Are you cottaging-along?
This week in the Gingerbread-cottage-along I am looking at the first step in constructing a cottage - making the gingerbread. Rather than providing a specific recipe, I have gathered up a few tips, that you might find useful for locating a recipe that suits you.
I am going to test run a new recipe this year, prior to making my cottage. This will allow me to get a feel for how the dough handles and bakes. It will also give me the chance to consume a large quantity of gingerbread men. You might like to do the same (er, test the recipe that is).
A recipe for success
If you don't yet have a trusty recipe, a date with Mr Google will turn up trumps. There are loads of recipes out there.
Link to Google search
If you haven't made gingerbread before, its handy to know that gingerbread ranges in type from crispy cookies right though to cake. Make sure you find a cookie recipe - a house of cake could be pretty tricky to construct!
I have tried various gingerbread recipes in the past (including this one from the The Australian Women's Weekly). Sarah from If Only I Had Chocolate has kindly given me a favourite recipe to try this year. You might like to find a recipe that is designed specifically for gingerbread houses, as often these have a slightly higher flour content than regular cookies, which makes the dough nice and sturdy.
The ingredients for gingerbread can be many and varied: there is no right or wrong recipe to use. Typically you will find that gingerbread contains flour, a blend of spices, butter, sometimes eggs and always various sugars. These might be brown sugar, light treacle/golden syrup or dark treacle/molasses. Most recipes also use bicarbonate of soda (sodium bicarbonate) as a raising agent. If you intend on eating the fruits of your labours, make sure you measure the soda carefully. If you are too heavy-handed the taste is very distinctive and not particularly pleasant. (Don't ask how I might know this!). For an interesting variation in a standard gingerbread recipe, you can substitute a small amount of the flour with cocoa. Apart from added chocolatey taste,this will give the gingerbread a darker colour.
When considering your recipe you'll need to make sure it provide enough dough for all your house pieces (or alternately you can scale a recipe up). It will all depend on whether you are making a gingerbread mansion or um ... just an outhouse. To give you a bit of an idea, a recipe for a very small house would generally contain only about 3.5 cups flour. I'd generally expect to see 5 or more cups of flour to make a dough for a decent sized house. If you don't feel confident in estimating how much dough you will need, try and find a recipe that also comes with a house template.
Warmth is the enemy of gingerbread dough. As dough warms it first becomes malleable, but then rapidly becomes sticky and can be exceptionally difficult to handle. Your recipe will almost certainly recommend that you refrigerate the dough for some time before rolling it out. A couple of hours is ideal if you have the time. When its time to knead the dough, if you are afflicted with hot hands you might like to try running your hands under some cool water before handling the dough. When you roll the dough, it also helps to roll it between two sheets of baking paper or cling film.
Keeping in shape
When you are creating the pieces for your house, you need to take care that the lines of the walls and roof are straight and the corners nicely squared. This will help with assembly. It can be helpful to roll out and cut the dough directly on the baking sheets themselves. This avoids any distortion that might be caused during moving an uncooked piece to the tray. After cutting out your shapes, it is also useful to refrigerate the dough again for a short time (say 15 minutes) before placing it in the oven. This will help the dough keep its shape as it bakes. After cooking is complete, the gingerbread tends to remain pliable for a couple of minutes. This is a good time to do any bits of trimming, prodding and poking to ensure that the shapes are right.
Do you have any good gingerbread tips or a recipe you'd like to share?
Next: selecting a house pattern (Saturday 13 Dec)
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