Well after 5 bags of flour, 20 lbs of powdered sugar and and billions of sprinkles, we completed
our first Cleveland Botanical Gardens Gingerbread competition (and took 3rd place)! I say "we" because I could not have
done it without John's help.
This may have also been the first time either of us
completed a gingerbread house, period. I have tried the kits once or twice, but I am pretty sure I lost interest well before completion.
The rules for the competition are that everything visible, must be edible and it must be an architectural structure of some sort. I decided on a German chalet cuckoo clock theme and tried to incorporate some of the old putz glitter house esthetics, including the bottle brush-esq trees.
This project was so fun, but a lot of work, however I think one we will try and make a family tradition in the future. Although there were moments when I wasn't sure if the growing red patch on my hand was some kind of burn, rash from being consistently covered in some sugary substance or food dye. The food dye won...I think. And of course nothing turned out quite like I had envisioned it in my head, but experiences like these are always very enlightening personally, if I allow myself to see them that way.
For instance, I was reminded that my "plan some of it and wing the rest" approach is not always the best. John is really good at planning out these types of projects, so he was able to assist me with this when I let him. There were definitely some parts that turned out sloppy due to rushing, so it is good motivation for the future. I also realized how messy I am!
Our house looked like someone broke in and threw sprinkles and frosting everywhere. While I know my messy, winging-it, whirlwind is just part of who I am, for the consideration of those around me and also sometimes my own sanity, I look at those quirks as areas that could be improved upon. Projects like these, fortunately, provide many great learning opportunities for such things, which is one reason I spend my time doing them.
Because this was my first time attempting this, I would like to share some of my lessons learned to possibly assist other first timers.
I found in my research that there are essentially two varieties of gingerbread recipes; the one you eat and the one you can technically eat (but would most likely break a tooth if attempted) that is used specifically for competitions.
Construction Grade Gingerbread House Dough
Preheat Oven 325F
3 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of molasses
1 t cinnamon
1 t ginger
1 T of warm water
1. Sift together the flour, cinnamon and ginger.
2. Heat molasses in microwave for 30 seconds, then add sugar and stir.
3. Mix in two eggs and water to the sugar mixture.
4. In mixer combine flour and sugar combinations until a crumb consistency forms.
5. Once crumb consistency is achieve, switch to dough attachment and knead for 4-5 minutes.
6. Roll to desired thickness
(I did between 1/4" and 3/8" for the walls and closer to 1/4" for the roof).
7. Bake 15 - 30 minutes depending on thickness.
You want to avoid recipes that use any types of fats (makes structure more unstable) and also baking powder or soda (this will make the dough rise and lose its shape). Many recipes also alternate the molasses with dark corn syrup or honey, I tried all and liked the color of the molasses the best.
There are many recipes for this, but I think that using meringue powder provided the most ideal consistency and hold. Here is the ratio I used, the water varies depending on what you are doing, for instance I glazed almost my whole house in icing so for that portion I used a lot more water than 6 T. I also now may have both the icing and gingerbread recipes committed to memory for life.
3 T meringue powder
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
6 T water
Using mixer, blend for 5 minutes until icing forms peaks.
Fondant vs Marzipan
I created several items with fondant and marzipan and I preferred working with fondant. The texture was much easier to work with and it is also easier to color.
Wilton Color Mist
A food coloring in spray form, I used this for my "bottle brush" trees and to touch up several items on the house.
Designed to seal crumbs on cakes, but it is actually really great for securing sprinkles to the structure.
Hard clear pellets of a sugar-like substance that can be melted down just like hard candy. This was a great find, very easy to color and strong once dried. I used this item for windows and also my clock hands.
I read that using chocolate for decorations can be tricky and I found this to be true. Securing chocolate with icing will not really work so just be aware of this and plan alternative ways to affix it to the structure.