Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Don't Nibble on My Gingerbread House

After hearing a friend lament abut the horrors of gingerbread home construction in the company of her children, I happened to see a kit in the grocery store the other day. I don't have any children to "help" me, I'm reasonably creative and educated, and I've got a lot of time on my hands at the moment. So I bought one. How hard can it really be? Ha, ha. You know what's coming next, of course. What is the saying? Oh, I know, "Pride goeth before a fall." Right.

So here is my rant/review/how-to guide for those among you brave enough to tackle a similar project.  Or those of you who just need a good laugh at someone else's expense. 

First, the kit.
I purchased a kit made by Orbit Cookies & Kwik Build for about $15 at my local Safeway. Everything needed was included in the kit, though I am positive that whoever made the model in the photo did not do it only using the one frosting bag included in the kit. I'm pretty sure it's not even possible to create the same level of detail without different-sized pastry tips for the frosting. Or maybe I simply suck at this stuff. Anyway...

Step one: Lay out cookie pieces.
The instructions on the box were laid out step-by-step and were easy to follow, but I did hit one snag right away that made this project extremely difficult. Several of the pieces were broken. I glued them together with the frosting, with limited success, as you will see.

Step two: Prepare the base by filling the openings with frosting.
Notice my LOVELY patch job.

Step three: Begin assembly by squirting a thick line of frosting on the vertical sides of the front and back house pieces. Frosting goes on the back, FYI.
As you can see, the roof pieces were both broken diagonally right down the middle. Shown here is the first patch, which probably would have been successful had I waited longer before attempting to attach to roof. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Step four: Insert front and (one) side panel into the frosting-filled slot in the base. Easy. No, really, it was easy.

Step five: Insert the other side piece, making sure it lines up against the icing on the front piece. Then, slide the back piece into place and squoosh everything together.
Again, easy.

Step six: Squirt frosting all around the top edges to prepare for the roof.
Now, here comes a hard part.

Step seven:   Squirt frosting along the straight edge of one roof piece. Pick up both pieces AT THE SAME TIME and squoosh them into place, forming a peaked roof.
I think this might be difficult even with both pieces unbroken. Of course, my frosting glue didn't hold while I struggled to ease the roof into place and my house appears to have just survived a hurricane or a very large tree falling on it.

Step seven and a half:  Remove roof pieces, scrape off extra frosting and reglue broken pieces with more frosting.  Stand there and hold them for several minutes.  (Swearing might happen at this point, if it hasn't before.  A few choice words made me feel better, even if it did nothing to hold the roof together.)  Let the pieces sit for at least thirty minutes before attempting further construction.  Just walk away.  Trust me.

Step eight:  Repeat step seven with your (hopefully) solid roof pieces.  Once the roof is in place, leave the house alone for at least thirty minutes before decorating.
It looks like crap, but no cave-ins, so we're making progress.

On to the decorating.  This is where this kit fell short, in my opinion.  There were no directions included about how to decorate and only one bag of frosting.  I don't know about you, but I have never used fondant before and had no idea what to do with it.  Thankfully, Auntie Internet gave me some tips.

I started by warming the fondant for 10 seconds in the microwave to soften it.  Then I rolled it out into a very thin layer with a rolling pin.  I cut out the door and window shapes, pictured below.
I dotted just enough frosting on the back of the door to hold it in place while I piped frosting around the edges.  This was extra challenging, as the frosting was cooling and the hole at the tip of the frosting bag was too large for delicate work. 

Adding the windows was even more frustrating, as the frosting kept sticking to itself, especially on the perpendicular lines inside the window. 
The perfectionist in me was screaming, "Throw the whole effing thing out!" at this point.  And any hopes I had entertained about a new career as a pastry chef were pretty much dashed. 

Luckily, decorating the rest was pretty easy (mostly because I completely gave up on trying to make my house look like the one on box).  I had some left over frosting in the fridge, so I used that to cover up the roof, with all its shattered glory.  The rest was more or less glopping frosting around and squishing the candy bits into it.  With my lack of control over the frosting, I skipped the finer details and kind of did my own thing.  Here's the final result of several hours of effort.

Upon reflection, I realize that it is very hard for me to follow the advice that I am constantly giving my students:  Stretch out of your comfort zone, be unafraid of trying new things, and don't beat yourself up if you make a mistake or things don't turn out quite as planned.  In the end, this gingerbread house is quite like me--colorful, a bit random, and messy around the edges.  And, no, I won't be working for that Ace of Cakes guy anytime soon (ever!), but I tried something well out of my comfort zone and it turned out, in the words of my loving husband, "Not that bad."

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