So it shouldn't come as a surprise that one of my favorite children's tales was Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. Or more precisely, what captured my heart was THE scene in the tale in which the young brother and sister wandered upon a cottage built of cakes and candies deep in the forest. I remember fantasizing about it, picturing myself living in one (sans a mean witch) and eating candy off the house. I had just never seen or heard of such a thing.
It was not until I was fully grown up that I learned that there actually was such a thing as a house built of sweets in real life, too, though in smaller sizes in most cases, known as gingerbread houses. Back in the day, it wasn't every day for a suburban kid in Japan to see one of those pretty and often very elaborately-built gingerbread houses in her neighborhood, really - not even in books or on TV.
Fascinated as I was to have discovered the existence of real "cake house", it never really occurred to me to make one myself. For one thing, I've never been good at an art and craft kind of things; try as I might, I could tell I'd end up with a roofless box that was on the verge of collapsing, at best.
And even if I had a perfectly-built, straight-out-of-a-fairy-tale pretty gingerbread house in front of me, I'm not sure if I'd want to actually eat it. I know the world may be divided into the two camps: those who eat their gingerbread houses and those who don't, after the house has completed its life as a decoration, sitting atop a counter or a table for days, or even weeks. But my bigger issue here would be the icing (and candy) than the days it has spent uncovered/unwrapped; see, I'm one of those who normally steer clear of heavily-iced cookies and scrape the frosting off my muffins and cakes. In my eye, gingerbread houses are pretty to look at, but never appealing as a food item.
So gingerbread houses have never really had their place in my life other than in my childhood reading, but last week found me something interesting - and a little different. I was searching for some bread machine bread recipes on the Internet (as I have done a lot for the past couple of months), I came across someone's recipe for a house built of a loaf of bread (in Japanese). As you can see in the pictures on the page, it looked pretty enough, and quite straightforward to make, as it requires you to simply slice a few pieces off the loaf (which you'll have baked in a machine) and put them together, as opposed to cutting out shapes of thin sheet of cookie dough in precision and gluing them together with care.
It certainly looked Christmassy, too, and seemed to make a fun project for a novice edible house builder like myself.
So here is how it goes like:
Whatever recipe you use, the bread probably should be more on the denser end rather than fluffy for the house to hold better. It may also be a good idea to bake your loaf on the day before you intend to build a house; just-baked bread tend to be trickier to slice neatly.
For decorations, I also took ideas from the original recipe, by having store-bought chocolate snacks that come in shapes of mushrooms and twigs - those two are real Japanese snack classics, having been around since I was a kid. I also got some silver dragees and sprinkles, as well as a few bits and pieces of non-edible Christmas decoration.
And here I got great help in the form of my clever-fingered sister, who happened to be around and agreed to give a hand to me. This made a huge difference, as she is a lot more design-oriented and capable of bringing design ideas into shape.
After some cutting up and putting together (by my sister) and a liberal dusting of confectioner's sugar (well, that much was all I could do here), our gingerbread house bread (?) was complete. Hooray!
Now I must add that the meringue snowmen are pre-made, coming from a baker's supply shop. Kinda cheating, I know, but I'd figured these cute guys would divert your attention away even if the house is rough around the edges. But the most important cover-up - I mean, finishing touch - is the liberal dose of confectioner's sugar, which not only makes a pretty snowy scene but also works to subtly obscure whatever imperfection the house may have in its appearance.
But really, there was little need for me to worry about covering up when I had my sister to help... phew!
I suppose we could have done more elaborate and/or stylish decorations (at least my sister could) had we wanted to, but I wanted to keep my little project relatively stress-free, with a minimum amount of work and specialty ingredients involved.
We placed our gingerbread house bread at the corner of a room and admired it for a while, with candles lit up at night.
And the bread had in fact gone stale already, but only on the outside; I had to toss the roof and the chimney, but the main part of the house was fine when I sliced off the sides that were exposed to the air. That said, it wasn't the softest loaf of bread to begin with, and something had to be done to improve the texture.
So I cut up the slab of bread into thin slices, dredged them in a bit of wine (leftover sparkling wine, if you must know - but something like brandy syrup would do, too) and served with dollops of lightly whipped cream and a few slices of apple poached with honey, wine, and cinnamon.
But I know it's not, and I imagine a lot of you may now be about to start your holiday. I hope everyone is having a wonderful time with your families and friends, wherever you are. I'll have a quiet one with my folks, and probably have some panettone and wine.
Merry Christmas to You and Yours! -cx