Saturday, December 26, 2009

December Daring Bakers-- Gingerbread Houses

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.

What a fun challenge! I will probably make this a tradition each year; I've bought the kits before but never realized how easy it is to bake it myself. I can hardly wait to try it again and modify the shape of my house! I didn't have a single problem, other than the dough being too dry at the beginning. I only used about 7 and a half cups of flour and it was already dry so I never added the remaining cup and a half. It didn't seem to make a difference- the finished product was perfectly tasty and formed!

I made one batch and it gave us enough to make all three of these houses! I made one and both of my children were able to make one! I didn't help at all with theirs; they both were able to make their own custom homes! Future builders (once the recession recesses?)?

Preparation Time

10 minutes to mix the dough
4-8 hours at least to chill it
5 minutes to roll
10 to rest
10 to cut
Another 30 minutes to rest, if necessary
25-30 minutes to bake, depending on the size of the pieces

I would estimate 2-4 hours to decorate, depending on how ornate you want to make everything. It could certainly take longer if you are doing a lot of intricate royal icing designs or making your own candies. Altogether, this will take 7-13 hours, including chilling time


2 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups molasses
9 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger

1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth.

*Tip* When pouring molasses or other things of the like, spray a measuring cup with nonstick cooking spray first; the molasses will slide right out!

In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.

(see my "big cup of tea" in the background? That's the soul of my blog!)

2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.

Be sure to take your jewelry off before handling the dough or else you're left with this:

3. Grease and flour large cookie sheets 17-inch by 14-inch

4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness. (Placing 3/16-inch dowels or rulers on either side of dough to use as a guide will help roll dough to uniform thickness.)

We dug out the Play-Doh cutters for this project! It seemed as if we had our own zoo made from gingerbread by the time we were done!

Bears included!

5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.

6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F

7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1 1/4 inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.

8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.

9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not overbake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.

10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

Royal Icing:
1 large egg white
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling.

If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

We had to find some support items to hold up the rooftop while waiting for the Royal Icing to dry:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Life Savers Candy Cane Ornament

I found these directions for making cute lil candy cane ornaments on one of my recipe cards. I have no idea where it came from or when I cut it out (or why I didn't put a picture with it) but I thought we'd give them a try tonight.

What a fun project that was so easy! It goes like this, literally:
1. Unwrap.
2. Arrange.
3. Bake.
4. Hang.

For more detailed instructions, follow these:

Preheat oven to 325° F. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Cut a 1 1/2 inch piece from a plastic drinking straw; set aside to make hole in ornament. Unwrap and arrange 7 individually wrapped Life Savers Five Flavor Hard Candies (sold in a bag) on paper into 6 inch candy cane shape (in any pattern you desire!).

Emily made one in the shape of an E!

Bake 3 to 6 minutes or until candies are melted. Remove from oven. Make a hole, about 1/2 inch from the top, by pressing the drinking straw piece into ornament, leaving in place until candy is cooled. (I found it hard to get out so I sprayed it with cooking spray and held it in place for a minute or two before letting go.)

Cool completely before removing ornament from paper. Gently remove straw. Thread a 6-8 inch piece of yarn, ribbon or shoestring licorice into the hold to hang the ornament. (Mine will last all of 1 day hanging... I'm sure the kids will be munching on them by this time tomorrow!)

*Prepare only one ornament at a time on each baking sheet. Since the candies melt at different rates depending on the color or the variety, baking more than one at a time could cause some ornaments to over-bake.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Homemade Marshmallows

What a perfect treat to top off your mug of hot cocoa this time of year! You can also roll the freshly cut marshmallow cubes in sprinkles for a cute holiday treat to share with loved ones.

This is Alton Brown's recipe-- I just love him and his recipes!


3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes.

Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes.

It'll start like this:

and will get thicker:

and thicker:

and thicker:

and even thicker:

Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping.

Until you're left with this:

While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows:

For regular marshmallows:
Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan.

It will take some elbow grease (and remember that cooking spray is your friend) to get it out of the bowl and into the prepared pans!

Be sure to spray your spatula and any other tools (fingers included) when working with the marshmallow.

And of course, don't forget to leave enough on your whisk/beaters so you can taste test the fluff!

Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

For miniature marshmallows:
Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Line 4 half sheet pans with parchment paper, spray the paper with nonstick cooking spray and dust with the confectioners' sugar mixture.

Scoop the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round piping tip. Pipe the mixture onto the prepared sheet pans lengthwise, leaving about 1-inch between each strip. Sprinkle the tops with enough of the remaining cornstarch and sugar mixture to lightly cover. Let the strips set for 4 hours or up to overnight.

Cut into 1/2 inch pieces using a pizza wheel or scissors dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining sugar mixture and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Easy Microwave Caramel

Need one last super easy, quick holiday treat? These are perfect fillers for that holiday tray you give to friends and family. I apologize for only having one picture; I had no intention of putting this on my blog but the results were so tasty that I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I quick grabbed the camera and snapped one shot while I was wrapping them up so that I had at least something to go with the recipe!

I make caramels every year-- they are delicious, but can be tricky if you don't have a good candy thermometer. It's time consuming, too.... to stand there watching and stirring making sure that it doesn't burn and waiting for it to reach the right temp, only to have it hover a few degrees lower than what it needs to be at..... and then to find that you should have pulled it all along. In fact, here is last years entry when I made caramels.

This year, I stumbled upon a microwave caramel recipe. In fact, it came from my aunt Peggy; she had forwarded me one of those emails that is filled to the galore with clickable links for hundreds of cookie/candy sweet treat recipes. I gave this recipe a try today and will never ever make it on the stove top again! It's a perfect recipe that does not require a thermometer! The recipe is a bit vague on cooking times-- a large 2 minute window. I cooked my batch for a total of 6 minutes and 15 seconds and it's a tad too soft-- but still perfect. I just had to refrigerate it before cutting since it's soft. But it's perfect consistency for eating. I'll probably cook my next batch another 30 seconds and I think it will be perfect.

I also added a tsp of vanilla just before pouring into the 8x8... I prefer my caramels to be vanilla caramel. I also lined the baking pan with plastic wrap (or alum foil) and buttered that instead of the pan itself. It made it easy to pop out of the pan for cutting.

I got about 66 caramels from the recipe.

1/2 cup butter (not margarine)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 tsp vanilla (I added this to the recipe)


Using large microwave-safe dish, melt butter. Add corn syrup, sugars and milk. Stir well and microwave for 6-8 minutes, stirring half way through time. (6 minutes is too short for my 1000 watt microwave, but 8 minutes is too long.  7:30 is just perfect!)
Remove from microwave and add vanilla; stir. Pour into greased 8x8 pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Allow to cool on a counter top until they reach room temperature. 
Cut into pieces (I like to sprinkle them with sea salt at this point) and wrap in wax paper (twist the ends).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Frosted Sugar Cookies

clockwise: My niece Megan, my neice Lauren, my neice Delaney, my daughter Emily, my son Nathan, my nephew Cameron, my nephew Landon and my nephew Daniel

Here is this years photo of our annual Frosting of the Christmas Sugar Cookies! The original post and recipe can be found here on my blog. They are the best sugar cookie you will ever eat!

Between my sisters and my mom and I, we have tens of dozens of cookies (in fact, I have about 10 dozen myself!) and we get together with all of the children on an afternoon just before Christmas and have a Frosting Party! What a neat tradition that I remember doing as a child and now our children will also remember doing!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pumpkin Ice Cream Torte

I was not able to be with my family this year on Thanksgiving and wouldn't you know that THIS was the year that my dad made a new pumpkin dessert to go with all of my mom's wonderful pies. He was kind enough to save some for me (I'm thankful for that!) and it was so delicious, that I just had to snap a picture of it and share the recipe.

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Cooking spray
1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
9 cups vanilla low-fat ice cream (about 1 1/2 cartons), divided
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted and divided
1/4 cup jarred caramel topping
1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Combine first 4 ingredients (mixture will be crumbly). Firmly press crumb mixture into bottom of a 9-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes; cool on a wire rack.

3. Combine pumpkin and the next 4 ingredients (through cloves) in a bowl. Soften 6 cups ice cream; add to pumpkin mixture, stirring to blend. Spoon half of mixture into prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap; freeze 1 hour or until firm. Cover and freeze remaining pumpkin ice cream.

4. Soften remaining 3 cups vanilla ice cream; stir in 3 tablespoons pecans. Spread over pumpkin ice cream layer; freeze 1 hour or until firm. Soften remaining 3 cups pumpkin ice cream; spread over vanilla ice cream mixture. Cover; freeze 8 hours or until firm. Cut torte into 12 wedges. Place 1 wedge on each of 12 plates. Place topping in microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH 45 seconds. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon topping; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon pecans.