Gingerbread and Christmas

Kotiruoka

The smell of gingerbread biscuits baking transports me back to Christmas in Finland. Mum always baked them. And a whole heap of other delicious goodies for the Christmas coffee table.

When we were first married I was determined to make my own. Not just biscuits either. I wanted to make a proper gingerbread house!  I had been gifted a Finnish cookbook. It has the best ever gingerbread recipe in it. I’m pretty sure it’s the one Mum used.

 

I set about reading up on the house instructions. Turns out it wasn’t quite as simple as I had expected. I had to make the templates. Making the dough was a lot of work too. A two day process in fact. This is one of those recipes you don’t mess with. I knew that. So I took care to follow the instructions to the letter. The dough had to be made the day before and left to prove in the fridge overnight. I made a double batch.

I had pots and pans all over the kitchen. One had the golden syrup bubbling away with spices. Another had the dry ingredients. Another had some of the wet ingredients. They had to be introduced to each other in a particular sequence. By the time I was finished, I had flour smeared all over the kitchen floor and benches. And myself. Tasting the dough was imperative too. All the good chefs tell you to taste what you make. So I tasted. Every step of the way. Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! The house smelled awesome. And I hadn’t even baked them yet. I quickly tidied the worst of the mess deciding to do it properly after I’d finished baking. I wasn’t expecting anyone to visit, so I figured it didn’t matter.

The next job was to make the templates for the gingerbread house. Now I’m no architect. Whether it be real or pastry, doesn’t matter. It is a skill set I have yet to acquire. Neither do I plan to. However, with a lot of muttering, measuring, erasing, ruling, checking, head scratching and thinking I eventually had the pieces drawn onto a sheet of baking paper. Walls. Chimney pieces. Roof.   It looked awfully small. Well, it would be a dainty one.

G'b template

The following morning I got up eagerly. Baking day today! Donning my very floury apron (yes, I wear one even now. It keeps the clothes clean.) I removed the dough from the fridge. It was a warm day so I would have to work it in batches, otherwise I would end up with an impossibly sticky soft mess.

Gingerbread house first. Rolling the dough out is somewhat of an art I discovered. The bench top has to be dusted with flour. Regularly. The dough seems to somehow soak it up as you roll it. Dough osmosis perhaps. If I didn’t do it, the dough got stubborn and stuck to it like glue. The rolling pin too, had to be dusted with flour. Regularly. Otherwise the dough stuck to it like glue.

Having learnt that by trial and error, I got into the swing of it. I was just a tad frazzled by now.  There was an awful lot of flour spread generously around the kitchen. There were bits of dough and flour in the cutlery drawer too where I had been scrabbling with floury, doughy hands for a knife to scrape the dough off the benchtop and the rolling pin. And me. Because I had had to scrape the dough off the benchtop and the rolling pin several times, knead it, and re-roll it, it had become firmer. Of course. There was more flour worked into it. Which, serendipitously, meant that it was actually easier to work with. OK!

floured-surface-71357__180

Pixabay photo. This picture is not of the house I made – and it is much neater than my bench top

I actually managed to roll out a sort of square piece of dough large enough so I could cut out the gingerbread house. That was easy. I transferred it onto a baking tray and popped it into the oven pleased with my novice house construction skills. Whilst it was baking, I started rolling out more dough and cutting out cookies. I took great care to take maximum advantage of the spaces on the dough by using all different sizes and shapes. A bit like creating a weird jigsaw I thought, proud of my creative skills. It also meant there was less dough to re-roll for the next batch.

What a tedious job it is! Who the hell makes biscuits at home anymore! The dough seemed to be multiplying like the proverbial widow’s mite. Never-ending. What on earth induced me to make a double batch of the blessed stuff?! The cookies got bigger. And thicker. In the end I hand rolled little balls and flattened them with my thumb. They would still taste good I figured. We could eat them. Save the nice looking ones for visitors. And Mum.

What’s that smell? The gingerbread house was baking merrily away in the oven. It was scorched. Of course. A victim of over-exposure to heat. Start again. Fortunately there was an abundance of dough left. The construction sheets were thicker. It would be a sturdy house. This time I did not let myself be distracted. I watched the oven like a hawk.  Perfectly baked, I pulled the tray out of the oven and set it aside to cool. I had learnt the hard way that hot biscuits are – well, hot and soft. They break very easily. There was a supply of broken pieces to have for supper.

Whilst the gingerbread house construction sheets were cooling I finished the rolling, cutting and baking of the gingerbread biscuits. And the cleaning. Did you know that when flour gets wet it turns into glue? By the time I finished unglueing the kitchen I was exhausted. The house construction would have to wait till the next day. I was determined to enjoy it.

Having slept the sleep of an exhausted construction worker, I woke the next morning looking forward to a leisurely day of construction and decoration. The instructions for glueing the pieces together were quite specific. It was to be done with melted, hot sugar. Toffee in other words. Care was to be taken not to overheat the sugar. Once melted it would burn very quickly. And taste awful. It would look unattractive. Also when glueing the pieces together, it would have to be done fast as the sugar solidifies rapidly. There was a caution about safe use of melted sugar too.  If in contact with the skin it would burn. I read the instructions several times, biting my lips.

Steeling myself for this major construction phase I melted the sugar. It co-operated beautifully. I turned my head to pick up two wall sheets to dip into the sugar ready for rapid glueing. The sugar had burnt! Black as the ace of spades it was. I put the wall sheets back on the bench and took the fry pan off the heat. Tipping it into the kitchen sink was perhaps not the wisest of things to do. It was wet. The sink that is. The burnt sugar sizzled and generously splashed, spreading itself into solidified droplets all over the sink. Fortunately even black, burnt sugar melts and comes off stainless steel relatively easily.

The second batch was good. I noted that in order to keep it at a working temperature it would occasionally need a quick burst of heat. The first two walls worked relatively well. I did discover that baking had warped the edges of the pieces. It would need some clever disguising to hide the holes. At this point in the construction I became acutely aware of the need to turn into an octopus. Two hands were not adequate to hold the construction sheets, dip them into the hot sugar, and transfer them at the speed of light to seal them together. The sugar was solidifying. I had several small blisters developing on my digits. Cold water soothed them a bit, but only while immersed. Fortunately all the constructions sheets were still in one piece. They were sturdy.

In other words, my leisurely morning was no longer leisurely. It was painful. I stepped back to survey the task at hand from a distance as an objective observer, problem solving. I concocted an elaborate framework that held the main sheets roughly in place. Then reheated the sugar. And poured it on the edges. I was not prepared to damage myself any more. I had enough blisters already. The roof had some minor breakage problems. I poured generous amounts of hot, molten sugar to hold it together. It was messy. But it sort of worked. Enough to hold the house together in a fragile kind of way. There were lots of holes. No-one was going to live in it, so holes for blizzards to blow through was not of concern. Were a wolf to blow on it there is no doubt it would topple at first breath. That too was not of concern. The three little pigs were snug and safe in a better constructed house than mine.

christmas-856486_960_720

Pixabay photo. Just in case you’re wondering, this is NOT the one I made.

Having ‘successfully’ put the house together, I gathered my decorations whilst the sugar solidified. Actually it was solid as a rock. The sugar that is. Not the house. It had great gaping holes all over it.  That didn’t worry me at all. I would cover them with icing sugar and lollies. I had an ample supply of both.

This was the bit I liked best. Decorating. I mixed the icing sugar to  perfection. Not too runny. Not too hard. Just right so if I dripped it off the edge of the roof it would form icicles. Cool!  It created a pleasing, wintery effect. Hiding some of the larger holes, particularly on the roof,  proved to be more problematic. It was a bit like bogging up a giant hole. The icing sugar dripped through and piled up inside the house. Not at all where I wanted it.  I would have to stage it, I decided, and then cleverly disguise the unhidden holes with lollies.  What I had not taken into consideration was the weight bearing capacity of the roof. It had no internal support beams. The inevitable happened. It caved in. Fortunately there was no-one living in it. Were there, they would most certainly have died.

The roof was irreparable. My gingerbread house was broken. I was inconsolable. On the brink of despair. At this point my husband walked in. To his credit he did not laugh. Or try to even hide a smirk. He considered the construction problem and agreed with my assessment. We would have to be content with a unique gingerbread house, he said. One due for demolition. After all, that’s what happens when it’s eaten, isn’t it! That year the gingerbread house created a lot of discussion. By then I had recovered, as had my blistered hands. I could see the funny side of it. I was even able to join in the laughter. It is healing, you know. Laughter,  I mean.

I have not made another one since. One year I bought one. It was very pretty. Expensive. But not the same. This year we are making another one. Contrary to my usual preference, I am going commercial on this one. We are using an IKEA flat pack. No allan keys. Just icing sugar to hold the bits in place. IKEA gingerbread, I have discovered, tastes just as nice as my home made ones. The construction sheets have nice, straight, neat edges too. How do they do that?! It should be a breeze. Altogether a far more sensible solution. We have already decorated the gingerbread biscuits and hung them on the tree.

GB 6

© Raili Tanska

PS:  You may have noticed some photos are marked as Pixabay. Way back then when the dinosaurs walked the earth we did not have digital cameras. Also, due to the nature of my experience this time the very thought of taking pictures did not enter my head. Hence I have used some images from Pixabay to add more depth and interest to this riveting tale.

 

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83 thoughts on “Gingerbread and Christmas

  1. After all your work! It must have been heartbreaking to have it collapse. I’m glad you all took it well in the end. I didn’t know Ikea did kit versions though. If they taste the same, it sounds like a better way to go about things. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know – there is more tragedy. As you will discover if you read my two follow up posts. You may not have the same hazardous conditions there as we do 😦 They do taste good. Unless you are looking for the whole experience, I would recommend this option. It’s cheap too – well under A$10.

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