I had nothing to smash up the cloves with, so improvising with a sandwich bag and a jam jar I hammered them into rough chunks. It kind of did the job, but some biscuits were definitely more clovey than others…

Spicy Stuff

This is definitely a different type of gingerbread to the Sunderland Gingerbread, very rich and sweet. But like Sunderland Gingerbread you throw this all in a pan and melt it together! Fantastic!

Butter, honey and sugar

Then throw in the dry stuff and spice

It needs quite a good stir to mix it all together..

Seemed a bit sticky but trust in the recipe

At this point I started to get a bit worried as it seemed a bit on the sticky side and I couldn’t imagine how on earth I was a) going to roll the dough out or b) cut it into Christmassy shapes… Nevertheless I continued and read the recipe through again and realised it needed some time to cool down. Throwing it into the fridge I popped the kettle on and had a well deserved rest (whilst starting the washing up!)

Now that's more like it!

In a bid to speed things up I divided the dough in half and froze half for other Christmas baking emergencies. I then folded cling film around the dough to roll it out without needing my pastry board and to prevent it sticking to the rolling pin.

Cling Film Queen

Choosing my most Christmassy cookie cutters I cut out the festive shapes and popped them into the oven for a mere 15 minutes.

Off to the oven with you

Then all they needed was a glossy sugary coating once they cooled down enough. Whisking an egg white up with some icing sugar to create a glaze is something that I’ve never done before. There’s another first to cross off my list.

Glazing

I drizzled it over the biscuits and let them drip dry onto kitchen roll. Once they hardened slightly they were ready for eating and the biscuit tin! They were lovely and chewy on the inside. They aren’t overwhelmingly spicy but rich and I enjoy the kick of the black pepper and cloves. I will be baking these every year from now on. I may even try some new variations. I’ve seen some with a much more crispy coating and with a little jam in the middle too to make them extra gooey!

Glazed

I did whip up the second batch in a baking emergency, during a Christmas baking marathon, so didn’t cut them into shapes but made a dough roll (using cling flm to roll it up of course)  and chopped it up… very quick and easy!

Dough roll (not to be mistaken for a sausage)

Lebkuchen Quick Chunks

19. Sunderland Gingerbread – How to Mackem

Sunderland Gingerbread

Years ago I bought a postcard from Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens (my favourite museum from when I was little with the Walrus head and stuffed lion that we visited on a weekly basis)  with a recipe on it for Sunderland Gingerbread. As far as I’m aware Sunderland isn’t renown for it’s Gingerbread but I guess as it was major port there would have been a plentiful supply of exotic spices to create lovely things with. It’s been pinned to my fridge for over 3 years reminding me that I need to try it out.

I am the Walrus

I was aiming to bake something special for my friend in Australia and post it out to her. As we’re both from Sunderland and therefore officially Mackems, this recipe seemed perfect. Not only because of the Sunderland connection but also because gingerbread needs to mature, which it could do as it was winging its way to her down under.

The Postcard

Customs are pretty tight in Australia so I also had to be very careful in recipe choice as there are restrictions on importing dried/fresh fruit and dairy to protect the eco system. Again Sunderland Gingerbread was a winner, as it was definitely less than 10% dairy and contains no dried fruit.

Necessary Ingredients - Baking Powder, Corinader, Ginger (of course) and AllSpice

This was my first foray into gluten and wheat free baking. I’ve never used this type of flour before so was intrigued by its white luminosity and fine texture. It reminded me of fresh snow that crunches when stepped on. Very Christmassy indeed!

Gluten Free Flour Blend

I loved making this recipe. It was so very simple, perhaps because a postcard only has space for the most basic instructions on it. It was easy to follow and very little washing up! My kind of bake! Everything was mixed together in one pan. Fantastic!

Measuring out the flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda and spices (all in one bowl saves washing up...)

Melting butter, golden syrup and sugar together

Sift in the flour and spices

Mixing it into a paste

Looking gingery

Add some milk... (I possibly should have added this sooner?)

Liquid Gingerbread

Oven Ready - Poured into a greased and lined tin

The texture was a little different to what I’m used to for this gingerbread, possibly because I haven’t tried gluten free flour before but after a couple of days of maturing it was rather nice, especially with a good dollop of ice cream on the side. (I’m sure custard would be pretty good with it too).

Baked!

All that was left was to cut into travel sized chunks and figure out how to package it up safely so it would survive up to 2 weeks in transit. Greaseproof paper and cotton string is my new favourite thing. I may have gone a little over board, but customs were very specific about their packaging requirements (I even emailed them to double check and everything 🙂 )

The Final Slice

You may have already spotted my disastrous turkish delight post, as I was searching for other suitable non perishable things to post. As my package was not yet complete I still needed to bake one more thing… will let you know how that turned out very soon.

The Final Slice

Perfect with rum and raisin ice cream!

Just in case you fancy giving Sunderland Gingerbread a go yourself, here’s the recipe…
Ingredients:
340g plain flour
140g butter
110g soft brown sugar
225g golden syrup
1 egg
140ml milk
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp baking powder
How to Mackem (Directions):
      • Heat together butter, sugar and syrup in a pan until just melted
      • Sieve together dry ingredients then stir into syrup mix
      • Beat together egg and milk and beat quickly into syrup mix
      • Pour into 15x25cm greased and lined baking tin
      • Bake at gas mark 2, 150*C/300*F for about an hour (or until cooked in the centre)
      • Allow to cool in the tin
      • (Don’t worry if it sinks in the middle! – hurrah! – or cracks a little)
      • Keep for a few days in an airtight container before eating.
      • Enjoy with custard or ice cream or just with a cup of tea 🙂
*Recipe courtesy of Dane Stone Cards www.dane-stone.co.uk