Thursday, December 23

Beast - {Gingerbread House}

Considering the amount of baking I do, it probably comes as no surprise that I've made a lot of mistakes in the kitchen. Extremely loose custards, flaming cupcakes, charred pies, under-baked cakes, painfully dry cookies, crumbly fudge, exploding dough and hopelessly burned sugar - I've been through it all. I've experienced the acrid smell of such mistakes time and time again, and felt hours of work slip undesirably through my fingers in the form of a non-compliant dough too many times to count. Not surprisingly, my long-lived obsession with French macarons resulted in many disappointing failures due to sheets upon sheets of of flat, cracked, bubbly shells bring pulled from the oven in my efforts to master the art of making the frustrating little buggers.


Through the difficulties, I try to be understanding and calm, but sometimes it just doesn't go that way. I'll admit that flops have brought me to tears on more than one occasion, and also that I've thrown away entire cakes and trays of cookies out of complete anger and frustration.


I keep finding myself hastily typing annotations of explanations for specific actions, but doing so isn't terribly important. I'll share the blanket explanation that I'm occasionally overly-passionate about what I do with you, but I don't even know that that's particularly necessary.


I don't want to give you the impression that I stand in the kitchen throwing fit after fit because that's simply not the case. Especially lately, now that I understand more of the science and methodology to baking, flops aren't so hard for me to stomach. Sure, there is the pain in my wallet of wasted money, but I know that there are often ways to salvage whatever I've made (or someone to pawn it off on) and also that mistakes... Well, they happen. Sure, I still get frustrated and upset from time to time, but not to the extent or frequency that I did in the past.

However, because certain people have seen me through some of my *ahem* "episodes," they're familiar with my baking wrath and they know what triggers it.


Which is why I often find P, concerned and troubled with his head on my shoulder and arms around my waist asking, "what can I do?" the second he sees my scrunch the corner of my lip in disappointment. Befuddled but calm and standing over a rack of cooling fail-cakes, I'm considering prospective tactical frosting applications to hide uneven surfaces, effectively masking their ugliness (bumps, bubbles, weird browning) with prettyness (fluffy, buttery, colorful, waist-expanding frosting). P, on the other hand, whom I met at the height of my macaron obsession (the poor guy), has seen me become very upset over a number of failures and has clearly been scarred for life. But instead of shrinking his wide shoulders into his chest in fear of my wrath, he puffs out his chest, confidently raises his head and begins to conjure up a number of creative fixes for the issue at hand. Dead-set on ensuring that I handle the flop well, P's at my side to stop me before I burn the place down with my handy-dandy brulee torch.

Not that I would ever do that, of course.


Anyway, I feel like I've learned to handle these things appropriately, but the reputation still sticks. My mom has told me that she's afraid to come in the kitchen while I'm baking, and I've even seen P afraid to scrape the sides of my work bowl with a spatula. I think that I'm allowed to spazz over something every once in awhile and I'm certainly not saying that I'm any less passionate than before, but I'm doing my best to turn their opinions around and to see that I don't panic over everything.


Which is why I think making this gingerbread house was good for everyone involved. I stayed calm despite the fact that pieces burned, cracked, were cut wrong and needed to be re-baked, which is something that H can - and did - attest to. Sure, it was annoying to redo things, but that's to be completely expected for a project like this. I was prepared to spend lots of time backtracking and reworking when I started taking measurements and scaling, which is why it didn't bother me all that much when things went "wrong" during the process. Taking this on was a learning process for myself in so many ways, and although it sounds cheesy and dramatic, I've grown from it. I think I may finally be proving to people that I'm not a complete psycho in the kitchen.


Just a partial one.

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I realize the format for this entire post (writing and photos) is a little different than what you're used to seeing on Whisk Kid, but I promise to get back to normal on the next post. I just wanted to share this project with you and wish you all HAPPY HOLIDAYS! I hope you spend lots of time with your family, drink too much eggnog, eat too many cookies, finish at least one candy cane and are able to relax during and after all the festivities.

Also, just one more thing before I leave you to that tray of Christmas cookies...

Because the holiday season is nearly over and I don't really have space for this beast in my apartment, it's going to have to "go" quite soon, if you catch my drift. After it's fulfilled its role of centerpiece at our Christmas gathering, the gingerbread house will no longer have a purpose. I know it's sad, but you can't argue that it isn't true and I'm not as attached to it as you might think I would be after 5 days of work. Anyway, H wants to take some of her own pictures with the house, and P wants to punch it, but then what?

How would you destroy something like this?

My Grandpa told me that I should ask for your opinion, and since he and my Grandma are both pretty awesome, I figured I should do it. Also, I'm really excited to hear your input! I can't make any promises that I'll be able to document the event in photos, but it could happen...

So.

What do you think?

Gingerbread House
Unfortunately I don't have templates to provide, but I scaled up this floor plan, making as few simplifications as possible, and made my templates out of white printer paper. I was inspired by the houses here and here, and also by H who told me I should just GO FOR IT last week.

I wish I could have included as much detail as the linked houses (particularly the second one), but I was running out of time before I had to come home for the holidays and I also knew that I could work on this thing for weeks if I got to into it, and I was afraid to go that route.

I scaled, baked, and decorated the beast in H's, P's and R's apartment because their kitchen is significantly larger than my own, and I want to thank them for allowing me to take the whole thing over for such a long time. You guys are the best!

The house has is lit with Christmas lights. A single strand fills the interior and shines through the poured sugar windows.

Upon completion the house was driven to my Grandparent's place, an hour away from MSU, where it will stay until I drive it back to campus toward its eventual demise.... Muahahahahaha

So, without further ado, the recipes I used are as follows:

Gingerbread via Rock Recipes
It is important that you do not use warped baking sheets or cooling racks when making your gingerbread. Some of my pieces are warped, and although they fit together ok, it would have been better if they were flat. I made 7 batches of this.

2 1/2 c (355 g) flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp powdered ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1/2 c (118 ml) dark molasses
1/4 c (59 ml) water
1/2 c (118 g) butter, room temp
1/2 c (100 g) sugar

Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves and allspice in a large bowl. Mix until thoroughly combined and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the molasses and water and set aside.

Finally, in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. SLOWLY add the molasses and water mixture while beating, being careful not to break the emulsion. If this happens and the mixture looks curdled, beat on high speed until it comes back together. After all of the molasses and water has been added, mix in 1/3 of the dry ingredients until incorporated. Repeat until all the flour is gone, then wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.

Roll the dough directly onto a floured sheet of parchment paper trimmed to fit your baking sheet. Roll until the dough is about 1/4" thick, then cut out your shapes. Pull away excess dough, then slide the parchment onto your baking sheets and freeze the cut pieces. When you put the sheets in the freezer (or porch or fridge if you don't have space), preheat the oven to 350F. When the pieces are completely solid (frozen is ideal), bake them until they are very dark and dry, but not burned. Cool on the pans for about five minutes, then transfer to cooling racks.

Repeat until all the pieces have been cut, baking similar-sized pieces together to ensure even baking. Remember to only roll the dough onto cooled baking sheets so as not to melt it, and also to freeze each batch before baking to stop spreading.

Royal Icing adapted from Rock Recipes
I have no idea how many batches of this I made, but I know it must have been a lot! I'm only giving the sugar measurement by weight because I believe that is the only way to get it right.

440 g confectioners' sugar
3 egg whites, room temperature

Place both ingredients in a large bowl and beat until very stiff, about ten minutes, being sure to scrape the bowl from time to time. Store tightly covered in the fridge.

To thin for flooding, add 1 tsp of water at a time, mixing with your spatula to incorporate. Flood icing is ready when a trail drizzled from a spatula settles back into the icing in 3 seconds.

32 comments:

  1. Your gingerbread house is beautiful! I'm known to have a tantrum or two in the kitchen - and my fair share of flops. I thought I would make a jalepeno-bacon cornbread muffin - much to the delight of my hubby, and they were so bad, he took one bite and just left it sitting sadly on his plate. Into the trash those went. I would love to take on a gingerbread house like that, but I also know how much I'd eat of it in the process - as for what to do with it afterwards... any tall porches or balconies? Or you could pretend you're godzilla and walk all over it! Happy Holidays!

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  2. Your gingerbread house is beautiful!! Awesome job!!

    I have meltdowns in the kitchen all the time; like last night when I tried to make royal icing using eggnogg instead of milk. I tend to curse like a drunken sailor and throw things - hubby knows when to stay away by now. But sometimes salvaging the mess is better than having it turn out perfectly. There's a sense of pride for me in fixing my mistakes (after I stop sobbing on the kitchen floor) and knowing that I defeated the flattened-cookie monster.

    If I was going to dispose of a big, beautiful gingerbread house...I would sneak it into the office of a professor and glue it to their desk. Super-glue, even. Right in the middle. With a sign that says "Merry Christmas". :o)

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  3. I love all the detail (the hanging on the awning, the rocks look great). I'm stumped on ideas on what you should do with it other than eating it.

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  4. That is awesome! I think it's great you are so determined in your baking. I'm a pretty reserved cook and I'm hesitant to attempt complex recipes because I'm scared to stuff it all up and have lots of wastage.

    So my hat off to you for attempting to have cool head, despite the risk of things going wrong and causing a 'spazz out'.

    And how would I destroy it?
    I would give it to my 2yr old niece, she'd love to smash it down and squirm around in all the mess.

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  5. I was just complimenting you on your meltaway cookies and now this! When I look at your gingerbread house, it feels like Christmas - must be all that snow-like frosting. :) The kitchen frustrations you described I'm familiar with and some I have experienced also, though like you, I'm a lot better about it than I was when I was just starting out.

    As for how to destroy that gingerbread house - I can only think of eating it, though maybe that's because I know that if I had made that house my siblings would have no problem devouring it, and gleefully at that.

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  6. What a gorgeous gingerbread house! I love the colours you chose and think it must have been a lot of work...I've done a big house myself and remember staying up way too late in the wee hours of the morning, piping royal icing; my hands gnarled in pain and my body covered in icing sugar. I didn't want to see another gingerbread cookie for years. Now that you've blogged it and documented its beauty, it is so freeing to be able to eat it.

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  7. Me has dejado simplemente sin palabras.Maravillosa casita,un trabajazo enorme.
    Feliz navidad desde España.
    Un abrazo

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  8. This is gorgeous! I definitely think you should eat (not destroy!) it eventually. It will be easier than putting it in the garbage in a few weeks, in its entirety.

    My kitchen melt-downs are pretty epic, too. I was making a pie with a friend one time and it was my first pie crust (which had turned out especially sticky). She ended up turning to me and said, "Val, go in the other room and I'll tell you when it's rolled out." Best advice she ever gave me. Haha

    Happy Holidays!

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  9. When I went back to look at the photos a second time, I noticed all the little details like the windowframes (are the panes made from sugar or something? one of my classmates made "glass" that looked like that) and the leaves and flowers, oh my gosh. As a complete amateur to confectionaries, I was just wondering how on earth you made those little loops hanging from the "roof" of the house? They look so fragile @___@

    As for how to dispose of it, maybe you could share it with the neighborhood children (assuming there are any)? I'm sure that little kids would be absolutely thrilled to have the chance to gobble up something so pretty XD

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  10. Wow! Thanks so much! I just made an entry about how I was planning on making my house out of gingerbread. I'm too broke to do it before Christmas, but I don't care. I'll just do it in January. :P

    But thanks for the recipes! I didn't even know where to start with that project because I've never done more than gingerbread men.

    Oh, and btw, your gingerbread house is pretty incredible. :)

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  11. That gingerbread house is amazing! I've only attempted those small one story gingerbread houses and even those are enough to make me want to tear my hair out!

    Your gingerbread house is truly an inspiration!

    Love it!

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  12. I'm speechless Kaitling. Just speechless. Such a thing is too exquisite to destroy :(

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  13. Absolutely gorgeous! What's a cook without the odd tantrum, and what's a kitchen without a dramatic cook? I loved your post, and the attention to detail in this gorgeous house. It's beautiful!! Happy Holidays!

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  14. bravo bravo!!! this house is great!!! and i love your little freudian interlude. :)

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  15. Your GB Mansion is a work of art Sweetie, and the added bonus is the amazing smell caused by the lights heating it from within. Lovely work my lovely daughter.

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  16. So much detail, you must have patience to work on something for 5 days!!And the windows, I love the lighting effect! Congrats it's beautiful! xox

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  17. Amazing! Amazing, amazing.

    How about donating it to a soup kitchen? I know it's not anywhere near as fun as creative destruction, but you'd probably make a lot of people very happy. :o)

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  18. Merry Christmas Katie! I love the mansion but I love P more for being there! I can't even begin to imagine the work you put into this. I'm just speechless at all the attention to detail. It would be a pity to throw it out. Can you donate to some charity? It would certainly brighten up somone's place.

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  19. Kaitlin! What a beautiful gingerbread house. I don't think I could bring myself destroy it though.
    I appreciate your total honesty about your flops. I'm not as good as you. Its usually easier to just gloss over the mistakes and pretend that they never happened. I admire how determined and honest you are!
    Merry Christmas and happy holidays!
    Best,
    Caroline

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  20. That is such an awesome gingerbread house! Work of art! Happy holidays!

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  21. Holy wow! There's so much attention to detail in your gingerbread house. It's absolutely gorgeous - almost too gorgeous to eat (but not quite).

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  22. First of all "WOW"! After admiring how grand the gingerbread house is, I then got pulled in again by the detail....oh the beautiful detail!!!

    In answer to your question, how about putting it in your garage on a mat (I would say outside, but I understand it is winter over there), and just letting a whole bunch of kids at it in a frenzied fashion?!?!

    Also, I just wanted to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I've really enjoyed reading your blog throughout the year. Thanks for all your effort you make to put up fun and informative posts!

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  23. I made a small, pre-cut gingerbread house this year and nearly threw it against the wall because I was getting so frustrated.

    I am amazed at the detail and talent it must have taken to create such a work of art. You are amazing!

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  24. I'm thinking you should get some small matchbox cars for scaling and then put a quarter-stick of dynamite (what we used to call an M80) inside. Maybe a few little people standing at the door.
    Borrow a high-speed camera from MSU and then record the explosion! You can call it "I must have left the gas on when we finished baking".

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  25. WOW!!! Your gingerbread house is amazing! You are extremely talented!!! I, too, have been known to thrown a fit in the kitchen when things don't go the way I planned and one "simple" thing turns into hours wasted. Keep up the great work!!!

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  26. I like your blog very much. I would like you to visit and follow my own blog. I have to confess that I am a Spaniard, so my blog is in Spanish and I speak English a little bit.http://pomporones-lola.blogspot.com

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  27. This looks so beautiful! Great work!

    I love the idea of giving to someone! If not a professor or classmate, is there a charity kitchen nearby? Or a kindergarten or school? I bet they'd love it.

    Merry Christmas to you.

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  28. You guys are so sweet. Thanks so much!

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  29. Finally a gingerbread house that's not brown! Wow, this is stunning!

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  30. This cake looks absolutely amazing. I'm going to try it with homemade marshmallow frosting, which may be my favorite thing on earth. And being yourself is one of the most important things in life. It's something I remind myself almost every day!

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Thanks so much for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts!

If you have any questions, please feel free to email them to me at kaitlin@whisk-kid.com.

Have a great day!