Keyword Exclusive - More gingerbread tips from Elaine Smith
Supplement to “Gingerbread, Man”
Making, baking, and working with gingerbread
DO NOT BAKE GINGERBREAD WHEN IT IS RAINING or if it is a really humid day. Structural gingerbread needs to be dry and rigid. The moisture will seep into the gingerbread and make it weak. Your creation will collapse in a few days.
The gingerbread recipe makes very thick dough. A standard mixer will not work. If you do not have a heavy-duty mixer, use your hands to mix the dough.
Roll dough directly onto cookie sheets or onto parchment paper. (Make sure your cookie sheets are not warped. They need to be very flat and level.) Parchment paper is great; however, it is not cheap.
If you use parchment paper, roll the dough out onto the paper and then place the paper onto the cookie sheet prior to cutting out your pattern. It is very important that the gingerbread pieces retain their shape. Note: If you place the cookie sheet on a damp towel, the cookie sheet will stay in place while you are rolling out the dough.
It is easier to cut windows and openings if the dough has been refrigerated.
• Roll out the dough, making sure it is even.
• Cut it to the approximate size.
• Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.
• Check to make sure dough is still rolled out evenly.
• Cut out windows/openings.
• Cut out outside edges.
Do not bake small pieces with large pieces. The small pieces take less time to cook and can overcook when placed on the pan with larger pieces.
Check gingerbread midway through baking for air pockets. Use a sharp knife or toothpick to poke and release air. Tap the piece lightly so it will lie flat again.
Cool directly on pan for a few minutes.
Look at pieces to make sure they are still “square.” If they have lost a little shape, while still warm, take a knife and gently tap the edge to bring the lines back in straight.
Transfer pieces to cooling racks. Make sure the pieces are lying flat.
Assembling the gingerbread
It is wise to have all tools, dough, decorations, and icing set out in an orderly fashion before you begin.
When you are using a design out of a book, read the instructions carefully in their entirety before beginning the project.
Be very careful when copying the pattern from a book. Make sure you read the instructions to see if the pattern is full-size or needs to be enlarged.
It works very well to transfer the patterns to manila file folders or other cardboard. The manila file folders hold their shape when you are cutting out the pattern.
Be sure to label all pattern pieces.
Be sure to cut out all windows and doors on your pattern.
Using 1/8- or 1/4-inch dowel rods to place beside the dough when rolling it out will assist you in getting the pieces rolled out evenly. If the gingerbread is not even, the thicker places will either be not cooked enough, or the thinner part will get too done.
After you have rolled the dough out, place a very small amount of flour onto the top of the dough prior to placing your pattern on the dough.
Gently hold down the pattern and use a very sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut out the dough. Don’t press down on the dough too hard while holding, however.
Cut out windows or designs prior to cutting out the outer edge to ensure that the shape is maintained.
If the dough sticks to your rolling pin:
• Put a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper over the dough.
• Put a pastry cloth around the dough or over the rolling pin.
• Freeze the rolling pin.
• Lightly sprinkle flour onto the dough and even onto the rolling pin itself. (You cannot do this with all gingerbread recipes. Some recipes will show the flour even after baking.)
Make sure the pieces are completely cooled prior to assembling them.
Do not stack cooled pieces on top of each other.
A 1/4-inch piece of plywood works very well for your base. Make sure the base is made of something very sturdy.
Cover the base with whatever material you prefer. Just remember that whatever you cover the base with needs to fit tightly. If it does not fit tightly, your gingerbread may not stand up like you want it to.
I like to bake the gingerbread one day, then decorate and assemble it the next day.
If you are using a book to get your pattern, follow the instructions for assembling the gingerbread creation.
It is easier to decorate the sides and roof prior to assembling the gingerbread creation. It is easier to decorate some pieces when they are lying flat on the surface. Just be careful when you assemble the house not to mess up the decorations.
The sides of the house need to be assembled first. They need to sit for a minimum of one hour, preferably two hours, before attaching the roof.
You will need some full cans/jars of food/liquid to use to hold the walls in place while they are drying. But I still usually hold the pieces together by hand for about 15 minutes before trusting them to the cans/jars.
If a piece has gotten a little “out of whack,” you can use a very sharp knife and gently shave the gingerbread to get it back into shape.
Use your imagination when decorating.
When putting “shingles” on a roof, start with the bottom edge first.
To read the Kentucky Living December 2008 feature that goes along with this supplement, go to Gingerbread, Man.