- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

You’ve seen the gingerbread-house kits? Here is something easier and right at your fingertips — a gingerbread house made from a box of cake mix from the pantry shelf.

Oh, sure, it’s made with a plain spice cake mix. And it helps to have plenty of hard candies on hand for decorating. But mostly, this recipe is about old-fashioned togetherness and making something with your own hands in your own kitchen this holiday season.

Our house ended up looking more like a festive country church than a house. The children decorated it with gobs of hard candies and gumdrops on the sides, and all was well-affixed with royal icing.

The uncooked state of the royal icing makes this house one meant for visual enjoyment, not for eating. And be sure to let the gingerbread bake long enough to dry it out. Let it have time to cool so that it is dry before assembling.

5 time-shaving holiday desserts starting with a spice cake mix:

• Make a jam cake. Turn the spice mix into layers, following the package directions and using buttermilk as the liquid. Sandwich blackberry jam between the baked layers, and frost the top and sides with caramel frosting.

• Add 1 cup shredded carrots to your spice cake batter. Turn into cupcake liners and bake 20 to 25 minutes. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

• Bake batter in a 13-by-9-inch pan, and then crumble the cake into a trifle dish, alternating it with whipped cream and sauteed fresh apples.

• Before pouring the spice cake batter into the pan, drizzle the pan with melted butter, sprinkle on brown sugar and scatter with thinly sliced apples or drained pineapple. Bake, then flip out onto a platter for an upside-down spice cake.

• To make a fancy cake terrine, bake the batter in the 13-by-9-inch pan, cut into three planks the size of a loaf pan, then layer these cake pieces in the pan with butter pecan ice cream. Cover with foil, freeze until firm, then slice and serve.

Fast gingerbread house

The preparation time is 45 minutes, the baking time is 15 to 17 minutes, the cooling time is overnight, and the assembly time is 1 hour.

CAKE:

2 18.25-ounce packages plain spice cake mix

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sorghum syrup or molasses

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

ROYAL ICING:

5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

5 large egg whites

Decorations including assorted peppermint sticks, hard-candy mix, licorice, gumdrops and slivered almonds

Place a rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Set aside 3 ungreased baking sheets.

Place cake mix, ginger, oil, and sorghum or molasses in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until the mixture comes together into a ball, 1 minute. Stop machine; add 1 to 2 tablespoons water as needed to make the dough come together and be firm but still workable. Blend again at low speed to incorporate the water.

Sprinkle flour over a clean work surface, and roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a ruler and a sharp knife, cut six rectangles from the dough, each 7 by 4 inches. With floured fingers or with a metal spatula, place four of the rectangles on two ungreased baking sheets. Place baking sheets in the refrigerator.

Make the peaked roof. Using a ruler and knife, mark the midpoint of one of the short ends of the two remaining rectangles (about 21/4 inches in). From that end, measure and mark 2 inches along both the long sides.

Place ruler on the dough from the midpoint mark to the mark along one long side to form a corner triangle. Cut away the triangle. Repeat this from the midpoint mark to the mark on the other long side. Mark and cut remaining rectangle of dough the same way.

Carefully place the peaked pieces and the four triangles on the third baking sheet. On the flat end of one of the peaked pieces, cut out a piece 21/4 inches high and 1 inches wide. This will be the door. Place this door back on the baking sheet. Remove baking sheets from the refrigerator, and place all three in the oven. If your oven is not large enough, place two pans on the center rack and put the third pan in the center of the highest rack.

Bake in preheated 375-degree oven until dough is lightly browned and firm, 15 to 17 minutes. Be careful not to overbake sheet on the highest rack. Remove pans to wire racks to cool for 5 minutes. The dough may puff, but you just need to press it back down with the back of a metal spatula. Carefully slide a spatula underneath the pieces of the house, and place them on racks to cool overnight.

The next day, prepare the royal icing. Place confectioners’ sugar and egg whites in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the machine; scrape down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium, and beat 2 minutes more, scraping sides of the bowl down again if needed. The icing should look smooth and thick.

When you are ready to assemble the gingerbread house, fill a pastry tube, if you have one, with royal icing, or just use a dinner knife. Cover a tray with waxed paper or plastic wrap to protect it.

Join one peaked piece and the short side of one side piece with royal icing at the inside corner seam. Support the pieces with small water glasses pushed right up next to them. Do the same for the other peaked piece and side piece, then join the four pieces at the two remaining inside corner seams. Let this frame dry for 1 hour.

Place the roof rectangle at an angle over the house. Affix along the edges with icing. Place the second roof rectangle at an angle over the house. It will overlap the first. Affix it to the edges and along the top of the roof with icing.

If you wish, use the triangles and the royal icing to create a chimney sticking out of the roof. Place triangles so that the short, flat sides form the top of the chimney. Affix chimney to roof with royal icing. Seal the tops together with icing. Let dry for 1 hour.

During this time, you can pipe or spread royal icing around the house and create candy landscaping with gumdrops for shrubs and candy canes for a walkway, if desired.

If the sides seem secure, you can go ahead and decorate the sides and ends with candy, spreading them with a little icing before gently pushing them against the gingerbread.

When roof has dried, spread it with icing and sprinkle lots of slivered almonds to look like roofing tiles. Attach the front door using royal icing, if desired, and decorate the door with candies. Let the house dry out well, a day or so, before transporting it. Makes 1 gingerbread house.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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