Monday, December 6, 2010

My First Ever Gingerbread House - Part 1

One of the regulars over on Allrecipes, Carrie, came up with a great idea - a virtual Gingerbread Village! Folks who wanted to participate would create their own ginger bread house to be part of a village. I loved the idea! I love diversity, and when you have people from all over the world, with many different backgrounds and memories of Christmas, likes and dislikes, it would be so cool to see what people come up with!

So, even though I don't exactly have a degree in architecture...for example:

Me: "Can we get some skylights put in the kitchen?"

Him: ""

Me: "Why not?"

Him: "Our bedroom is above our kitchen."

Bearing walls, structural support, blah blah blah...apparently you can't just take a chainsaw and cut the house in half, shift the bedroom over and nail it into place so I can get some decent light in my kitchen....

Anyway, I KNOW my architectural limitations, so I relied on Google to point me in the right direction. It led me to this recipe and tutorial. I was intimidated - it involved rolling out dough, so immediately my fear of pie crust reared it's ugly, vicious head, like the imaginary flesh-eating zombie that you know isn't (but could be) lurking in your basement when you have to run downstairs to throw clothes in the dryer at 11:05 PM on a Sunday night after watching "The Walking Dead".

Yes, I fear pie crust that much.

But I read the instructions over and over again until it sounded....well, easy! And now that it is in the past, I can tell you it WAS easy!

Here's what you do:

Print out the templates from the site. There are many others, but frankly I just liked this simple design. Cut them out, then trace them onto cardboard and cut out the cardboard shapes.

You can just cut out one of each and just use them twice. But if you're going to play around with your own unique design, it might be a good idea to cut all the pieces out and kind of piece them together to achieve the look you want.

Then, make the dough. This is soooo easy!

For one house, in a microwave-safe bowl, mix together 1 cup light corn syrup...

Add to it 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark, depending on the color dough you want - I used light)...

...and 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. margarine...

And then microwave on high until sugar is dissolved. I ran mine for 2 minutes, stirred, then maybe another 1 1/2 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine 4 1/2 cups flour and 1/4 tsp. salt...totally optional, but I added a tablespoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of ground cloves, strictly for their aromatic qualities.

Whisk the dry ingredients together then add the melted corn syrup, sugar & margarine mixture and stir...

It will become kind of crumbly...

...but go ahead an knead it a bit or let the kids squish it until it comes together - just make sure there are no "hot spots" from the liquid. The dough will be warm.

Don't worry if it seems a little dry. Now you want to wrap it in plastic and just let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. A little bit of condensation builds up (because the dough is still warm) and it turns it into this lovely, smooth dough - it looks almost like penuche fudge as it's setting.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Lay out a sheet of foil the size of your cookie sheet on a flat surface (the link mentioned using a flat on or one with only one side vs. a rimmed baking sheet. A flat sheet will help the air to circulate more freely).

Roll the dough to 1/4" thickness - don't worry about it cracking.

Unlike pie crust dough, that you should handle as little as possible, this dough can be worked with. Just patch up or pinch together any cracks, tears or thin spots and roll smooth. Lumps of dough can be reheated in the microwave if the are not cooperating.

Keep the scraps wrapped up in plastic for other projects or decorations. I left a plastic-wrapped blob out overnight at room temperature, popped it in the microwave for ten or fifteen seconds, and I had a nice workable dough again!

"Yeah? How you like me NOW, zombie-pie crust!!!!"

Oops...sorry about that....I got a little excited for a minute. It's not often rolled out dough bows down to me like this.

Place your lightly floured cardboard templates on the dough - try to leave a good inch between them. Cut them out using a pizza cutter or a ravioli cutter...

...and carefully remove the scraps in between your shapes.

Set the cardboard pieces aside.

You can go ahead and bake them (like I did the first time...duh) OR cut doors or windows out.

I just cut additional cardboard templates and used a small paring knife to cut them, but you could use little cookies cutters, too!

Slip your baking sheet under the foil, and place the cutouts in the oven. Total baking time is about 10 - 12 minutes. If you want to create "colored glass" windows....

Unwrap some butterscotch (or other hard) candies...

Place them in a heavy duty plastic Ziploc bag and tap a few times with a hammer.

After the dough has baked about ten minutes, sprinkle the crushed candy into the window openings...

...and bake another 5 minutes or so until smooth and melted. I swirled it a couple times with a toothpick. Remove and let cool completely before trying to remove from the foil. The dough hardens quickly, but the candy will take longer - overnight would be best, but I just stuck mine in our chilly garage for about an hour and it was good to go!

Don't worry about imperfections. We're going to slap so much royal icing and candy decorations on this baby, we can cover up just about anything!

Next up: Part 2 - Assembly and royal crazy glue!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Let It Glow, Let It Glow, LetIt Glow!


My electric bill is going to be frightful.....

But the lights are so delightful....

And as long as she loves it so......

Let it glow!

Ho - Ho- Ho!


(This is Santa, in January, when the light bill comes in.....)

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

2010 Christmas Cookie #2 - Mexican Chocolate Cookies

Mmmm...Chocolate....Cinnamon....Chili Pepper

Huh? Chili Pepper? Yes!

Christmas cookie #2 comes from Mrs Williams who posted her recipe over on Grouprecipes, and also blogged about it HERE.

The cookie dough itself is soooooo chocolatey - it looks almost like fudge!

The dough starts with butter, brown sugar and water, cooked together on the stove. Then, semi-sweet chocolate chips are added to the hot mixture and melted. You let that cool for about ten minutes, the add in an egg, vanilla, flour, baking soda, salt and chili pepper.

I've often added chocolate - either cocoa or grated unsweetened chocolate - to my chili recipes. The chocolate adds a nice richness to it. In this cookie recipe, roles are kind of reversed: chocolate is the star and the chili powder is like a back-up singer. Of course, you want a back-up singer with a great voice! Not one who's just there because of their looks, right? ;) So I used some nice Ancho Chili Powder that I purchased from

And can I just say.... I heart They always add in a couple freebies with your order - one is a current promotional item (nice ones, too, like Applewood Smoked Sea Salt or Madagascar Vanilla Bean Pods) plus, depending on the size of your order, you get to choose your own sample(s) to be included in your order! Which is how I came to obtain my Ancho Chili Powder. Shipping is very reasonable, especially if you order $40 or more - then it's FREE! And to top it off, their prices are very reasonable and the product is of very nice quality. It comes packaged in airtight zipper top plastic bags...I'm still getting used to that. You can always transfer your herbs and spices to container of your choice. I've been doing that with the ones I use frequently as I'm not real good about making sure my plastic bags are re-zipped tightly after I've opened them!

Anyhoo.....back to these yummy cookies!

After the dough's mixed, you stir in some of those Hershey's Cinnamon Baking Chips. The combination of cinnamon, chocolate and chili powder is so warm, aromatic and even a bit exotic! I chilled my dough in the fridge for easier handling....actually overnight. In the morning, the dough was HARD, so I just popped it in the microwave for about two ten-second intervals to warm it up, and after that it was easy to work with.

Used my cookie scoop to make uniform sized balls of dough...

Bakes as directed and here they are....

Very chocolatey and delicious - they keep well in airtight plastic bags or containers. I've even frozen the dough in balls and baked. (I do let them thaw slightly before baking). And if you fear chili powder, let me just say that I don't really "taste" the chili powder as much as I "feel" it - it adds a nice warmth to the cookies, that compliments the chocolate and cinnamon flavors beautifully.

So if you want something different for this year's cookie trays, definitely check these out!

Here's a link to the original recipe: Mexican Chocolate Cookies