December 17, 2010

Gingerbread House

A continuation of my previous post about Gingerbread and Royal Icing.

Assembling the gingerbread house
1. Find a sturdy cardboard box and cut a square (or whatever shape you want, really) out of it. 

The square should be larger than the base of your house.  This square is what the house will rest on!  Cover the square in aluminium foil.

2. When the shapes are completely cool, you can see if they fit together right.  During baking, the shapes usually go a bit wonky; so cut off any excess biscuit from the bottoms of the triangles and short sides of the rectangles.
The house fits together with the two triangles standing next to each other, and the rectangles leaning flush against the triangles' sides.  Ideally, there should be no gap between the two rectangles at the top.

3. Put some - not all - of the royal icing into a snap seal bag, squeeze the air out and seal the bag.  Cut a smallish hole in one of the corners, so the icing can squeeze out of it.

Alternatively, you can use a piping bag.  But hey, snap seal bags are easy and disposable!  Less washing up!

3. Pipe royal icing onto the bottom of the two triangles.  Place the triangles on the foil-covered-cardboard with their backs to each other.  The room between them should be a little smaller than the width of the rectangle wall.
Hold the triangles steady for a while as the icing hardens (it's handy to have a helper for this).

4. Once the triangles can almost stand on their own (the wall that is added now will help them stay up) you can add one of the rectangular walls.
Pipe more royal icing onto one side of the triangles, and to the bottom of the rectangle.  Place the rectangle flush against the two triangles and hole for a minute or two while the icing hardens.

It is tradition, at this point, to add two gingerbread people to the inside of the house.

5. Pipe royal icing down the other two sides of the triangles and on the bottom of the last rectangle.  Place the rectangle flush against the sides of the triangle, and hold it there for a minute until the icing hardens up.
Ta daaaa!  Now your house is up!

6. Now for those pesky little freaking ginormous cracks that you didn't foresee would appear.
But do not fear!  There is an easy solution - stuff the crack with marshmallows, choc chips or whatever lollies you've got lying around.  That way the icing won't drip into the crack and leave a gaping chasm.

7. Gather decorations for your house.  I usually use: marshmallows, cachous (small, hard, shiny spheres that you can break your teeth on), sprinkles of various colours, M & Ms, Skittles and liquorice allsorts (I detest liquorice, but allsorts are pretty colours).

8.  Lather the top of the house with icing, and let it drip down the sides a bit.  It's cool if it looks like authentic stereotypical snow.  Then stick whatever lollies you want on it, or you could wait for the icing to dry and pipe designs on with royal icing.
This part is especially fun for kids!

I used chopped up liquorice allsorts to cover the faint pink tinge of marshmallows showing through the icing.

There are so many things you can do with gingerbread houses - get creative, and feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

Merry Christmas!

December 16, 2010

Gingerbread and Royal Icing

Christmas time for me means gingerbread time.  And gingerbread time means gingerbread people, gingerbread reindeer and gingerbread house time.  It's been a tradition in my family that we make a gingerbread house to share on Christmas day.  We make A frame-teepee shaped gingerbread houses, because they are structurally simple, they stay together and they're easy to make.  Gingerbread houses are a tonne of fun!

This post will show you how to make gingerbread and royal icing, and my following post will detail how to assemble a gingerbread house.

Recipe Adapted From: Gorgeous Biscuits (a Family Circle book)
140g butter
115g brown sugar
90g treacle (can substitute golden syrup)
1 egg
250g plain flour
30g self-raising flour (can substitute 30g plain flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder)
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp bicarb soda
Various decorations (outlined below under assembly instructions) for decorating the house

1. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Beat in the treacle, then the egg.

3. Fold in the flours, spices and bicarb soda.  I usually add more ginger (for a more gingery tasting biscuit) and skip the cloves.  You may also need to add more flour until the dough becomes firmer (you should be able to poke it and come away with a clean finger).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
I just use my K/paddle beater for this, or the dough hook which makes less mess.

4. Cover the dough with cling wrap and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F.

5. Take a fair amount of the dough (about half) and place it between two sheets of baking paper.    Roll the dough out to about a 5mm thickness or slightly thicker using a rolling pin, rolling from the middle outwards.

6. a. If you're making shaped biscuits (not a house), cut out shapes from the rolled out dough with cookie cutters.  Peel the dough away from the cut shapes (you can re-roll this later) and chill the shapes in the freezer for a bit, it will make them easier to transfer onto another baking sheet.
When they're cool, move them to a baking tray covered with baking paper or a silicone mat.  To do this, I flip the shapes onto the palm of my hand then flip my hand so they land on the baking paper the right way up.

6. b. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes.  Let the biscuits cool on the tray for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack.

6. c. Follow instructions for royal icing.  Pipe the icing from a small hole in the corner of a snap seal bag into patterns or designs on the biscuits.  If desired, you can stick small lollies (such as M & Ms, cachous, sprinkles etc) on the wet icing.

7. a. If you're making a house, cut two isosceles triangles and two rectangles out of the dough (you'll probably need more than one sheet).  You can make them any size - however, make sure that the long sides of the triangles are the same length as the long sides of the rectangles.

Chill the cut shapes in the freezer, then transfer them to a baking tray covered with baking paper or a silicone mat.

7. b. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes.  Let cool on the tray, then transfer to a cooling rack.

7.c. Follow instructions for royal icing below, then instructions for assembling the gingerbread house in my next post.


Royal icing is the cement of the baking world.  

Royal Icing Ingredients
1 egg white
1/2 tsp lemon juice
125g icing sugar

Royal Icing Method
1. Whisk the egg white until foamy.  It doesn't take much effort, so you can do it by hand.

2. Whisk in the lemon juice.

3. Whisk in the icing sugar until the icing is thick, glossy and with no lumps.  When you lift up the whisk and dribble the icing back into the bowl, it should make patterns on the surface that stay there for a while before fading back into the mass.
If the icing isn't thick enough, add more icing sugar.
If the icing is too thick, add more lemon juice.

4. If you so desire, tint the icing a different colour than white by adding food colouring and mixing.

December 11, 2010

The Best Choc Chip Cookies

It's been a hectic couple of weeks.  First, there was the leadup to the dreaded exams at school and the traditional mountain of assignments dumped onto me by teachers.  Then there was the stress as I realised how many assignments I had and that I hadn't studied for exams.  Then there were the actual exams.  (Cue freakouts and late nights).  And then...I got my first ever catering order.

One of the girls I know at school was having her birthday party; she's one of the followers of this blog.  She wanted a sponge cake with berries and cream, brownie with caramel, macarons and tiramisu cupcakes.  I accepted.  Then I got another catering order from one of my Mum's work colleagues.  She wanted melting moments, baked lemon slice and mini vanilla cupcakes.  I accepted.

Wow, it was a lot.  There were late nights, dozens of eggs, kilos of flour, even more kilos of sugar, more real butter than I've ever used in my life and about a tonne of frustration.  I was so stressed that I didn't even think to photograph the end products!
Thank you so much, Mum, for helping me out and keeping me on task throughout that testing week.

In the end, it all turned out perfectly fine.  I packed all the ordered deliciousness into their own cardboard cakeboxes, and they were picked up with no dramas.  Finally, it was over, and I didn't want to bake another thing that required effort.

That's why these cookies are good.  Not only are they absolutely deliciously amazing, but they're fun to make and easy too.  After my bakeathon week, I made these with two of my best friends and it was awesome.

Recipe Adapted from: The Other Side of Fifty, in turn adapted from the New York Times
310g butter
230g brown sugar
250g white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence/extract
310g plain flour
260g bread flour (can substitute plain flour, but I found this type of flour in the baking section of my normal supermarket)
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter/margarine)
135g dark chocolate, grated

225g dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
225g dark chocolate chips

1. Cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.

2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions.

3. Beat in vanilla essence.  Continue beating until the batter is fluffy.

4. Add flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Combine.

5. Using a food processor, grind up the 135g lot of chocolate.

Alternatively, grate against a grater.  (Difficult if you use chocolate in pellets and not a huge block, like me).  Mix the grated chocolate into the dough.

6. Chop one of the 225g lots of chocolate into smallish chunks.  (Bigger than the choc chips)

7. Mix all the chopped chocolate and choc chips into the dough.

8. Cover the dough with clingwrap and chill in the fridge for 24 - 72 hours.  The first time I made these, I left it overnight; with my friends, I left it in the fridge for the duration of a movie and the cookies were still fantastic!

9. When you're ready to bake the biscuits, preheat your oven to 175 C/350 F.

10. Shape the dough into 1 tbsp size balls.  Don't go much smaller than that.  Lay the balls out on a baking paper/silicon sheet covered baking tray, leaving a fair amount of space in between (they spread).

Squish the cookies down a little with your palm, but don't smush them so they're totally flat.

11. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes, or until the cookies are light gold on the top.

12. Cool on trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks.

The end product should be slightly crunchy on the outside, but gooey and chewy on the inside.  The chocolate should be melty, and there should be chocolate consistently throughout the cookie.  Looks-wise, the cookies should be lightly golden and cracked, with speckles of grated chocolate throughout and large blobs of chocolate here and there.