Cooking School – Gingerbread
I actually posted this article last year in December, but I thought I’d highlight it again for a couple of different reasons.
First, it’s the perfect time of year for gingerbread, so I thought you might need a bit of a refresher. My gingerbread recipe differs from the usual in that I use honey instead of molasses. I find the honey gives the cookies such a subtle sweetness that the underlying spices come shining through. I also decrease the amount of ginger and increase the amount of cinnamon, just because I like the balance of flavour that provides. I tweaked the recipe a bit, too. The cooking time of 25 minutes is fine if you want a hard cookie that won’t crumble or bend when you’re using it to make a house. But, this year I reduced the cooking time to about 10 minutes (depending on the size of the cookie). The cookie was still quite soft when I pulled it out and placed on a rack to cool, but it achieved a kind of perfect balance between being strong enough to build with and soft enough to eat. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.
Second, I sought out my inner geek and created a few gingerbread constructions that I thought might inspire you to follow your own imagination. I made a couple of Joseph Eichler- and Cliff May-inspired homes, Tintin and Snowy cookies (in honour of The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn) and a Tardis (for all the Doctor Who fans out there). As you’ll see in the photos below, my creations didn’t quite end up looking the way I pictured them in my mind. Pristine, perfectly sized constructions turned out somewhat disproportionate. I realized early on that I don’t quite possess the spatial acuity required to put together such seemingly simple pieces. Oh well. It was great fun nonetheless.
Here are my thoughts on gingerbread from last year:
I must admit that, for years, the thought of making a gingerbread house from scratch scared me — all of that measuring and making sure everything is just so, I was sure I’d end up with some kind of lopsided structure. What finally tipped the scales for me was the taste of the cookie in gingerbread kits sold in stores. I didn’t like it. But how would I find a recipe I did like? I love gingerbread with pronounced flavours of cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Most of the recipes I’ve come across don’t use nearly enough spice for my taste. The gingerbread recipe below is the result of lots of trial and error, and worth the time it took to create. It’s spicy, but light thanks to the use of honey instead of molasses.
So, now that the dough is blended and ready to go, what do you do with it? First, invest in some good quality cookie cutters – gingerbread people, stars, candy canes, anything at all that catches your eye. Once you’ve baked up some cookies, attempt something more complex. Making a house is an obvious and popular choice, but you might want to try an apartment building, a bridge, Santa’s sleigh or even votive candle holders! Last year, I made a tennis court complete with two tennis players in mid game. The key is to make a pattern to scale out of paper first. That old motto about measuring once and cutting twice is totally à propos here. Roll out the gingerbread dough and lay the cut-out pieces of paper on it. With a sharp knife, slice around the edge of the pattern. The dough will expand a bit as it cooks, but it won’t throw off your design. Second, make sure you have on hand all the candies, coloured sugar and chocolate you’ll need for decorating. Third, mix up a batch of Royal Icing (recipe follows). It’s very strong (edible) glue that spreads smoothly and dries quickly.
Getting the proportion of the walls and roof beams right was tricky. The design, itself, though, is classic mid-century modern. Sloped roof, large door with a large door handle, windows (in this case) are represented by the two strips of white icing to the right of the door and on either side of the green bushes.
I’ve been a huge Adventures of Tintin fan since I was in grade 3. If you’ve never heard of this boy reporter and his terrier companion, you will soon enough. Spielberg’s adaptation of the comic book series opens today. Of course, an actual cookie cutter of this image doesn’t exist. I traced it onto a piece of paper off one of the comic books. Cut it out and placed it on the rolled out dough. I used a sharp knife to cut around the tracing. It was a pretty delicate operation, hence why I thought four of them are plenty.
The Tardis was probably the most difficult to construct. (And here I thought it would be the easiest). It turns out that proper measurement and straight edges are what will make or break it. Not bad for a first time!
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/2 tsp ground ginger
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Sift together dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. Cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and honey. Continue to beat until smooth and well combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix dough until it just comes together. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth.
4. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into any shape desired. Bake for about 10 minutes (depending on size of cut outs).
4 cups icing sugar
4 egg whites
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Make icing just before you need it. Beat egg whites until light and frothy. Add the icing sugar and beat until incorporated. Add the lemon juice while continuing to beat until smooth and icing is stiff. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.