Gingerbread House

Last week I promised I would return with a Christmassy treat. I hope that with this recipe I will have delivered!

Gingerbread has been eaten for centuries and has wormed its way into the traditions of many countries. In England we have gingerbread men and houses, in Germany, they eat Lebkuchen and in Sweden gingerbread has been used to help with indigestion since the 1400s.

Gingerbread is thought to have originated just before 1000CE however it wasn’t recorded in trade until some time in the 17th century as production had been controlled by the Gingerbread Guild for the previous 200 years. The biscuits would be served in monasteries and sold in apothecaries and were popular owing to the belief that the ginger had health giving properties. Since then, it has been proven that ginger is good at soothing the stomach and reducing nausea as well as having anti-inflammatory properties.

The first documented case of gingerbread men was from Tudor England when Elizabeth I would present her guests with a likeness of themselves made out of gingerbread. About 250 years later, gingerbread houses started appearing in Germany after the publication of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. These were made out of something closer to a ginger biscuit or gingernut than the traditional Lebkuchen as it was too soft to hold the weight – though the decorated gingerbreads are still called Lebkuchen to this day. The gingerbread houses are sometimes made with pepper instead of ginger to create Pfefferkuchenhaus.

Gingerbread houses can take any form from a traditional cottage to a castle. They are normally stuck together with royal icing or caramel though in some cases you can use chocolate. However this is risky as chocolate is very temperature limited and will soften and melt if it gets too hot. Royal icing is very similar to a meringue as it is primarily made from egg whites and sugar however instead of being baked in the oven, it dries in the open air to form a hard surface that can then be decorated upon. Combined with the hard biscuit forming the walls and ceiling, gingerbread houses can be very, very sturdy constructions.

My recipe for a gingerbread house gives enough dough so that the offcuts can be kneaded together and rolled out into other shapes. I had a go at making myself some gingerbread Christmas trees and also iced the cut-outs from the windows so none of it would go to waste. If you are using royal icing, I recommend decorating the sides of the house before you stick it together and let them dry for an hour so you can touch them without smudging the decoration. This is simply because if you decorate them when flat, you don’t have to fight against gravity!

Decorating the house can be a great thing to do with friends and family and the outcome is delicious! You can even use chocolate and sweeties on the outside for added effect. The house makes a stunning centre piece to a table and is a complete showstopper.

 

 

Gingerbread House

Prep time: 30 minutes              Cook time: 25 minutes

Decoration time: Anything from 20 minutes upwards

 

Gingerbread:

900g flour

3 tbsp ground ginger – this is quite a fiery recipe, for a slightly less intense hit, use 2 tbsp

1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

300g dark brown sugar (muscovado)

325g Unsalted butter

¾ cup golden syrup

 

Royal Icing

3 egg whites

450g icing sugar (sifted)

1 tsp lemon juice

¼ tsp glycerine

 

Make your templates. The ones I used for this were: 8×5 inches for the sides, 8×4 inches for the roof and the front and back were a 5×6 rectangle with a triangle on top 5 inches long and 2 inches tall. You can either make your own or cut out the ones from my template below.

Gingerbread house template

Preheat your oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Mix the flour, ginger and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl – make sure the bowl is big enough to hold the other ingredients too as they will be added later.

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Put the butter, syrup and sugar into a heavy based saucepan and melt it together.

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Once the butter mixture has all come together (the sugar doesn’t need to have completely dissolved), pour it into a well in the centre of the flour mix and stir until it starts coming together.

Once the dough has mostly come together in the bowl, use your hands to knead it into a ball and mix in the last bits of flour round the outside.

Divide the mix into thirds and roll out to about 6/7mm thick.

Cut out two shapes of each template but do not remove the outside gingerbread. This means that the edges of the biscuit will burn but this is then removed leaving the gingerbread for the house perfectly cooked! You can remove any dough which is more than a centimetre from the edge of the house.

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Make sure to leave a centimetre or so around the edge of the house to prevent it from burning.

Cut out windows and doors as you see fit – again, leave them in, just cut the shape into the house.

Bake each one for 11-12 minutes until golden (its fine if the edges start to catch as these will be removed)! I would offset the baking of each tray by six minutes. As explained in the next  step.

Once the gingerbread is removed from the oven, it will be very soft. Remove the baking sheet from the tray it is on and lie it on a table. The gingerbread will have spread a little in the oven and filled in all the cuts however they will still be visible.

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The gingerbread has spread however the lines for the windows and edges are still visible.

Working quickly before the gingerbread hardens, cut along the lines with a sharp knife and separate the different pieces. Recut out the windows and door and remove these pieces.

Once it has hardened a little more on the sheet, transfer the gingerbread to a cooling tray to completely harden and cool down – this will take about an hour to make sure it is ready to be used in the house.

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Remember to hold back the pieces that made the doors as you want to put them back on the house once it is decorated.

 

For the icing, place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk with electric beaters for around 8 minutes until the icing is thick and glossy and holds its shape when the beaters are removed – it can sag a little bit but shouldn’t return to a flat layer, you should still be able to see detail.

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The bowl on the right has been beaten for an extra minute which makes all the difference.

Use your pieces of gingerbread to make sure your house will fit together properly and work out which pieces overlap with each other.

Once you know where everything is going, pip a thick line of royal icing down the edges of one of the walls. Use this to stick it together with the two pieces it touches. Hold them in place for 30 seconds of so and if you can, place something up against the wall to keep it in place. Wipe off the excess icing on the outside

Pipe lines of icing down the remaining wall and stick it to the rest of the house. Wipe of the excess and add another line on the inside the strengthen the connections

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Let the house sit for five minutes to give the icing a chance to dry a little before you add the roof.

Use a thick line of icing around the top of the house and add one of the roof pieces.

Pipe along the last exposed edge before you add the final piece of gingerbread (its ok if they overlap a little, we can cover this with icing)!

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Don’t worry if it looks a little scruffy, a good layer of icing will cover a multitude of sins!

Pipe designs on the sides and the roof and let set for at least an hour if not more before serving. I left mine overnight as it lets the icing harden and the gingerbread soften just a little.

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You can even use an electric light to illuminate it from the inside to make the house glow.

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe! If you fancy some more Christmassy flavours, check out my Chocolate and Orange Bread and Butter Pudding or for a lovely main course, have a go at making some Sticky Salmon!

Have a great week and I will be back next Monday with a simple take on a beef wellington!

H

Boozy Tiramisu

Let’s take a minute to talk about booze. Specifically, let’s talk about booze in food. From red wine in bolognaise to rum in a ganache to sherry in soups, alcohol gets used a lot in cookery. It helps to enhance the flavour of the dish and whilst the alcohol itself is often cooked off, the depth it adds to the taste remains and while I hate that I am about to use such a cliché phrase, it really does take the dish to another level.

This week, I was lucky enough to receive a commission for a tiramisu for a friend at university who did her year abroad in Italy. I did a little digging on the history of tiramisu and discovered a couple of interesting things including that alcohol is a relatively recent addition to the standard recipe (or at least as relative as it can be for a dish that was only invented in the 1960s)! Normally you would use Madeira, dark rum, brandy and some sort of coffee liqueur however people have also been known to add Malibu (coconut rum) and Disaronno (almond liqueur). The recipe that I use is an egg free recipe however people are also known to add egg yolks to the filling as it makes the dessert far richer. While I don’t do this myself, if you wish, you can beat egg yolks and sugar over a pan of simmering water until the mixture is thick and creamy – this also helps cook the egg so you don’t have to worry about food poisoning. This mixture would then be folded into the mascarpone mix before the tiramisu is assembled.

Owing to the shape of ladyfingers, tiramisu is often made in a square dish as they will tessellate to cover the entire surface whereas if you use a round dish, you will end up having to cut several of them to size to cover the base. The other benefit of this is that it makes serving the tiramisu easier, especially in restaurants as they can give everyone an identical portion with none left over. It is also common to serve tiramisu in martini glasses so everyone gets a portion to themselves. I tend to prefer making tiramisu in a large cake tin and lining the sides with ladyfingers as you get a stunning finish to the dessert and also everyone gets a little bit more coffee!

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The layering on a square tiramisu looks amazing

The recipe can be amended for people who don’t like coffee too. A couple of months ago, I received a commission for a birthday party which included a fresh fruit tiramisu. In this case, I replaced the coffee and such with a mixture of fruity beverages including Chambord (raspberry liqueur) and a raspberry vodka. Instead of chocolate in the layers and on the top, I filled the middle with diced up fresh berries and the spent far longer than necessary arranging the berries on top to look beautiful including fanned strawberries!

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Boozy Tiramisu

Prep time – 30 minutes, Chilling time – 4+ hours

Ingredients:

3 packets ladyfingers

350ml cold coffee

250ml coffee liqueur

100ml white rum

750g mascarpone

300ml double cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g icing sugar

400g dark chocolate

 

Chop up the chocolate into medium to small chunks and set aside

 

Place the mascarpone in a bowl and beat it until soft.

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Add 50g of sifted icing sugar and the vanilla and beat again.

Add the cream and slowly beat until a smooth thick mixture is formed. Be careful not to overwhip as the mix can become stiff and grainy.

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Mix the coffee, rum and liqueur together

 

Place the ring from a nine or 10 inch springform tin onto your serving plate to use as a mould.

Take the ladyfingers and dunk each one into the coffee mixture for a few seconds and then place them vertically against the edge of the tin with the sugared side facing inwards. Repeat this with more of the fingers until you have gone around the entire ring. If you are using ones which have writing on them, try and make sure the writing goes the same way on each of he fingers for a more professional finish!

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Line the bottom of the tin with a single layer or ladyfingers dunked in coffee – you don’t need to fill in all the gaps as they will continue to expand as the coffee soaks through them.

Spread a layer of the mascarpone mix onto the ladyfingers. I tend to find this is easiest using a piping bag to pipe on a layer and then spread it out.

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Sprinkle on just under a third of the chocolate.

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Add another layer of dunked ladyfingers, mascarpone and add just under half the remaining chocolate.

Add a final layer of each of the filling ingredients and make sure that the chocolate on the top covers the whole of the cream layer – if you don’t have enough, you can sprinkle some drinking chocolate on first to make sure any gaps don’t stand out!

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Chill in the fridge for at at least 4 hours so the filling can set.

Remove the tin and serve – you can always wrap a ribbon around the outside to jazz it up if you feel like it!

 

You can also make this in a large dish or individual martini glasses where you don’t need to line the outside. If you do this, the desserts only need to be chilled until they are cold as they don’t need to set or alternatively, you can serve them immediately!

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This keeps for a few days in the fridge – just make sure it is covered!

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Let me know if you try this at home! Give me a tag on Instagram if you have a go as I love seeing what people have made! If you enjoyed baking this and are looking for a bit more of a challenge, why not try out my Battenberg cake or check out last week’s recipe for butternut squash soup to help get you through this winter – this morning was the first day where the grass outside was frozen.

Have a good one and I will see you next week with an amazing recipe for lasagne!

H

Chicken and Mushroom Pasta Bake

Pasta bakes have been a staple of my lunches since going to university. They are relatively economical, can be made with pretty much anything you have (including leftovers) and are delicious. You can use them to make a small amount of meat go very far which I have found to be a life saver when you are living off a student loan. They tend to freeze well and are also quite sturdy so once cooked, portions can be cut and put either in boxes or just wrapped in Clingfilm before being put in the freezer as the pasta has enough structural integrity to hold its shape when cool. This meant taking a slice of it in my bag to lectures was a simple task and provided me will a filling lunch during the day.

One of the things I find really interesting about this dish in particular (and to be honest, any dish involving mushrooms) is how they cook. As the fruiting bodies of a fungus, mushrooms hide beneath the soil and once ready to produce spores, they absorb liquid – rain in the wild – and sprout. They can appear out of nowhere overnight but this property is also what leads to them being very easy to burn when cooking. When you first add the mushrooms to an oiled pan, they absorb all the oil up too resulting in basically dry frying them. This can cause them to burn if they aren’t stirred constantly which is a faff if you are trying to get on with another part of the meal. To avoid this, small amounts of water can also be added which again, will be absorbed but if you manage your proportions well, can leave just enough liquid in the pan to prevent burning. Once the mushrooms get to a certain temperature, the heat breaks down the cells holding in the liquid resulting in the mushrooms releasing any water, juice and oil which is contained in them also causing them to shrink which is why the reduce down so much in volume whilst cooking.

The other interesting part of this dish (from a science perspective) is the cornflour. When I was younger, I used to be allowed to play with cornflour as a treat if I was well behaved. Whilst this was a messy, messy endeavour for all involved it did have the benefit of being an introduction to quite a complicated bit of science, the non-Newtonian fluid. As a small child, few things were more exciting than this bizarre mixture that ran through my fingers and I could sink my hand into but if I tried to jerk it out again, the mixture would turn solid and shatter with enough force. Even now as a 21 year old, I find it fascinating! In this recipe, you can only have this fun before the cornflour is added to the sauce as the moment it is mixed in, it thickens up massively giving the sauce a smooth texture.

 

 

 

 

Mushroom Chicken Pasta Bake    –     about £1.90 per portion, makes 6 portions

2 Large Onions (or three medium/small)

500g mushrooms roughly chopped

2 chicken breasts – cubed

½ cup of milk (125ml)

Chicken/mushroom stock

4 tbsp of cornflour

Oil

400g pasta shapes – I use spirals normally

Cheese

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Optional

Garlic

Basil/parsley

Salt and pepper

 

Dice up the onions and sautee in a pan with a small amount of oil.

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Once the onions are translucent, add the mushrooms and a small amount of water (I would go for about two tablespoons). This helps prevent the mushrooms from sticking to the pan. Keep stirring until the mushrooms start to release their liquid. (Should you wish to add garlic, one or two cloves either diced or minced should be added at this point)

Add the chicken and stir until it is sealed (that is to say that the outside of all the chicken has gone white.21104359_1686135108084854_1141188406_o

Add the milk and bring to the boil

Add the stock – if powder, just sprinkle it in and if it is a cube, crumble it up into the mix and stir it through

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Mix the cornflour with a small amount of water to create a slurry and add it a bit at a time to the mixture making sure that you stir well after each addition and wait for the sauce to thicken up before you add more. If there is more liquid in the sauce, you will need more of the cornflour but you may not need it all!

Let the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes until the chicken is just cooked and then remove from the heat.

Season with salt and pepper and add the basil or parsley at this point

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200oC) and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the bag.

Mix the pasta and the sauce and pour it all into an ovenproof dish pushing any exposed pieces of chicken down below the surface

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Add a layer or grated cheese over the top and place in the oven. Personally I use cheddar for this but you could use any cheese that you like (though I would avoid blue cheese in this scenario as I don’t think it would go with the chicken and mushrooms particularly well!)

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Bake for half an hour or until the cheese has melted and the top layer has gone crispy.

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For a vegetarian alternative, use more mushrooms instead of the chicken! It is still delicious and will reduce the price too.

This can be eaten cold and freezes well.

 

Whether batch cooking for yourself or making dinner for friends, this recipe is wonderful for many occations and is super versatile. You can add or take away ingredients or even change up the sauce completely to keep things fresh. Personally, chicken and mushroom is a favourite of mine so I tend to make this one quite a lot!

Let me know in the comments if you try this one yourself and pop a picture in if you can!

See here for the last recipe in the Cooking From Basics series – a delicious bolognaise sauce – or if you fancy trying your hand at some bread making, why not have a look at my recipe for Artisan Bread from last week.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a super chocolatey recipe that you do not want to miss!!!

H

Welcome!

 

macarons
Salted Caramel and Chocolate Macarons – a topic to breach around a festive period

Welcome to my blog! I am a fourth year sciences student who loves to cook but if you wanted to know about me, you would have visited the about tag!

This blog is designed for students and those who are less comfortable in the kitchen. It will be linked to the British academic year of September through to July and will consist of weekly updates of recipes. The content will be split into two halves, there will be “Cooking From Basics” as well as a Baking section.

Cooking From Basics will follow the academic year and aims to teach skills in the kitchen. It will start off with simple meals requiring little effort and will progress to teaching new techniques as the year goes on. As it is aimed at students, I will be providing a cost estimate per portion (based on my local shop’s prices) and also, where possible, I will explain how to make the recipe both vegetarian and possibly vegan!

Bread
Herb fougasse inspired by the Great British Bake Off. These little loaves caused more trouble than expected when the oven went out of commission last minute and the dough had to be carried to a friend’s house to bake!

Baking has been a passion of mine for a long time now. I love the creativity and freedom that comes with it and I always spend far too much time baking than I really should. The baking section of this blog will follow the things that I have been making and will provide recipes and if possible, troubleshooting for them.

cake 2
Galaxy themed mirror glaze cake with devil’s food cake inside. Created for a Promenade concert and inspired by Mahler’s Seventh Symphony – Night music

I will aim to alternate between the Cooking From Basics and Baking posts but some recipes may just fall into both!

I hope you enjoy the blog and I will be back with your first instalment next week!