As kids, bundling up in our neighbour's trusty Fiat and ambling through posh hotels across the city, taking in their fabulous Christmas decorations, was an annual event. The waving mechanised Santa, reindeer with bobbing heads and best of all, the Gingerbread House -- sweet memories and goggle-eyed looks were made of this.
Now, as the season of joy is upon us, we embarked on yet another journey, this time to home chef Christina Fernandes's house in Cuffe Parade, to help us relive our Hansel-and-Gretel fantasies by baking us a Gingerbread House.
The beauty of Gingerbread is that it combines the sweetness of honey and sugar with the spice of ginger, with as much scope of embellishment as your imagination can accommodate. As Fernandes tinkered with her microwave and oven, with a music CD of Christmas carols playing in the background to set the mood, we took notes so that you too, can cook up your own little house to bring in the cheer. Go ahead, work up some magic in that cauldron of yours.
Call Christina Fernandes
On 9820928420, who can bake a house for you (Rs 2,000 onwards).
>> 90g butter
>> 200g brown sugar
>> 250ml (1 cup) honey
>> 2 teaspoons (tsp) lemon zest
>> 2 eggs
>> 900g plain flour
>> 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
>> 1 pinch baking powder
>> 2 tsp grated ginger
>> 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
>> 1 tsp spice powder
>> 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
>> Assorted lollies
>> 200g melted chocolate
For the glaze
>> 1 tablespoon (tbsp.) caster sugar
>> 2 tbsp water
>> 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
For the royal icing
>> 2 egg whites
>> 4 cups pure icing sugar
>> 1/2tsp lemon juice
Making the dough making the house
1 Mix together butter, sugar and honey in a pan; stir over low heat until sugar dissolves.
Trusty tip: Put sugar in the end so that it doesn't settle to the bottom of the pan and start caramelising when it's heated.
2 In another bowl, mix together the spice powder (2 parts cinnamon with 1 part cardamom and 1 part clove) with flour in which you have pre-added the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add the nutmeg with lemon zest (the fine outside layer of a lemon is said to have a strong citrus flavour), along with grated ginger.
Trusty tip: Instead of adding a readymade spice paste, make your own.
3 As the smell of the preparations fills the kitchen, beat 2 eggs lightly with a fork. After the heated mixture has cooled, pour it in the flour and keep stirring it to mix it all well. After it cools a bit, add the eggs.
4 It's now time to get downright dirty as you use your hands to bring it all together. Make a dough by pressing it together gently without kneading it. Cover it with cling wrap and refrigerate for about an hour so it firms up.
Then, flatten the dough using a rolling pin to a 6mm thickness, so it's easier to cut patterns in once it's set.
5 Cut cardboard patterns for the house. You will need two rectangles for the roof (each 20cm x 15cm), two rectangles for the sides (15cm x 10cm), two rectangles for front and back walls (16cm wide x 19cm high). Trim the front and back rectangles so that the sides are 10 cm high. Trace these cutouts on the refrigerated dough and cut out the shapes. Also cut out the doors and windows on the front and side walls, rerolling the dough as necessary. Cut out a 6cm high chimney from leftover dough. Do not re-roll too much. Add a cute doorknob and use the dough cut out from windows for its shutters, by slicing it in half. If you have a mould of the Gingerbread man, you can cut several of those out too. Hunt around Crawford or flip to P 19 to find out where you can buy these moulds from.
6 Place the shapes on an oven tray lined with butter paper. Pre-heat the oven for 10 minutes. Set it on moderate heat, at 180-degree Celsius. Let the gingerbread bake for 15 minutes, though the bigger pieces (like the roof) might take 20 minutes in all.
Trusty tip: Using a pair of scissors, dock in small holes in the cut outs so that the dough doesn't bloat unevenly when baked.
7 Make the glaze by mixing gelatin and castor sugar in water and microwaving the mix for 10 seconds. After it has cooled down, brush the gingerbread with glaze. Pour some melted chocolate into a cone made from butter paper. Line the chocolate along the gingerbread edges and use that to hold the pieces together. You may need to hold them together with your hand for some minutes till the chocolate sets and secures the pieces. Use icing over the chocolate to make sure that the house doesn't fall apart. To make icing, beat egg whites in a bowl until just frothy; gradually beat in enough sifted sugar for mixture to form very stiff peaks. Stir in lemon juice to bleach it. Keep the surface of the bowl covered with a wet towel or cling film to prevent it from drying out.
Trusty tip: Use tall bottles or some other form of support parallel to the walls so that they don't fall off while the chocolate is still setting. Keep adding elements once the main frame of the house is ready -- doors, windows, chimney, etc.
8 Put icing over the roof and on the edges of the house to look like snow. Add a little water onto a small amount of icing; use this to put peaks of snow on the underside of the roof. Use assorted lollies and candy (jujubes, mini cookies, candy cane, M&Ms, Gummy Bears, etc) to decorate the house. You can place your loopy-smiled Gingerbread Men around the house too.
Trusty tip: Lightly dust the house with a little extra sifted icing sugar for that magical effect. Call over the hubby/wife, kids and grandparents. This activity is a foolproof way of bringing out a child in any adult, and for festive family fun.