Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Culinary Architecture: Take 2

An evening of baking, creating, munching, and other delightful revelry.
With these two wonderful fellows. :o)

Without matches, we improvised in the lighting methods of our Christmas candle.

R's Santa Claus cabin complete with killer gummy bears (remember last year?!)

S's snow-covered mission church

Complete with gum drop lighting

Finished off the evening with a little of this:
And lots of laughs....

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Edible Church - A Foray into Culinary Architecture

Oh my. I am so excited and happy to be back on the bandwagon with the Daring Bakers this month! :o)

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 have to be honest; I was a bit nervous as to what December's challenge might be after last December's Buche du Noel. Every bit rich and delicious, but certainly a personification of the word 'challenge.' :-) Don't get me wrong -- I love the prospect of a challenge -- but this time of year is so packed with activity as it is, I find it difficult to take on tasks that require many consecutive hours of work. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this year's Daring Bakers' Challenge to be a little less of a challenge in terms of elements, but moreso on creativity. ;-)

I chose to use the Scandinavian gingerbread recipe for my walls:

1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
2 T. cinnamon
4 t. ground ginger
3 t. ground cloves
2 t. baking soda
1/2 c. boiling water
5 c. all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until well-blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.

After making templates, cut out gingerbread house pieces and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees F. Trim the shapes, if necessary, after the pieces have cooled on the baking sheet.

I did not add enough water to my dough so it was too stiff and dry the next day when I attempted to roll it out. I broke off crumbly pieces and tried to meld them together with moistened hands. The dough was extremely stiff and difficult to roll out. Fortunately, I managed to roll out enough for my walls, but the remainder went in the garbage. Next time, I will listen to my intuition when it says to add a bit more liquid... :-)

I traced out walls on a piece of cardboard and carved them out of the dough with a knife.
I had to make a little purchase at the store before commencing my baking project, however, as we were without baking sheets in our new apartment....and they were a worthy investment as they've been used about a dozen times already for other Christmas baking endeavors.

The walls assembled quite nicely, except that I should have allowed for some extra length on my roof pieces in order to cover the front and back walls. My gingerbread house became a church as the walls were rather long and tall, reminding me of the long nave of a church. I had even considered adding stained glass windows but realized too late that I should have stuck the candies into melt before I stuck it in the oven to bake the dough. Oops.
Two of my brothers joined me in my gingerbread house-making escapade. We took a trip by the grocery candy bins and picked out ample amounts of festive candy to adorn our houses.
Complete with a wreath, tree, and Christmas lights on the eaves.... One of my kids at school made a gingerbread house using Frosted Mini-Wheats for a snow-covered roof...ingenious! I followed suit.

The royal icing recipe smelled like glue to one of my brothers. Luckily, it worked just like it! It held my walls together fantastically.

Royal Icing

1 large egg white
3 c. powdered sugar
1 t. white vinegar
1 t. vanilla extract

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

The icing was very sticky. It was easy to take small pieces and attach the candies.

I hope our gingerbread house assembly party becomes a family tradition. It was a delight making them from scratch.

Stay tuned for the boys' houses.... ;-)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Betty the Snowman

At the change of every season, we re-do our 'get-to-know-me' display boards at the school where I work with themed photos. During the Fall, our overall theme at the school was popular children's books so we chose a 'If You Give a Mouse a Cookie' motif. Each of the teacher's was photographed biting into a large chocolate chip cookie in any fashion they desired. Some people approach their cookies in rather interesting ways, let's just say...

For the winter season, I was asked to 'dress' a snowman in gear that was well-representative of myself. One of my fellow teachers has nicknamed me 'Betty Crocker' as, she says, I am always whipping up tasty treats with the children and fattening up the staff with goods from my kitchen. Thus, it seemed fitting to create 'Betty the Snowman'.....

Friday, December 25, 2009

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas...

'Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night....'
Hope yours is one filled with delicious delicacies, joyous laughter and beautiful memories. :)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Canning

The thought of canning foods has always been rather intimidating to me, yet, it is something I have always wanted to try my hand at. After watching a friend of mine in college transform a large bag of apples into apple butter and can them in cute Mason jars a few years ago, the idea of attempting it myself became less scary.

The thought of the delicious, warm spices permeating the house with their wonderful smells while cooking enticed me; the idea of the adorable, little jars adorned with festive ribbons; the desire to offer gifts made by my own hands this Christmas finally made it a reality.

While up at Apple Hill one weekend, I purchased myself a box of 20 lbs of apples. I peeled and cut my way through most of them and placed them in a large pot with some water on the stove to soften. After about a half hour, I added an ample amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves, and let it simmer away for about 3 hours. The aroma produced was so intoxicating. I wish I could just have apple butter simmering away on the stove all autumn/winter long. It is the perfect scent to make your home feel all warm and cozy. ;-) It is the perfect addition to oatmeal on a chilly, wintery morning. I also like to add it to my yogurt with a bit of granola on top. It wonderfully complements a batch of sweet potato pancakes or pumpkin scones or smear it on a slice of warm toast....

Although the thought crossed my mind of keeping it all for myself ( good!!), I dove in and started the process of canning. I hand-washed all my pint-size Mason jars, lids and seals in hot water and then left them to soak in the very hot water. (They must be quite hot when the hot liquid is added to them so that they do not crack and break! My brother can tell you all about that due to a science project gone awry...)
Filling them was a bit of challenge...I do believe my fingertips were rather toasted by the end of the process. Filled with just the tiniest bit of room at the top, I placed the seal squarely on top and screwed on the lid. After filling about 6, I placed them in a pot of boiling water and let them sit inside for about 10 minutes. This seals the lids and kills all the germs that might be lurking. They were then carefully removed from the water and set on a towel overnight to settle.
Checking them in the morning, only one lid unsuccessfully sealed. Not bad for a first try! :-)

My homemade treats will be making their way to the Christmas baskets of my family and friends this afternoon. Merry Christmas!!