A Gingerbread Mansion

Last year I had planned to make a gingerbread house but never actually got round to it; a serious lack of time lead to a lot of gingerbread men and women being made instead.  This year I was determined to make a seriously cool gingerbread abode – I designed and made the blueprints for a gingerbread mansion.

You may ask why I had such big plans? Well, if you’ve ever read my posts before you’ll have gotten used to my insane ideas where I’m normally in over my head. My motto: ‘go big or go home’. OK so that’s not actually my motto but it works here.

First thing you need to do when making a gingerbread house is to make the blueprints for it – my building design was essentially four basic-shaped houses stuck together to make a mansion.  This in itself took around 2 hours; apparently geometry isn’t my best subject – I was more of an algebra type girl anyway.

 Then came the preparation of the batter – this year I went for Mary Berry’s recipe to see how it would differ from last years.  I made three times the amount of batter as I had a LOT of building parts to make. I started by mixing the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ginger and rubbing in the butter – this was, actually, quite a calming exercise and I was quite happy rubbing everything in while watching a Christmas movie on TV.  The golden syrup, sugar and egg is mixed in and kneaded until a smooth dough is made.

Gingerbread

By this point my hands were getting quite tired but I figured I was practically halfway there.  I started rolling out the batter and cutting out the shapes; there was a pretty good one-woman production line going but it still took around 2 hours to get all the pieces cut and baked.  I had planned to have a gingerbread Christmas tree but I simply didn’t have enough batter left.

 Gingerbread

The house was now seriously smelling like Christmas and the family were very excited about what I had come up with – the entire dinner table was covered with bits and pieces of my mansion.  Personally, at that point I was happy if I never smelt gingerbread again but I had to power through.

After a quick break for the gingerbread to cool (and a cup of tea, of course!), I started putting together the mansion.  I whisked together some icing sugar and egg whites to make a stiff icing to use as the ‘glue’.

Gingerbread

My dad and I spent the next 2 hours painstakingly putting each piece together; I never realised how dramatic and tense making a gingerbread house can be! We finally got the walls up and got started on the roof.  As each section dried I piped a decorative pattern on each of the joints for extra strength – and to hide all the ugly glued bits.  The last touch was to pipe chocolate icing onto the roofs and sprinkle some coconut to make it look like it had snowed. Add a snow covered floor and some snowmen and hey presto. My very own gingerbread mansion!

Gingerbread Mansion

On Christmas day the gingerbread house/mansion took pride of place at the centre of the table, everyone was pretty amazed, not only at my sheer luck but also at how long it took to make – 9 hours! They were so amazed that no one wanted to break into it – it was a completely different matter for me, I couldn’t wait to tear it apart!

 Gingerbread mansion

We only managed to get through the side extensions on Christmas day, but continued to work our way through until it was all gone!

The gingerbread itself was moreish – and a lot softer than you’d expect from a gingerbread biscuit.  I much prefer this recipe and will definitely use it again – just not for a very long time, I need to get over my ordeal first!

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A Piper’s Dream

We had a charity cake a few weeks back and I was one of the many people who decided to bake for it.  I wanted to do something a bit different, i.e. try out some piping skills, so decided on a big vanilla sponge with a difference.

I used the vanilla cupcake recipe in the Hummingbird Bakery books and doubled the amount, put them into 3 cake tins and baked them for roughly 40 minutes. I had some batter left over so made some small cupcakes as well.

While the cakes were cooling, I used some white and green fondant and cut out a selection of big and small flowers and leaves and left them to set and harden.

I cut the top off all three cakes to make a really straight, smooth surface to work on.  I doubled the Hummingbird Bakery buttercream icing recipe and started assembling the cake.  I put a layer of icing inbetween each layer and made a ‘crumb coat’ around the outside of the cake. This is essentially a thin layer of icing to pack in all the crumbs.  I left this to harden a bit before I started to decorate.

Now, I’ve been a follower of Arty Cakes for a while and absolutely love what they do with their piping. So I used their basket weave concept as inspiration for this cake.  I started by spreading a thicker, and hopefully smoother layer of icing on the top of the cake.  I’m absolutely rubbish at this and even with a straightening tool had a lot of trouble getting it perfect.

I then split the rest of the icing and coloured the larger portion pale green.  This went into a piping bag with a basket weave decorating tip; I used Wilton’s no. 47.

To start the basket weave, pipe a vertical line on the cake.  Then, start at the bottom and draw a horizontal line across the vertical one.  Leave a space the size of the nozzle above and pipe another horizontal line above that etc. till you get to the top.  You then draw another vertical line next to the first one and pipe horizontal lines in the gaps (I hope this all makes sense!). You continue this all the way around the cake.

Now my biggest problem was my improvised piping bag.  I currently only have a large piping bag, which was too big for the nozzle I was using, so I used a sandwich bag with the corner cut off instead.  When you squeezed the piping bag, however, a small hole would often appear, which made it really hard to get any icing out at all, let alone evenly. My poor dad was there with the duck tape, taping any holes as they came!  With his help I finally managed to finish the basket weave and started on the top edges.

I used the Wilton 17 nozzle with the remaining buttercream icing to tidy to outside edge of the cake.  To achieve this effect hold the piping bag horizontally, squeeze quite hard while holding the bag still and gently remove pressure as you move the bag sideways.  Again I had problems with my piping bag and couldn’t squeeze too hard in case the bag decided to explode!

To finish the cake off, I stuck the fondant flowers and leaves onto the top of the cake with a little buttercream in whatever arrangement I thought looked good. This was at 2am however so my idea of ‘good’ may have been a little off at the time!

The last job of the night was to decorate the cupcakes. I used the Wilton 2D nozzle to make little roses in the centre of the cupcake and used spare fondant flowers and leaves to decorate the side.

Both the cupcakes and the big cake went down a treat at the bake sale and lots of money was raised for ‘Volunteer Reading Help’. A job well done and a hell of a lot of fun with the piping – only next time I might have to invest in some better piping bags!

Lemon Twirls

This month seems to be the month of baking and birthdays; I’ve had another birthday order; and by birthday order I mean a cake present that benefits my blog (we’re happy all round, no?!).

I’ve been dreading this birthday because I knew what the birthday boy would ask for: lemon cupcakes! I love the taste of these cakes; hate grating a horrific amount of lemons.

Once again, I wanted to ‘play’ with my new cake decorating stuff so decided to make some fondant leaves to decorate the top; these were made the day before.

The recipe was an extension of the basic sponge; the only difference was the grated lemon zest.  All the dry ingredients were mixed together and all the ‘wet’ ingredients in a separate bowl.  The ‘wet’ ingredients were then slowly added and whisked up.  These were all spooned into cases and put into the oven for 20 minutes.

The smell of these cupcakes is amazing! It drove everyone in the house a bit crazy while they were cooking, especially as they weren’t getting any (oops!).  Once out of the oven, they were put aside to cool and I started working on the buttercream icing; which was the standard measures with some lemon zest and yellow food colouring.

Now at this point I was rushing, as I was already late to get ready for another person’s birthday dinner; so I got my Wilton 2D nozzle ready and started icing the cupcakes like a rose.  Can you spot my mistake?  I didn’t.  I got incredibly confused when the icing came out more like spaghetti than a rose shape; until I realised that all the lemon bits had got stuck and blocked up the nozzle.  Great.  I resorted to the fool proof Hummingbird ‘twirl’ and put the leaves on top.

The cake was described as, and I quote, beautiful.  Job done!