23 December 2009

She's a Brick House - A Daring Bakers' Challenge

Bruce, or Brother Bruce as my mom affectionately refers to him, is one of our oldest and dearest family friends. She met him when I was very young and we lived in Florida, and though they never dated, he is probably the closest thing I had to a father while growing up. A mix of Willy Wonka, the Fairy Godmother, Peter Pan and a New Age guru all tied up in a somewhat askew package (and I mean that as the highest compliment), Bruce has more creative genius in his pinkie than a truckload of people put together. Make that a boatload...like the QEII. It really is no surprise that he has become one of the most sought-after and well-known party planners on the planet today.

Provocative is a word that springs to mind when I think of Bruce -- he is a talented showman always on the lookout for a spirited reaction from his audience. Don't get me started about the time he greeted one of my mother's suitors at the door and proceeded to have a 15 minute conversation with the guy while wearing a rubber chicken on his head. Neither of them acknowledged said chicken but suffice it to say, my mom never heard from her date again. Then there was the time he left a life-size doll in my bedroom doorway while I was sleeping. He had dressed it up in a Darth Vader mask to complete the look. Thinking I would be delighted upon waking and finding such a cool new toy, poor Bruce never expected I would wake from a nightmare and start shrieking my head off the second I saw this inert being stationed in my doorway. It took both of us a looooong time to recover from that one.

The holidays in particular always make me think of Bruce. There was one Christmas Eve when we were staying at his ex-wife's house where he climbed up on the roof, shaking some bells and yelling "Ho, ho, ho!" after his step-daughter and I had gone to sleep. We awoke in a daze thrilled beyond imagination that Santa was at that very moment coming down our chimney. And there was the year when Bruce was just starting out that he made these amazing 9-feet tall Nutcrackers, soldiers, etc. covered in candy for the Christmas windows of a local bank. Needless to say once the holidays were over, he stored them in our garage and after a few weeks in the Florida heat and humidity, nearly every ant, cockroach and 4-legged bug in the state had converged on our garage to come and nibble on the sweet, melting goodies.

This month's Daring Baker challenge - Gingerbread Houses - made me think of crazy, zany Bruce. I wold have loved for him to be here to decorate with us as I am sure his creation would be nothing less than spectacular....and bizarre (another one of his favorite past-times was re-arranging the food, fruit and vegetables in the fridge to create wild and weird creatures or scenarios that would unexpectedly greet and shock you when you opened the door).

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.

I had never made a gingerbread house before, though for years have been saying I was going to buy one of those pre-made kits they sell at IKEA. This was definitely the funnest DB challenge I have participated in so far and both my kids got in on the act. My son helped to decorate a small guest house for out back - though he has claimed this as his very own gaming and entertainment center. Okay with me -- I told him he could spend as much time as he wants out there playing - he still hasn't figured out that we forgot to add a door to his creation. So he's just chilling out front with his imaginary puppy. My daughter? Her contribution to this project was eating every spare piece of candy left unattended as we debated where to place it. I must have uttered the phrase "Don't Touch!" a thousand times this week as I spied her eyeing my not-yet-completed house with a sparkle in her eye and a mischevious smile on her face. And, is that drool at the corner of her mouth??

My biggest fear was that as soon as I placed the roof on, the whole thing would come crashing come down. You know what? It did. On the first attempt. Luckily, my gingerbread didn't crumble. The second time, I got wise, and left the supports on the roof overnight. When I took them off, I held my breath. But no worries. That thing is solid....like a rock.

Being me, I had to toss a few cupcakes into the challenge. I used some leftover gingerbread dough to make mini tree, puppy and family member cutouts which then went on mini red velvet cupcakes. There is in fact a gingerbread man and Christmas tree inside the larger house but he's not coming out. Oh, there is a door on the big house but it's not functional. If I was Bruce, I am sure I would have arranged some macabre scene for the kiddies to find in there when they break it open. Did I tell you about the time Ben Stiller & Ed Norton were using my grandmother's building exterior for a scene in their movie, Keeping the Faith, and Bruce only wanted to stage a fake murder in her first-floor window while filming was going on? Now that would have certainly gotten a rise out of the movie's audience!

Anyway, a big thank you to Anna and Y for this amazing challenge. It was great fun and I look forward to making the gingerbread house challenge a yearly tradition. You should too! Here's how: (PS, after my fiasco with October's Macaron Challenge, I took the time to read through the comments on the DB website and decided not to use the recipes provided by Anna or Y as they received lots of criticism on being difficult to work with - the dough was dry or shrunk during baking - and many complained about the taste. Instead, I used a recipe suggested by one of the other Daring Bakers, Alison from Someone's In the Kitchen. This is an excellent gingerbread recipe and I'd recommend it even if you just want to prepare it, roll it out and make simple unadorned cookies.)

Gingerbread House Recipe

Recipe By : Sullivan County Extension Homemakers Club

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
7 Cups Sifted All Purpose Flour -- 7-8 cups
1 Teaspoon Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Nutmeg
3 Teaspoons Ginger
1 Cup Shortening (I used butter)
1 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 Cups Unsulphered Molasses (I used a thick dark honey called "Miel de Foret")
2 Each Eggs
1 Cup Additional Flour -- 1-2 cups

Sift together first 5 ingredients. Blend together molasses, shortening, sugar and eggs. Stir dry ingredients into molasses mixture. Add enough of the additional flour to make a dough stiff enough to be shaped into a disc. Refrigerate overnight for easier handling. Can be frozen.

Will make 4-5 small gingerbread houses using this pattern. (I halved the recipe and ended up with enough dough for one large house and one smaller house. I used the free template found here to design my house).

Roll to about 1/4" thickness on a floured cookie sheet. Trace the house pattern pieces onto typing paper and cut out. Arrange pattern pieces on cookie dough and carefully cut around each pattern being certain to allow 1/2" space between pieces to allow the dough to expand as it bakes.

Cut the dough with a sharp paring knife or the edge of a metal pancake turner. Be certain the walls and roof are the same size as the patterns. Remove scraps leaving house pieces on the cookie sheet. Do not attempt to shift pieces once they have been cut out. This will stretch the dough and distort the shape. Bake at 350 12-15 mins.

Carefully loosen then remove each piece with a metal pancake turner. Cool on a wire rack.

I used Royal Icing as the only "glue" for my house though I know a lot of people also do a suagr syrup for sturdier construction. I used Martha Stewart's recipe.
1 lb powdered sugar
5 Tbs meringue powder
½ cup water

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, meringue powder, and a scant ½ cup water on low speed. Beat until mixture is fluffy yet dense, 7 to 8 minutes.

I did the majority of my decorating and candy "glueing" before assembling the house. I found it easier to place items and just leave them without the fear of gravity pulling them off as those that I added after house assembly. Assemble house using the royal icing as "glue". Glue the walls together first. Then attach your roof, chimney and other elements being sure to support these items until glue has hardened.


  1. the story of bruce is absolutely heart warming, thank you for sharing it.

    and your gingerbread house is beautiful!

  2. Loved your story. I also used this recipe for exactly the same reasons; first time, other complaints, etc.. and it was just a joy. I love your decorations and your house turned out SO fabulous. I'll be posting in a couple days, just completed my pics today. Have a great holiday! Cathy

  3. Oh Wow!! Your gingerbread house is Super!! I feel quite normal now that I've seen yours and realise my house is no where near what you have done!! Simply Superb!

  4. Your gingerbread houses are so sweet! I love the tree on the inside (I sort of did that, but they barely fit!). Bruce sounds like a wonderful person - I loved reading this =D.

  5. Great story and great job with your gingerbread!
    I love the elaborate decorations...you are lucky yours didn't fall down; mine did, so I only got to enjoy it in its glory for a short time...

  6. Your home is gorgeous...and I loved reading your post! Wonderful!!

  7. It looks fantastic - you did a wonderful job :)

  8. Your gingerbread house is brilliant!!! Great job :D

  9. love the story and adore the houses. I too did get help from my children and we had a lot of fun.

  10. Great job!

    I'll have to try the recipe you used. Thanks for the suggestion!