Daring Bakers - Building up!

Gingerbread House

House building has been on my plans since I was a little kid -- I wanted to be an architect whilst growing up! It didn't turn out that way, and although I made the arts my professional area, I've never went into the building business. Until this Christmas, that is! Thank you, Anna and Y!

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.

Gingerbread House

Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until 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.

2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.

3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.

4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]

5. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

Royal Icing

1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) 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.

Gingerbread House + Cat

My thoughts on the challenge:

- Because I didn't want to make a huge house, I've decided to build two tiny ones to giveaway to my friends children. The rest of the dough I used in regular gingerbread cookies, and they were very yummy.
- I've halved the recipe (icing included) and didn't have any problem with that. Everything worked like a charm!
- I used this free pattern, but reduced it to 50%.


Pretty in Pink

Pink Christmas Cookies

pretty in pink isn't she
pretty in pink
isn't she

It took me a quarter of century to finally get all the fuss about pink... Both my childhood and teenage years went by without fluffy pink dresses or girly bedrooms, to my mom's disappointment! Perhaps because red was my favourite colour, I always felt that any attempt to match the palette left a sense of betrayal. No pink. No news if I tell you this song by Psychedelic Furs "Pretty in Pink", that I've been singing since I baked these cookies, couldn't really change my mind and the movie, that one, completely missed me. Pretty in pink isn't she / pretty in pink / isn't she

Pink Christmas Cookies

Cranberry Orange Cookies
Lightly adapted from "Australian Women's Weekly" Cookies & Biscuits

Makes 30-45

2 cups (300 grs) plain (all-purpose) flour
200 gr unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (165 grs) golden caster sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp orange zest
1/2 cup (80 gr) dried cranberries, chopped

Cream butter, egg and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer until combined. Mix in orange zest, sifted flour and chopped dried cranberries, in two batches. Knead dough on a floured surface until smooth. Halve dough, and shape into disks. Wrap each disk in plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes. Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out dough between sheets of baking paper until 5 mm thick.

Preheat oven to 180ºC (350°F). Line oven trays with baking paper (or use a silicone sheet). Cut cookies with different cutters (I used a flower shaped cookie cutter). Place apart from each others on trays. Bake cookies about 10 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Cookies are good on their own, sprinkled with fine sanding sugar or with fondant icing. For the fondant lightly beat 1 egg white, add 240 gr (1 1/2 cups) icing sugar, 2 tsp plain flour (sifted) and 2 tsp orange juice (or water) in two times. Add 2 drops red food colouring, and mix. Using a metal spatula, spread the icing quickly over cookies. Place half a cranberry on each flower. Set at room temperature.

These Cranberry Orange Cookies are my entry for season 3 of Eat Christmas Cookies, organized for the third consecutive year by Susan of Food Blogga. You can check all the cookies entered here, and find the perfect christmas cookie recipe.


Comfort Food


What makes something 'comfort food'? Perhaps finding comfort in food is not the same to everyone and may be achieved differently -- it can come from memories of foods of our childhood or our most loved flavours, the ones that warm both heart and soul. Me, I love persimmons. For nowadays, a ripe persimmon with a dash of cinnamon, eaten by the spoon, is what I call comfort food! Many of you will probably disagree, as many people seem to *really* dislike persimmons... For those, I'm sharing my Chestnut Risotto with Red Beans. Now don't say chestnuts aren't your thing... ;)

Chestnut Risotto with Red Beans

Chestnut Risotto with Red Beans

(serves 4)

1 tbsp olive oil
100 gr smoked bacon, chopped
1 tbsp thyme (leaves only) + extra to serve
200 gr chestnuts (shelled and peeled), chopped coarsely*
100 gr risotto rice
750 ml vegetable stock, warm
400 gr red beans, cooked
2 tbsp single cream + 50 ml whole milk
Parmesan (1/4 cup), freshly grated, to serve

*Bake chestnuts for 15 minutes at 200ºC with salt. Don't forget to make a shallow cut before baking. Peel whilst still warm. Freeze in ziploc bags.

Chestnut Risotto with Red Beans

In a heavy based pan heat the olive oil. Add bacon and thyme and cook for 2 minutes. Add chestnuts and rice and keep stirring until the rice looks slightly translucent. Add a ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt, if necessary. Keep stirring. It should take around 15 minutes until you run out of stock and the rice is cooked. Add red beans, cream and milk. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Serve with grated parmesan and thyme leaves.