Sunday, December 16, 2007

When good gingerbread goes bad...

On Friday, my newly minted domestic urges finally got the better of me. In the spirit of homemade bread (and butter), I decided to attempt that tricky holiday tradition, the gingerbread house. I got a gingerbread recipe link from my domestically-blessed friend Chris and found plans for a little house made from two pans of gingerbread. We mixed, measured, rolled and baked two big pans of dough. I stole a little corner out of one of the pans after they came out of the oven, and it was so yummy, I made a third batch of dough to make cookies out of. I was on a roll.

Once the gingerbread slabs were cool, we started construction. The first challenge - getting the slabs out of the pans in one piece. Next time we will line the pans with parchment paper to make it easier. This time, we had to cross our fingers and hope for not too much stick. The first slab (on the right) came out pretty well, but the second (on the left) - not so much.

There was still plenty of gingerbread, so we laid out our paper templates and decided to use that center piece that remained stuck to the pan for our foundation. I left Bill to cut everything out while I made some mortar (frosting) with which to stick it all together. The kids were having their own fun with the cookie dough...

We then set to work on the "gingerbread-raising" portion of the evening. I didn't get photographic evidence of the process because I was too busy trying to hold disturbingly fragile pieces of gingerbread together while Bill spatulaed on the icing mortar and tried to help the situation with toothpicks. It wasn't looking good, but we persevered. We gently repaired broken walls and doorways (Bill cursing the stupidity of a plan with so many wall-weakening windows the whole time) and ended up with this:

A house of cards, for sure, but we were proud of our little creation anyway. We had about three minutes to enjoy it before it started to sag dangerously. The windowed wall started to look angry...

How I wish I would've had a video camera to record the effects of gravity on this poor little house (along with the screaming and carrying on by me, the kids, my mother-in-law and Bill). I did capture the aftermath.


At least the gingerbread was super tasty. Lessons learned:

1 - Listen to the directions when it tells you to use bread flour or all-purpose flour. Do not assume that you can just substitute whole wheat flour without ramifications. It needed that extra gluten to hold itself together.

2 - Make sure the gingerbread is good and baked before you take it out of the oven. Despite what the recipe says, 18 minutes will NOT adequately bake two pans of 1/4"-thick gingerbread meant to become load-bearing walls. If it still looks squishy when the allotted time has passed, leave it in the oven a little longer rather than blindly following the recipe.

3 - Parchment paper in the bottom of the pan. See the first photo above if this is not self-explanatory.

4 - You know those kits that they sell in the kitchen-supply stores? Looking more and more like a good idea.

We now have about three pounds of gingerbread sitting in pieces on our counter. At least our disaster is tasty! I had a bit more success with my latest cookies - these are the candy cane cookies I'm taking to Amanda's cookie exchange party this afternoon. Good old Betty Crocker combined with a bag of that evil white flour came through in a big way.

At least I managed to do these up right! I feel about white flour the way I feel about acrylic, but I guess I need to admit that maybe each really does have a place in the world if used appropriately...

Oh, and that no-knead bread I attempted on Friday? It didn't ever rise. I'm not sure what I did wrong (but I suspect that I didn't give the yeast enough time to proof before I mixed in the flour, or else the water wasn't warm enough to get the yeast going), but I ended up with a little brown ball of extremely dense bread. It tasted pretty good, assuming you got a piece you could actually chew. Today I'm back to regular bread with white whole wheat flour. I added some vital wheat gluten to this batch in an attempt to get some fluffier, moister bread. I'm still having trouble making whole wheat bread that isn't dry and dense, but I tweak the recipe every time and I know I'll get there eventually. I'm strongly resisting adding all-purpose flour in place of some of the whole wheat, but that might be my next step if I can't ever get a 100% whole-wheat dough that I like.

I might need to start kneading by hand, again, too. I had my mixer smoking this morning after kneading my two-loaf batch for a couple of minutes with the dough hook! Yikes! Or I could take Chris's lead and buy myself a new 700-watt Bosch super-mixer for breadmaking... Santa? A little help here?


Blogger MK said...

My whole-wheat bread attempts have included using whole-wheat pastry flour for some of the flour, and a long slow rise (overnight in the fridge). It helps - I use all whole-wheat pastry for bread rolls, which don't need as much structural support. Mom and I like them just fine, but have to admit that the ones made with half white flour are fluffier and more popular. I've also used honey, to attract moisture, but I don't think I use enough to really make a difference (I'm making bread, not cake). I've been told that using oat flour and/or rice flour for part of the total flour content will help too, but I haven't tried that yet. I think I might with my next batch of cinnamon rolls, which I have to admit just aren't quite fluffy enough, even with half white flour.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

My mom makes candy cane cookies like those! They're my favourites :)

As for the gingerbread, I should send you the recipe I use because it's pretty foolproof.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother baked bread for eons when I was growing up - it was so hard to switch to storebought!

I had to laugh out loud at your Gingerbread house - Mom and I tried for couple of years only to find out just how wrong we were doing it.....have you seen the Grove Inn Gingerbread Challenge on the Food Network?

Carrie K

6:22 PM  
Blogger Yarnhog said...

My husband and I--having been victims of our own gingerbread disasters--both got a good laugh out of your house pictures. We bought two kits from the grocery store. They're completely inedible, but make beautiful houses!

9:20 PM  
Blogger knitnthings said...

Once upon a time I attempted a gingerbread house - my recipie had me cut the patterns before I cooked it. My problems came for the icing/cement that wouldn't hold. This year I bought a kit - it came out cute and so much less work!!

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Patti said...

Made a few gingerbread houses. When growing up we made a huge two story house that was absolutely fantastic. It is in an old Betty Crockers "Cookie Book" which has since been reprinted. Another trick you can use is to put a cardboard or poster board backing behind the gingerbread. put it together with frosting the same, but it adds extra sturdiness and prevents sagging. You are right about baking time. Gingerbread for houses needs to be baked until it is firm.

2:02 PM  

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