Have yourself a merry little Christmas, plus the Daring Bakers

on

Although the snow has almost melted, there is still so much about the festive season to savour. The days blend into one another and I sleep longer in the mornings, often forgetting if it's the weekend or not it is. The time is going fast though and unbelievably, this is already my last week in Derbyshire. My normal life in Berlin seems so far away which can make it hard to return. When I think back to the past few days since London, it's not so easy to remember exactly what I've done. The icy road conditions meant I had to abandon my plans to visit places and spend the days at home instead which I actually didn't mind. There was plenty of baking to do - mince pies, a trifle, a Christmas cake among other things (I'll post the recipes for the last two sometime next week) and in the evenings, we sat around the fire reading aloud to each other from Pepys' diary, Saki's stories, Alice in Wonderland, P.G Woodehouse followed by some poems and afterwards watched films like Charade, It's a Wonderful Life, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, How to Marry a Millionaire and Gigi.

A snowy Rudolph

I've settled back into my old room where everything is almost as I left it five years ago - the same movie posters, the postcards by artists stuck around the mirror, the piles of French classics - yet I relate to them differently now and feel it's more a reminder of who I used to be. But then there's something about Christmas that brings back the excitement of childhood. I can't resist watching the Snowman every Christmas Eve and then listening to Carols from Kings while I make mince pies which my Dad always comes in to sample as soon as the first batch is ready. Christmas Day morning always seems so fresh and exhilerating and I rush downstairs to admire the huge pile of presents I can't wait to exchange. More than just opening my own, I love to see other people's face as they tear open the paper impatiently. Afterwards, there's the preparations for the Christmas meal and the non-stop eating for the rest of the day. As a child, I was always sad after the two Christmas days were over and found the time up to New Year a little depressing and empty but now I love having some quiet moments to reflect on the past year and on the new decade to come.

A Christmas meal at a local restaurant called the Dog - I chose Stilton and Broccoli soup, served with baguette and melted cheese

Of course, I also couldn't forget the Daring Bakers' challenge which I completed more than a month ago because otherwise, I knew I'd never have enough time. When I saw it was a gingerbread house, I felt incredibly excited, thinking back to the one Hansel and Gretel which enchanted me so much growing up, but also a little intimidated because the idea of designing, assembling and decorating one seemed beyond me. As usual, I threw myself into the challenge and tried to be creative. Actually, it wasn't as tricky as I'd feared, although getting the different pieces to stick together was far from simple and the icing glue was a bit runny for decorating. When I'd finished though, I felt proud of my first attempt and found my house quite charming, even if it wasn't perfect. So if you're feeling brave, why not try it?

This month's Daring Bakers' challenge was chosen by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. I decided to use Anna's recipe from Good Housekeeping which produced incredibly tasty gingerbread.



Gingerbread house

Equipment Needed:
Stand or handheld electric mixer (not required but it will make mixing the dough a lot easier and faster)
Plastic wrap
Rolling pin
Parchment paper
Baking sheets
Cardboard cake board or sheet of thick cardboard
Foil, if desired
Small saucepan
Small pastry brush (optional)
Piping bag with small round tip, or paper cornets if you're comfortable with them

Anna's Recipe:
Spicy Gingerbread Dough (from Good Housekeeping) http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/recipefinder/spicy-gingerbread-dough-157...

2 1/2 cups (500g) packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (360mL) heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups (425g) molasses
9 1/2 cups (1663g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon(s) baking soda
1 tablespoon(s) ground ginger

Directions

1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.

2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.

3. Grease and flour large cookie sheets (17-inch by 14-inch/43x36cm)

4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness. (Placing 3/16-inch dowels or rulers on either side of dough to use as a guide will help roll dough to uniform thickness.)

5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.

6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (149C)

7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1 1/4 inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.

8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.

9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not overbake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.

10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

I found it tricky to keep the house together and stop it falling apart so tied ribbon around it and propped it up with some tins until the next morning when it could stand alone.

Royal Icing:

1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Simple Syrup:
2 cups (400g) sugar

Place in a small saucepan and heat until just boiling and the sugar dissolves. Dredge or brush the edges of the pieces to glue them together. If the syrup crystallizes, remake it.

Here's the link to the template I used:

http://www.gingerbread-house-heaven.com/support-files/free-gingerbread-house-pattern.pdf


Thanks to Anna and Y for selecting such a lovely recipe and happy holidays to you all!

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