Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cookbook Review - The Gingerbread Architect

Simple gingerbread houses are fairly easy to create with a hand-drawn template, but when it came time to make my gingerbread house for the December Daring Bakers Challenge, I knew I wanted to do something a little more. At just the perfect time, I received a copy of The Gingerbread Architect: Recipes and Blueprints for Twelve Classic American Homes by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chattman.

Half the book is full of recipes for gingerbread and other necessities like royal icing, glossy photos of the twelve homes, as well as information on the architectural features included in each house. As someone who doesn't know a lot of specifics about architecture, I learned a lot just by reading through it. In fact I've taken a picture of my Greek Revival Antebellum Plantation Home and added the names for the features, to give an example.
House with architectural labels

The recipes for each one also include painstaking detail on how to assemble the house, as well as the timetable you should allow for the shopping, baking, preparation, and assembly (they recommend planning to do each house over a 5 day span, and I did mine all in one day, whoops).

The other half of the book is full of the templates, which is half the work. You might need to spend time recreating the templates on poster board, because I wouldn't want to cut anything out of the book, but even when I used a half size version of the template for the antebellum home, I thought it worked perfectly.

I can't wait to make another house from this book next year. I hope to spend more time with it and add more of the recommended detail than I did this time around, as well as making one more full-sized. I tried out several gingerbread recipes in my process, and the one in this book is more reliable than some I came across. I feel like Matheson and Chattman really spent the time to make twelve distinctive gingerbread homes (including pueblo and art deco!) that take time but are accessible to anyone.

Categories: Cookbook Review

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Daring Bakers December 2009 - Gingerbread Houses

Side view
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I was excited to see this challenge, because I have never made a gingerbread house. I live less than an hour from Asheville, North Carolina, and often go up to see the winners of the National Gingerbread House Competition at the Grove Park Inn. I knew nothing I could do in my first attempt would even come close to what I see there, so I decided as long as I completed the challenge and learned something, that would be enough this time around.

Poster Board Template
The hardest thing to figure out was what kind of gingerbread house I wanted to make! I sketched several ideas - a lighthouse, a birdhouse, a dog house, but wasn't crazy about any of them. For a while I thought I'd make the basic shape and call it good but that made me feel boring.

I turned to The Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson for help. It is a great how-to book with templates and suggestions for decorations. I took the Greek revival antebellum plantation home idea and made it at half the scale. This meant finding different solutions for the columns, since the peppermint candy towers would have been huge.

Oreo crisp roof
I still went with her suggestions for the shutters (gum, although I accidentally picked a gum that only had green specks, not solid green color) and the roof (Oreo crisps), but went with chocolate hazelnut pirouette cookies for the columns, which sat on top of little rounds I cut out. I didn't make the gum porch, ice the entire sides, or make gum windows as suggested. Partly because I was running short on time, and partly because my reduction in scale made elaborate work more difficult.

Broken side
I struggled with the recipes given to us for the challenge - the first gingerbread recipe I made came from the hosts but was infinitely dry even after chilling 2 days. I made some test pieces with it but they cracked, so my second recipe came from the book that I used the template from. The royal icing was equally overdry and I had to start over. Even with 1/2 cup less sugar, it was difficult to work with. Most of what I learned had to do with consistency, and I would have loved a thinner icing to do more elaborate design work on the sides with. I also rolled the first quarter of the dough out to thin. I remade one of the sides but the one I left as is broke in three places as I assembled the house. That was just another instance of when I should have followed my instincts instead of rushing through because I'd procrastinated again!

Front view
I hope everyone has a marvelous new year! Happy holidays from JennyBakes.

Categories: Daring Bakers, Gingerbread

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

JennyBakes on The Bitten Word

One of the food blogs I follow religiously is The Bitten Word, where Clay and Zach from Washington D.C. regularly make recipes from all the food magazines many of us subscribe to. I love it because I am as guilty as anyone in thumbing through but rarely following through and actually making anything, but they do!

After Thanksgiving they put out a call for anyone who had made a recipe from a magazine for their Thanksgiving meal. I responded with the Pumpkin Pie Spectacular that I had tried from Southern Living, and they put it in a post. Thanks guys, and please do take a trip over to their blog.