This isn’t really a ‘how-to’, but a facetious take on my Daring Baker modus operandi the last few months – unintentionally saving DB challenges for the last minute, then rushing, panicking and putting out something I’m usually less than pleased with. I’m beginning to wonder if it has more to do with loving the pressure than actually being too busy. Well, to be fair, I was doing a ton of baking throughout December, and uhh that blue-eyed guy .
That being said, I’ve never, ever baked and constructed a gingerbread house, unless you count the mini graham cracker house I put together out of boredom with some leftover royal icing for sugar cookie decor. Come to think of it, I’ve never even baked gingerbread cookies! However, gingerbread houses always intrigued me, and I used to love watching the Grove Park National Gingerbread Competition prior to each X-Mas season. In fact, I sort of thought about even taking part in it one day because they make it look so easy..so it couldn’t be that hard, right?
No. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.
Here’s the deal, as some of you know, I tend to make things a lot harder than they have to be, so in wanting to do something different, I made it harder than it had to be. I recall seeing all these great tips on those airings of the GB competition, but suddenly I couldn’t recall any of them. How did Christine Banner (major GB House masteress and winner/placer in several of the competitions) incorporate that pattern into the gingerbread wall prior to baking? How did she make her wreaths again?? I remember locking those tips up in my cerebral vault in case I ever built a gingerbread house, but someone must have broken in and stole them. Hmm..what were they REALLY doing during my knee surgery?
Anyhoo, they were such simple and fantastic ideas, but now they were gone and I couldn’t find it on the net anywhere, not to mention there was no airing of the competition this year. Okie dokie, I was going to have to figure most of this out on my own, and try to be creative and not too messy.
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. Thank you Y amd Anna..thank you for truly challenging me. I’m still finding pieces of dried up royal icing on my kitchen floor!
Y and Anna each provided a recipe they liked, so I made half of each, using them both for my house. Problem was, I forgot to label them, so I have no idea which was which, and therefore cannot comment on them fairly. I just know one tasted better, and one was a bit better for building. Oh, well.
As mentioned above, I wanted to sway from the norm a bit, and decided to go nautical, as in a Gingerbread Lighthouse ‘nautical’, even though it kind of just sits there on the beach and well, lights. I perused the net, and it was the oddest thing – there were very few gingerbread lighthouses, even photo wise. I only found one instructional Gingerbread Lighthouse at Coastal Living. Naturally, things can never be easy – the templates to the lighthouse were missing. I wasn’t surprised, since I’m the walking, talking epitome of Murphy’s Law. No matter how slim a chance of something going wrong is, it will sliver it’s way into my lair of responsibilities, interests and motivation, and eff up every nook and cranny.
For about a week, I tried to make my own templates, using the photo of the house..but if you know me, I’m a kind of ‘draw outside the lines’ person (architecture was obviously not something I was ever going to excel at in life), so that was scratched. I finally resigned myself to building your basic square cottage like house – then ALAS, someone found a link to the templates on another site. Here’s Gingerbread Lighthouse TEMPLATE NUMBER ONE and here’s Gingerbread Lighthouse TEMPLATE NUMBER TWO, considering Coastal Living seems oblivious to the fact that templates are umm..helpful and somewhat of a necessity!?! Writing them several times resulted in diddly squat aka no response, so I was relieved to finally find them.
So, I was going to be able to do this lighthouse after all, whoopee! One small problem, though, I had to order the candy. Yes, yes,…I know, I could have subbed with your basic M&M’s, Necco wafers, candy canes etc..but NO, I wanted the candy they used for the lighthouse, and having been to Maine on a few occasions, I recall how great the little candy stores were, especially in Bar Harbor. Plus, I really really wanted those chocorocks! I HAD to have them, and not only for the walls, but because I think they’re really neat and want to eat them. I also wanted Gummi lobsters, but they were nowhere to be found around here, Oh, how I wish I had the time to pop into the city to Dylan’s Candy Bar – but forget parking during the X-mas season.
SO, 2 weeks before this was due, I ordered, and ordered, and ordered, and before I knew it, I had spent almost $60.00 buckaroos on bleepin’ candy (I could only get the chocorocks in bulk, as in 5 lbs of bulk, so that played a part – now, what else can I use them for after the GB house and after I eat some??) Naturally, the candy that was supposed to arrive within 3-4 business days took 6-7 business days, leaving me with approximately 4 days to knock this out, with X-mas in between, so in retrospect, that really works out to 2 to 2 1/2 days. ACK.
Now, factor in the prep. The lighthouse walls needed a coating of royal icing for the chocolate rocks (aesthetically more pleasing than just sticking them on brown gingerbread), and since I printed the templates at 200% (the 100% printing was too tiny), there was a good amount of area to cover, resulting in a longer drying time before I could actually start constructing. I made two extra walls in case of breakage, and guess what (Murphy’s Law)? They BOTH broke, as did one of the main walls.
In between the drying, which was almost futile because out of the clear frucking blue, rain and humidity struck, (Murphy’s Law again, since the weather has been super cold, dry and crisp for months prior) and the royal icing patch up attempts failed. I now had less than 24 hours to get this baby up and to make matters worse, I had only 4 intact walls to do so, instead of the 5 that make this lighthouse a lighthouse..DAMN!
I need to find a tiny light for the windows. I tried using a small candle (see above) for a quick shot and ended up burning my finger and warping the roof. Brilliant, huh?
Well, I persevered and knocked out a lighthouse with 4 walls that still looks something like a lighthouse, minus the tapered neck (4 walls does not allow for a tapered neck due to the lack of the octagonal shape that the 5th wall provides). OK, now I feel like I’m speaking Japanese to you all, so I’ll stop here.
Here’s some things I did to this lighthouse that differed from Coastal Living’s, outside of doubling the size.
- Gingerbread wreath coated with green royal icing, silver dragees and a strawberry leather bow.
- Full pretzel railing, plus bows I made out of strawberry leather, and err, extra ‘snow’ aka, I F’ed up.
- Multi-colored sprinkle milk chocolate nonpareils, cut into wedges, for the roof. Extra snow *wink*
- Silver luster dust outlining some of the rocks in the wall for added shimmer and dimension.
- Candy coated chocolate seashells, along with the Gummi lobsters, on the beach.
- Lemon, butterscotch and orange Lifesavers melted into the window cut-outs a la stained glass cookies. Kind of meant to emulate the reflection of the sunset or the light inside the lighthouse.
- Ground up Pecan Sandies for the sand. I forgot about the oil in the nuts, so let’s call it ‘wet’ sand.
Finally, royal icing..can we talk? That stuff is like freakin’ mortar. D likened it to caulk, where if you make a mistake or have gaps, you just caulk it up. Damn straight! OH, that pretzel is off-kilter..let’s caulk it up and call it snow! Oh darn, there’s a gap between wall number one and wall number two – let’s caulk it up and stick a piece of cinnmaon licorice in it..there it’s gone!
My new mantra – ‘When gingerbread houses give you cracks and gaps, make snow!”
You could lay bricks with royal icing – I’m dead serious. UPDATE: The top wasn’t glued on, and it fell off as I was carrying it down some stairs. It bounced on and hit every step hard, really slamming against the floor at the bottom. I was sure it was a goner. Guess what? Not even a tiny chip. I think I should carry this stuff in my purse. Dentists should use it to bond teeth!
In keeping with the ‘nautical’ theme, I created Lobster Claus (Claus – Claws?) with leftover gingerbread dough.
Now that I’ve written my usual food manifesto, please be sure to check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see some really phenomenal Gingerbread Houses. BTW, does anyone want a Gingerbread Lighthouse? Please..take it off my hands!!
For the recipes and full instructions, click HERE.