December 22, 2010

my alternative little gingerbread house

As a young kid, I used to read quite a lot. I loved our biweekly trips to a local library to stock up on something new as well as my old favorites. From children's stories to classic novels re-written for younger readers, I'd devour books of all sorts, but on reflection, I seemed to have been spending a lot of my reading time in books that had some descriptions of food. Yes, I was always a hungry and greedy child, and apparently, certain things do not seem to have changed much after all these years.

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:
You begin with a half-pound one-pound loaf of chocolate and nut bread, baked in the bread machine and cooled completely. I mostly followed the recipe provided in the page and can't/won't copy and paste it here, but it was basically a cocoa bread with chopped chocolate, walnuts, and almonds added to it - this one looks close (though I haven't tried it, so cannot be sure). And since this was meant to be a gingerbread house, I took the liberty of adding some spices to the loaf: ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

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.

Firstly, cut up your loaf to to make the main part of the house, roof, and chimney. Begin by slicing the two ends of the loaf to make the two roof panels. Slice the bottom off so the house should stand straight. Cut the upper part of the loaf off in two pieces so the main part has a sloped top. Note that in the picture above, the roof panels that are placed to the right and left of the main part of the house were actually taken from the front and back of the main body (err, does this make sense? I'm sorry I'm such a bad instructions writer...)

Place the roof panels on top of the main part of the house. Connect them together with bamboo toothpicks so the roof won't slide off the house.

Meanwhile, make a chimney by cutting out a square column from the piece of bread that's been cut off the bottom of the loaf. Slice one end off in the angle that makes it fit onto the roof.

Stick the chimney onto the roof with a toothpick - and voila! Your house is complete. Easy, right? No patterns or templates are necessary - you just make sure that your roof panels and chimney are thick enough so they won't crumble apart as you build the house.

Now take out the chocolate mushrooms and twigs and other bits for the decoration to do up the house and maybe create the "garden". I also turned a rectangular piece of milk chocolate bar into a door - another idea from the original recipe.

Use non-food items, too, to make trees or whatever that floats your boat (and makes your house pretty).

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!

Pretty, isn't it? We were pretty content with ourselves!

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!
She made some "trees" out of fake fir needles, a "shrubbery" with chocolate mushrooms and red ornamental berries sticking out of a piece of leftover bread, and a pile of "firewood" with chocolate twigs. My only contribution here was the door; I made a "wreath" with silver dragees and a red berry.

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.
Most things we used here came from local run-of-the- mill supermarkets, and everything should be put together pretty quick once you have all your ingredients and materials ready - especially so when you don't need to wait for the icing to dry and harden up as you would in making traditional a gingerbread house.

We placed our gingerbread house bread at the corner of a room and admired it for a while, with candles lit up at night.
We could have kept it until Christmas day, but after a couple of nights we figured we should eat it soon if we wanted to eat it at all, before the bread gets really stale. Let's just say that it was a little heartbreaking to demolish the little house!

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.
This made a nice mid-morning snack even with the generous amount of wine used in it, and actually made me feel as if it had been the day after Christmas. You see, we don't have anything particular planned for Christmas anyway, and now that what little holiday decoration I had had been put away, Christmas might have just been over.

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


Unknown said...

wonderful inspiration!!

greenbeenfood said...

very cute! lovely pics too - i just discovered you & your blog is just what i need in my life!!! Merry Christmas, Dayle Bris, Austnon

Robot Baby said...

This is so beautiful and creative! Thanks for sharing.

Arudhi said...

Wow, this is my first time seeing how to assemble a gingerbread house. it`s too beautiful to be eaten! I recognize the kinoko chocolate and the eda-something chocolate sticks. Cute! And the chocolate door too!

Anonymous said...

i love it sooooo much!!!!!!!!!! love all your lovely pictures & creatures!!!

clotilde said...

The house looks so good, Chika, it's a wonder you could bring yourselves to eat it at all! :) And I love the understated decorations, the overall effect is both chic and adorable. Happy holidays from a snowy Paris!

Emmanuelle said...

Some have a gift... Love your blog and your poetic pictures. Bravo !

tabehodai said...

このPostを読んで私もGingerbread Houseを作りました!





Nawal said...

Bravo for your creativity !!! :)

Capability said...

What a lovely idea! So sweet and looks yummy, too. I would rather make this and be able to enjoy it than the kits you can buy that are not really edible. Many thanks for the inspiration!

chika said...

hi all, thanks for all your comments - glad if you found this inspiring, and better yet, tried and liked it!

thanks again and hope you all had/are having a lovely time over the holidays cx

Xin, MD, MPH said...

It's so much better than the average ginger bread house!So beautiful. Happy New year!

Heide Mc.™ said...

What a cute gingerbread house. Hope your holidays were happy.

Greenwick said...

Adorable! And what a nice alternative to using gingerbread!

Greenwick said...

How adorable! And what a nice alternative to gingerbread! :D