Christmas Gingerbread House Part 2

Good daytime light is scarce during the winter season. After taking the first round of photographs for my Gingerbread House, I decided to play around with my new light box (Christmas gift from A 🙂 ) and see what I could come up with.

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I’m still working on the best way to position the lights so they aren’t harshly silhouetted in the backdrop, but so far so good! As I couldn’t decide which photographs to use in the final post, I thought…why not have two?

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I’m sure that there will be many more experimenting with light and angles to come!

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Christmas Gingerbread House Part 2

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • mixed sweets

It’s now time to assemble the Gingerbread House, and decorate it.

Firstly, make some royal icing by mixing the icing sugar together with the egg white in a mixing bowl to make a thick, fairly stiff icing. Put the icing into a piping bag with a narrow nozzle. Twist the end of the piping bag to seal the icing inside, and pipe designs onto the gingerbread pieces. Leave these to set for a few minutes.

Then prepare a board for the gingerbread house to sit on. Using the icing like glue, pipe each gingerbread wall piece to each other, and to the board itself, to assemble the structure of the house. Prop the interior of the house up with tins. Leave to set.

Then remove the tins, pipe on more icing, and stick the roof on, holding the pieces in place until they start to stick. Leave these to set. Change the nozzle on your piping bag to a crescent shaped one, and pipe on a trimming of snowy icing along the roof and the gables of your house. Finally use the remaining icing to stick sweets onto the house in decorative patterns. Now admire your gingerbread house, it’s all done! 🙂

Gingerbread goes soft after keeping, particularly if its slathered with icing, so I would recommend eating the Gingerbread House within a week of making. Make sure there are plenty of ready mouths and tums!

Christmas Gingerbread House Part 1

Christmas food in the UK relies deeply on aromatic spices, dried fruits, sugar, nuts and a dash of brandy. Honestly, most of it doesn’t float my boat. I wanted to make an alternative to the traditional Christmas Cake, and so, this Gingerbread House came into being.

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I’d wanted to make a Gingerbread House for years, but the images online looked so impressive I was quite intimidated at the prospect of making my own.

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Two years ago, I tried to freestyle what turned out to be an inedible biscuit church that was thoroughly glued together with gallons of overboiled fondant icing.  This year I wanted to aim for something pretty, but something that would remain tasty too.

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I have a lot of recipes for gingerbread biscuits, but the one from Peggy Porschen caught my eye. I made a few changes based on what I had in the cupboard: I substituted extra golden syrup for the treacle, contributed the spice flavours from a jar of French quatre d’epices, and added a little wholemeal flour. Crisp, crunchy, and full of Christmas spice, this is my new favourite recipe.

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Gingerbread House Part 1

Adapted from Cake Chic by Peggy Porschen

  • 5 tbsp water
  • 210g brown sugar
  • 6 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 tbsp quatre d’epices
  • 250g salted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 80g wholemeal flour
  • 480g plain flour

Put the water, sugar, golden syrup and spices together in a saucepan, and heat until it comes to the boil. Then take off the heat, and mix in the butter until completely melted and amalgamated. Add the bicarbonate of soda and briefly whisk in. Then leave to cool until just warm, and mix in the flours to form a fairly wet dough. Wrap this up, and pop in the fridge to chill for a few hours.

Make the template for the gingerbread house. I downloaded mine online.

Roll out the gingerbread dough in batches between two sheets of greaseproof paper. Lay the templates on the gingerbread and cut out shapes, removing the scraps to be re-used. Don’t move the cut shapes around, but transfer them to the baking sheet by sliding the tray underneath the sheet of baking paper. Put them in the fridge to chill.

Preheat the oven to 170˚C, and bake the sheets of gingerbread for approximately 15-20 minutes. The differently sized shapes will vary in their baking times. Take out of the fridge, and quickly, whilst the gingerbread is still soft, lay the templates on again, and trim the baked gingerbread.

Put the gingerbread on a cooling rack and leave until cold.

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Next, the decorating step, coming up in Part 2!

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Fairytales and Festive Biscuits

Fairytales and folklore are best enjoyed during the colder months of the year. Endlessly open to reinterpretation, retelling and reimagination, just think of the wild contrast between Disney’s pastel films, and the twisted tales in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. While Disney’s saccharine formula is wildly successful, that’s not the sort of fairytale I’m talking about.

I like a dose of realism mixed into the magic, and Sarah Pinborough get this balance just right. By pulling out a completely new take of several traditional fairytales, and weaving them together, we get Beauty, then Poison, then Charm. I spent the last few weeks reading them all jumbled up in the wrong order but it didn’t matter. A good book is a fantastic way to spend a cold winter’s night huddled up in bed.

Now I’m working my way through Gossip from the Forest, by Sara Maitland. It intersperses loving descriptions of the British woodlands with short retellings of traditional fairytales, and entwines the two in a really rather beautiful way. The book is brilliant in that you can happily read one chapter at a time, like a sweet treat savoured once in a while.

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Anyway, reading material aside, it is indeed the festive season. December tends to bring out my inner Scrooge (along with Valentine’s Day and my birthday). It doesn’t help being at work throughout the holiday, but I thought I would try to make a bit of an effort, and bake something cheery to herald all that is Joy Unto Us.

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The making of Christmas biscuits is commonplace throughout many European countries. I had a flatmate from Austria who made it an event every year to painstakingly roll out and form hundreds of tiny, beautifully formed little biscuits that she would hand out to us in ribbon-festooned bags. This lovely tradition hasn’t quite crossed the Channel into the UK, although I do remember making Advent Biscuits at school ( the combination of cardboardy biscuit, gluey icing and rock-solid silver balls wasn’t the most tempting of repasts).

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Here I’ve used a basic biscuit recipe by Peggy Porschen that has a simple, elegant but subtle flavour. This makes it infinitely adaptable. Not only can you slather on icing, but also adapt the biscuit itself with different flavourings. I’ve used lemon zest, but you can easily put in vanilla seeds, orange zest, cocoa powder, ginger and other spices….the possibilities are endless!

Brasserie Vlaming, Amsterdam

The Netherlands isn’t really internationally renown for the quality of its good food, but during my time there I was thoroughly impressed. On the recommendation of one of my travelling companions, we popped into a nearby underfloor restaurant for a spot of dinner. The atmosphere is great from the moment you step inside – the tables are arranged to give the diners a sense of privacy and at the same time, it’s incredibly friendly and sociable.

The cheerful, chatty waitress joked with us as we placed our orders, and we got to watch everything being cooked up behind a counter where the chefs were working away in the kitchen area.

I can’t help thinking that the quality of bread is a great precursor for what the food will be like. So when a huge quantity of delicious warm crusty bread came over to our table with a fantastic herb sauce for spreading, I had high hopes for the rest.

My main was heavenly. An island of crispy salmon fillet, surrounded by a sea of hollandaise sauce. Possibly the best salmon I had ever eaten. We had fries on the side with mayonnaise – standard fare, but yummy. I didn’t take any pictures, so I borrowed one from my friend A, whose photography skills far surpass my own.

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For dessert, a pear and cherry crumble topped with a spoonful of ice-cream. This was almost too sweet for me, but I am notoriously picky when it comes to desserts. I would have preferred fresh cherries without syrup, but the crumble topping was superb.

We wandered out of Brasserie Vlaming full and content, and I would certainly return there again if I am in Amsterdam in the near future!