Okay, not exactly in the same league as Bill Yosses, but this was my very first gingerbread house and I am damn proud of it! Especially considering how I'd already psyched myself up beforehand, imagining the multitude of ways disaster could strike: the gingerbread overbaking and burning, the walls crumbling from being too hard/soft, the royal icing (oh my goodness, the stuff of nightmares; more on this later), and whether I could stop myself from sticking every piece of candy within a 10-mile radius onto it.
Finding the right recipe for the actual gingerbread took much longer than I anticipated. I sifted through blog after blog, website after website in search for a recipe that would produce a 1) delicious and 2) sturdy gingerbread cookie. Ultimately, I chose the basic recipe for gingerbread dough given at Gingerbread House Heaven, a website that is literally a treasure trove of information pertaining to all things gingerbread. The recipe makes enough dough for one gingerbread house (like mine) measuring roughly 15cm x 15cm x 22cm, as well as 30-35 gingerbread people (being politically correct). I guess I could have made my house a bit larger, but I was using the template given on the website.
The dough, flattened into tiles and chilled until hard.
The recipe called for molasses instead of water. I've made gingerbread before using water, and I believe that the molasses make the gingerbread taste much better. It also adds a great colour to the house. So do use molasses and dark brown sugar if you can get your hands on it. The dough was a cinch to mix together. Once the dough had been chilled, I rolled it out, and cut out the pieces using the template.
One thing that troubled me was how the baked gingerbread appeared to progressively get softer as time went on. I assume it was because the gingerbread was sucking in the moisture from the surrounding air. By the time I was ready to assemble the house, the pieces all felt a bit floppy.
The front and back walls of the house, after baking.
Thankfully, the 'mortar' icing that I concocted really was some powerful stuff indeed, and once I stuck the pieces together, there was no way they were going any place else. So, about royal icing. Ever since I tried whipping up a batch a few months ago using powdered egg whites (which was a major, expensive disaster), I've been reluctant to have another shot at it. This time, I took the controversial route and used fresh egg whites. I'm well aware of the fears concerning salmonella, but I reasoned that 1) I've been eating runny yolks for ages and never once had a tummy upset, so the whites should be even safer and 2) these were for me and my family so it's not like I'm gonna get sued...right? xD
About to stick on the final panel. Fingers crossed!
I used two different recipes for the decorating royal icing, and the icing I used as mortar. I made the decorating icing first, and it was obvious straight away that that stuff would never work as 'glue'; it was just too runny, soft, and slippery. It did a fine job used for piping, though. Check out the details on the windows!
It was also good for making the fish-scale pattern on the roof. I used some mini M&Ms for colour:
For the mortar, I simply increased the icing sugar : egg white ratio, so that the consistency was a lot stiffer from the outset. It dried really quickly, so I had to work fast. I sacrificed a tissue box because there wasn't anyone around to hold up the pieces for me while I applied the icing. Next time (if I do decided to repeat this madness again!), I will be more careful and judicious when piping the icing, so that the mortar will be less obvious.
17, one of my favourite numbers!
The board on which I put the house looked a bit sad and empty, so I got to work adding some little details. The pile of logs sitting near the front are actually chocolate-coated finger biscuits (found lying around the cupboard). I chopped up two mini candy canes for the doorframe:
If only trees really were made from chocolate...
I attempted to create a cobblestone path out of chopped cashew nuts, but the dimensions were all wrong and it didn't really look like a path...so I turned it into a sandstone border for a lovely, green lawn instead:
The grass was green-tinted royal icing.
And, for good measure (and because we are in Australia after all!), I threw in a pool, lined with Jelly Belly jelly beans. The rocky path leading to the pool is made from sugar-coated white chocolate pieces, made to resemble, you guessed it, rocks!:
And here are some of my decorated gingerbread people:
One final picture of my edible villa: