How To Make Gingerbread Houses

Yesterday I gave you a teaser about my gingerbread house adventure – you get the full story today!

A week ago (last Sunday – when I blogged about exercise) I took the subway out to Flushing to visit my (Bobby’s) aunt and uncle. Auntie Jo had offered a while ago to teach me how to make real gingerbread houses – the recipe was from her German housekeeper (I think she said it’s from 45 years ago). I jumped at the opportunity – Auntie Jo is so sweet and I love learning new things about baking.

When I got there we got breakfast (see this post for my New York bagel). Auntie Jo had made the dough the night before (you have to chill it) so when we got back, we started with the baking process. Here is the recipe (hand-typed from Auntie Jo’s recipe book):

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It says…

GINGERBREAD HOUSES (from Cookie Cookery)

Mix together until smooth:

  • 1 cup shortening (2 bars)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup molasses

Stir into above and mix well:

  • 1/2 cup hot water

Beat 2 eggs and stir into the sugar mix.

Sift together, adding slowly:

  • 5.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon

Place dough in containers and freeze or chill. Roll to 1/8 – 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out with a pointed knife following a cardboard patter: 2 each of front, side, and roof. Chimney is optional.

Warm oven to 350. Bake 10-15 minutes. Let cool. Put together with Royal Icing. Decorate.

ROYAL ICING

Add 2.5 cups of sifted confectioner’s sugar and 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar to 2 egg whites.

Heat, stirring, in the top of a double boiler until warm and smooth. Remove from heat, beat in electric mixer at highest speed for 5-6 minutes, until icing stands in peaks. Cover bowl with damp towel and put into refrigerator. Can tint with food color, or may squeeze through a pastry tube with decorating tip.

Use to cement house together. When sides are secure, use to place ornament candies on house.

<—End Recipes—>

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This was the baking station: a beautiful recipe book (handmade), a cutting board, cardboard cutouts (for making the house shapes), flour, a rolling pin. The dough is in that metal bowl.

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First, you flour the cutting board. Then you roll out the dough (with a rolling pin) until it’s about 1/4 – 1/8 inches thick. Use the cardboard shapes to cut out the pieces for the house.

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Auntie Jo showed me how to scoop under the dough before cutting it out so that it comes off the cutting board more easily.

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I had fun cutting out the pieces! Mine were not as nicely shaped as Auntie Jo’s, but she has more practice than I do (I’ll keep trying).

Duke (Ellington) kept us company:

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(He didn’t get any gingerbread.)

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After we did the houses, we still had dough left, so we did some cutouts – that’s a carrot cookie cutter. It is so cute. The house pieces came out and we put them in the garage to cool:

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While they cooled, we took a break…

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…To eat cinnamon toast with butter and hot tea with milk and sugar.

me morris jo

Uncle Morris DJ’d and played us some lovely jazz music while we baked that afternoon.

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Then it was time to make the icing. We didn’t use a double boiler; we just boiled water in a pan and put the metal bowl with the icing batter inside.

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And we beat the icing in the mixer – beautiful. We used a pastry tube thing to squeeze the icing (like glue) and put the houses together.

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The roofs go on last. We actually ended up with an extra base, so I put a heart on it and gave it to Bobby.

After I put on the roofs, I packed up the houses and took them home to finish decorating (it was late). I just decorated them yesterday (Saturday), and this is how they came out:

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I used gummy bears and chocolate chips.

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I’m giving them to my coworkers and my cousin (in-law-to-be). I think they make great gifts – I’ll definitely be making them next year too.

Thank you Auntie Jo for teaching me! And to Uncle Morris for great company 🙂

I’m actually on my own now… Bobby is en route to Miami (should touch down in about 25 minutes) and I miss him. But I’ll see him on Wednesday. I’m still missing the cats, too.

Have you ever made gingerbread houses? Do you give baked goods as presents? What are your favorite things to make?

Baking and Making Gingerbread Houses

This week has been a little bit crazy; I’m glad to be sitting at home relaxing (finally).

On Sunday I spent the day with my aunt (well, aunt-to-be-after-I’m-married) baking. Auntie Jo and Uncle Morris picked me up in Flushing and took me to this great bagel shop where we had breakfast:

bagel whole wheat ham swiss

A whole wheat bagel with ham, swiss, and mustard. It was so good. I didn’t quite finish it but I did bring the leftovers home and had them later. Auntie Jo suggested it and she got the same!

I hate to do this to you, but I haven’t finished decorating the houses so I’m going to save the gingerbread post for tomorrow or later this week. But I do have a teaser:

gingerbread man

I made cookies too! Bobby and I saw gingerbread men in Central Park the other day (for $4.50; what a ripoff) so I made this guy for him. I also made a bunch of other cute little shapes, most of which have been eaten this week by me. I always make dessert for Bobby and then end up eating it myself.

Other things we’ve had this week are… Fried Rice (Bobby makes this; he’s much better than me at it):

fried rice healthy

And a salad (though salads have not been very satisfying to me lately… I always end up eating something else if I have one):

salad chicken

This one had organic rotisserie chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, parmesan, and I think I used teriyaki sauce for dressing because I don’t have any dressing. We ordered everything from a delivery service called Fresh Direct, which is awesome. Kate and Simon recommended it.

I am missing my sweet cats right now.

cat couscous cats kabocha couscous cat kabocha

They are in New Jersey with my parents because Bobby and I are going to Miami this week to spend Christmas with his family. He leaves tomorrow and I’m joining them on Wednesday. I haven’t gotten to see his family for a while so I’m excited!

What are your holiday plans?

Low Sugar Black Bean Brownies

When I saw this recipe over at 101 Cookbooks, I knew I had to try it. Many Asian desserts use the red adzuki bean and I always like them a lot. I recently bought a loaf of red bean bread, which is similar to cinnamon swirl – except the swirls were a smooth and creamy red bean paste. It was delicious. I wanted to try this recipe with the adzuki beans, but alas, I was short on time and couldn’t find canned adzuki beans. I did buy a bag of dried adzukis for another time, but decided to settle for black beans, at least for now.

I also decided to try three permutations of the recipe. I love butter, but some people watch calories. I subbed out the butter in 2 variations and tried them with applesauce and then with mashed banana. I made three half batches and tested them on my coworkers, friends, and roommates. I think the banana won out in the end, but the applesauce was a close second and (surprisingly) butter was a definite last.

Another change I made had to do with the sweetening method used.  I always cut down the sugar when I bake so this time I severely reduced the amount of agave nectar called for. If you like your desserts very sweet, up the amount of agave nectar to up to a 1/2 cup for the recipe listed below. You can also substitute honey for agave nectar at a ratio of 1:1. If you don’t know where to find agave nectar, try Trader Joe’s or any local health food store.

I made three half batches, so I’m going to list the recipe for a half-batch below.

  1. In the first version, I used creamy unsalted butter.
  2. In the second I used unsweetened applesauce.
  3. In the third I used mashed banana.

This is how (my version of) the recipe goes.

Adapted from Baking With Agave Nectar: Over 100 Recipes Using Nature’s Ultimate Sweetener by Ania Catalano.

Black Bean Brownies

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter OR 1/2 cup applesauce OR 1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 medium)
  • 1 cup soft cooked black beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 cup instant coffee
  • dash of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line a 9×9-inch pan with wax or parchment paper. Spray with nonstick cooking spray (optional – but makes for much easier removal, as I found out. I did not use the spray, and mine stuck to the paper.)
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter/applesauce/banana in the microwave (about 1 minute). Stir to melt completely. Place the beans, 1/4 cup of the walnuts, the vanilla extract, and a few spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into a food processor. Mix on high until creamy, about 1.5-2 minutes.  The beans should be smooth.*  Set aside.
  3. In a separate medium-sized bowl, mix together the rest of the walnuts, the remaining chocolate mix, the instant coffee, and the salt. Mix and set aside.
  4. In another bowl, beat the eggs until light and creamy (I did this by hand and didn’t get them as creamy as I would have liked; the brownies turned out fine anyway). Add the agave nectar and set aside.
  5. Add the bean mixture to the chocolate mixture, stirring well. Then add in most of the egg mix, saving a few tablespoons to drizzle on top.
  6. Pour the batter into your baking pan. Beat the remaining egg mixture a big more, then drizzle overtop of the batter. Using a toothpick, mix around the batter and egg drizzle to create a marbled effect.
  7. Bake about 35-40 minutes, until brownies have set. You can use a clean toothpick to determine whether they are done. Let cool, then cut into squares. It’s best if you refrigerate them before cutting as they are quite soft.

These are the ones with applesauce (I mixed the beans a little bit longer than I did with the buttery batch, so they look very smooth):

And these are the banana ones (they were slightly thicker because I used a different shaped pan):

The butter ones are pictured at the beginning of this post – as you can see, they are a little more chunky than either the applesauce or banana ones! As I kept on making batches, I learned the proper times for mixing the beans and the appropriate amount of egg mixture to reserve for drizzling. It all comes down to personal preference, so bake as you like!

*Note: In Asian desserts, sometimes the red beans are whole. If you want more of the bean flavor in these brownies, don’t blend them too long in the food processor. When I make these with red beans I’m only going to mix for about 30 seconds to keep some of the beans from being completely mashed.

Vegan Cinnamon Buns | Healthy Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

Everyone loved these vegan cinnamon buns. I was looking for a healthy cinnamon rolls recipe, and I came across this recipe from Don’t Eat Off the Sidewalk, a great vegan blog. I changed it a bit.

  • Halved the recipe but still used the full packet of yeast.
  • Doubled the amount of filling (meaning I used the normal amount, even though I was halving the recipe).
  • It’s not quite vegan, because I used honey in the glaze… But only because I didn’t have powdered sugar. So you can easily make it vegan again.

Anyway, these disappeared after dinner, so I think they were a success. Here’s my version of the recipe…

Vegan Cinnamon Buns | Pumpkin Sticky Buns Recipe | Healthy Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Buns Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter or vegan margarine
  • 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar (I used brown)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or allspice, or cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves… a mix is good)
  • 1.25 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • nonstick cooking spray

Cinnamon Buns Filling

  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar (I used granulated)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons margarine

Cinnamon Buns Glaze

  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • (See original recipe for the vegan glaze)

Directions

  1. Mix the yeast and water and let it sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Mix the pumpkin, milk, butter, sugar, salt, and spices – put it in the microwave for 20 seconds to bring it to room temperature.
  3. Add the pumpkin mix to the yeast water and mix until smooth.
  4. Add the 1.25 cups of flour; mix until smooth.
  5. Use some of the 1/2 cup of flour to dust a surface for kneading. Then sprinkle flour on the dough and knead for 10 minutes, continually adding the remaining flour so that the dough doesn’t become too sticky.
  6. Coat a bowl with nonstick cooking spray and place the dough inside, rolling it around to coat it with the spray as well. Leave in a warm place, covered, for about 45 minutes or until the dough has at least doubled.
  7. Punch the dough down and let it sit, covered, for 5 more minutes.
  8. Make the filling – mix together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and margarine.
  9. Flour your surface again and roll the dough out into a 10 inch square. Spread the filling out (I used my fingers) all over the dough.
  10. Roll up the dough into a cylinder and pinch the ends closed. Cut the cylinder into slices – the thicker they are, the bigger the buns will be. I made about 14, including the end bits. Spray nonstick cooking oil in a square pan and place the rolls inside. Cover and let them rise for about 25 minutes; they should double in size.
  11. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  12. Bake the rolls for 20 minutes or until golden. Let cool for 20 minutes.
  13. Mix the honey, sugar, water, and vanilla together and drizzle over the buns.

I think these healthy cinnamon rolls would be great warm with vanilla ice cream… Unfortunately I didn’t have ice cream, and now they’re gone. Guess I’ll have to make another batch.

Spiced Holiday Bread Braid Recipe

Julia, my sister, is going to give our Grammie and Aunt Mattie homemade bread for Christmas this year. Last night we decided to do a run-through to see how it would come out. I found a recipe for a Cardamom braid in Cooking Light, so I modified it (a lot) and came up with my very own. It’s quite simple to make and came out better than any bread I have made in the past.

Spiced Holiday Bread Braid Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups almond milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Lemon rind from one lemon plus a dash of lemon juice
  • 1.5 teaspoons spices – allspice/pumpkin pie spice/cinnamon
  • Dash of salt
  • 4.5 cups whole wheat flour (separated), plus extra for kneading
  • 2.5 teaspoons yeast
  • 1 egg white
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

  1. Mix together the first 6 ingredients (milk, sugar, butter, lemon, spices, salt) in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. The temperature should be about 120 – 130 F.
  2. Combine 2.5 cups of the flour with the yeast. Then add the milk mixture from the saucepan and mix together. Gradually add the remaining two cups of flour. (You can do this in a mixer – mine was not very cooperative. I think it would be better to try by hand.)
  3. Once you have a ball of dough, knead for about 10 minutes over a floured surface. Continue to add flour as the dough absorbs it; the dough should remain slightly sticky.
  4. Spray the inside of a bowl with cooking spray, then place the ball of dough inside. Cover and keep in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has about doubled in size.
  5. Punch down the dough and let it rest for a few minutes.
  6. Preheat the over to 375F.
  7. Divide the dough into 3 equal parts and roll them into ropes – if you want a long, thin, braid try for about 20 inches; if you want it fatter, try for 15 inches. Pinch together the ropes and then braid them. When you have finished the braid, pinch the other end together.
  8. Place the braid on a sprayed cookie sheet; cover and let it sit for another 25 minutes.
  9. Paint the braid with the egg white and water mixture, then sprinkle the additional sugar over the top. Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes. Remove and let it cool.

We had it with butter and that fresh fruit dip I keep raving about.


I really like using almond milk – it’s light and naturally sweet. I’m not a huge regular milk fan anyway (though I do like whole milk and heavy cream).

More posts to come – I expect to make A LOT of cookies over the next day or so.