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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Easter Bunny's House

Gingerbread day! It’s basically a holiday that we celebrate multiple times a year.  A lot of planning and forethought goes into the day. Like any holiday, you make grocery lists, shop, make to-do lists, prepare and anticipate. And like other holidays, you do all this in the midst of other life events, work, social engagements, family obligations, etc.  As the day approaches, and the real work starts, you look forward to spending time with your family (my gingerbread family).  What is unique about our team, or family if you’d rather, is the assignment of roles.  With most holidays, as the years pass, certain people get assigned certain roles (the cranberry sauce, the green bean casserole, the pumpkin pie). That’s not really how we work. Sure, Stephanie stores the bulk of our supplies and tools (she has the most room).  But, we try to take turns designing and baking and hosting.  (I get out of hosting mostly because my apartment is small, unorganized and not child friendly).  This time, I suggested we do the Easter Bunny’s house as our spring house.  Erin offered to host and bake the house. She wanted to calculate the PPH (Price Per House). I had found these adorable Linzer cookie cutters,
so I offered to make little gingerbread decorations for the “yard.” Stephanie, who moved recently, was on snacks (probably the most important job).

Fast forward to the night before Gingerbread day (and the end of Family Conference week at work  for me): I’m exhausted from the work week and REALLY don’t want to make an entire batch of gingerbread dough. I don’t have any shortening and I’m way too lazy to go the store a whole 2 miles away. I start thinking of ways around it, even texting Erin to see if she’ll have some extra dough (Ha! actual dough, not money). I’m sitting on my loveseat, making my list for Gingerbread day when the idea hits me. What if I make actual Linzer cookies!? But I can make them with gingerbread spices instead of boring regular butter cookies (actually, the original is delicious, too).  Energized by this amazing idea, I get to work creating spicy Linzer cookie dough. I sub out some sugar for molasses to give it extra gingerbread flavor. I’m careful to record my actual measurements, instead of cooking with reckless abandon like I normally do. The result is mouthwatering and melts in your mouth good.  It also spurned an addition to my old saying. Necessity is the mother of invention, but laziness is its cousin.

Begin gingerbread day at Erin’s: she “effortlessly” assembles the house, minus the roof, before I even get there. Steph had class in the morning, so she joined us a little later (with cheeses!).  My morning got a slow start due the lovely Ohio springtime pollen count.  The cookies are quickly approved by Erin and our official taste testers, George and Victoria.  I fell in love with these pearls and sixlets,  and I knew we had to use them on the house. Erin  
applied the icing to the roof while I dotted it with the pearls. We stood back for a second to admire our brilliance (one of these days, I’ll get the hang of modesty). We mixed up some spring green icing and added grass to our landscape. Erin designed a lovely path across the lawn.
What about the wine? Isn’t here usually wine at these things? Not to worry. Let me take this opportunity to introduce you to the Gingerbread Boy: Take as much or as little coffee as you want, add a good amount of milk (or creamer) and add at least a shot of Gingerbread Kaluah. Serve hot or over ice. Yum! 

I put on some gloves to dye gum paste for the carrots. I figured the Easter Bunny had to have carrots. George asked why I was wearing gloves. When I explained that I had to wear the gloves to work with the food coloring, he decided to put on gloves himself so he could “touch things.” Stephanie arrived 
and we took a cheese and cookie break. Getting back to work, we created a mail box for the Easter bunny and started decorating the Easter egg shaped cookies. Funnily enough, we had no plan for the eggs. Sure, they were cute and delicious, and George got to help, but where are they going to go? Then I had another “Aha!”moment. What if Easter eggs are actually grown in a garden in the Easter Bunny’s back yard? Boom! We love it. We had a little problem with a melting egg (patience is a virtue), but I think it’s safe to say that the Easter egg garden is adorable.
I hope you agree! Remember to subscribe to our blog for more delicious tales and updates.

Much Love and Happy Easter! ~Megan

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How To Meet Your Hero, A Beginner's Guide

As I child, I didn't grow up watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. In my house, we watched DIY shows on PBS; This Old House and New Yankee Workshop, Victory Garden and Square Foot Gardening. My absolute favorites were the cooking shows! Julia Child and Justin Smith and even a young Martha Stewart. I loved learning how other people in other places in the world made food, at a young age I was fascinated by the relationship of food and culture.

Fast forward, I'm an anthropology student in college, and one afternoon I discover this quirky, FUNNY, informative, anthropologically and scientifically based cooking show on Food Network called "Good Eats". I'm instantaneously drawn in! Here's this guy in a retro bowling shirt, funky, nerdy glasses, explaining both the chemistry and culture behind the food we eat every day.That guy was Alton Brown, and over the years I've seen every single episode, and learned more about the "whys" of cooking than I ever thought possible. And this week The Gingerbuilders had the supreme fortune of seeing his stage show, The Edible Inevitable Show, in Dayton, Ohio... But more exciting than that, we briefly got to MEET him after the show!!!!!

Gingerbuilder Stephanie had a friend who happens to be a crew member for this current tour, and they MIGHT have indicated that there would be a certain time frame and location that we could, should we be so inclined, bump into Mr Brown after the show. And suddenly, things got REALLY real!

As we watched the show, I'll admit I was a little distracted by the thought that after all these years of being a fan, I might be about to MEET, as in IN PERSON, as in "reach out and poke him in the shoulder" close, Alton Brown!

After the show we headed outside and waited, and waited, and waited, in 6 degree weather. I was glovelessly gripping my copy of his cookbook I'm Just Here For More Food, knowing exactly which page I wanted autographed, wondering if I could be cool and just ask, or if I was going to dissolve into a giggling mess upon meeting him face to face.

And after what seemed like a frozen eternity... He walked out! And there he was, and I totally, mostly held it together and he asked if he could autograph anything and I flipped the book open to the recipe for pound cake (we use it A LOT) 
"Who can I make it out to?"
"The Gingerbuilders, please"
*starts writing, looks up questioning*
"It's one word"
*nods head in understanding*
"Thank you so much!"
"It's my pleasure"

What an incredible experience, meeting someone I consider "a hero" with my 2 best friends and fellow Gingerbuilders! 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Graduating with a Certificate in Pretty Things

Megan mentioned the Wilton decorating classes we were taking in this post.

Our final class was a time to use what we'd learned to decorate a cake.  Unfortunately, Megan couldn't attend this last class, but she still learned all of the techniques through the previous classes.

Erin and I celebrated our graduation after class.  The part of Megan was played by Ketchup...

Here's the cake I made for a friend:

The Wilton Classes have given Gingerbuilders time to refine our molding, fondant, and gumpaste skills.  We practiced playing with our food so that we would be better designers and decorators in our business.

I have reviewed icing skills, learned some real fun royal icing flowers, learned to work with butter cream icing, (the fat in it is usually an enemy in the gingerbread world) and bake regular cakes (that I don't usually
make because I don't like cake.  I know.  I'm CRAZY.)

I have gotten better at mixing, squeezing, dollop-ing, shaping--you name it!

I love edible art!

Gingerbread Houses are being designed for year-round sales.  Cookies and treats to follow.

Meanwhile, if you want to use Gingerbuilders' mad skills to create a cake for your special occasion, please contact us.

I am currently working on another baby bump cake for a shower.  An anniversary cake, birthday cake, and bridal shower cake are on the calendar.  I also make yummy cupcakes.

Our fun and passion goes into all of our baked creations.

Please follow us and check back often to see what else we are cooking up!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Building An Original

The GingerBuilders have been slowly putting together a small "menu" of baked goods besides gingerbread houses that we'd like to start selling, so we've all been trying various recipes trying to find treats that will fit snuggly into our repertoire. There is a cookie recipe that I loved that I had tried a few years ago.

It's a delicious cookie, but I wanted to make it better. After adjusting some (ok most) of the ingredients
and some (ok ALL) of the quantities
 and a few mishaps... I think I finally have an original recipe that we can call our own! 
Good things are happening in our kitchens every day! Start tuned to see more!

We like making pretty things!

I started my professional training in pretty things this month with a Wilton Cake Decorating Class at Michael's (they offer these all over the country if you, too, would like to learn to make pretty things). This is a fondant class. The other two GingerBuilders have already taken a few Wilton cake decorating classes, but this was my first endeavor. I know we've joked about modesty being our best quality, and this is another fine example. I made the prettiest bow ever!
We got a late start due to the crazy Midwest Winter, so we were playing catch-up. We learned to make a Calla Lily and the bases for a few flowers at the first class.
 I was surprised that after following a few steps, and having a little patience, I made a bow! This happens when we make gingerbread houses, too. We'll be working and working and working non-stop, feeling like we're getting no where. Then, we'll look up, and the house is done (or almost done) and it feels like magic. The bow came together the same way.
I was so proud of my bow I made a chocolate cake to put it on :-)

This was not my prettiest cake ever, but the chocolate buttercream frosting over the devil's food cake was delicious. It's a vicious cycle, baking and creating pretty things, but someone has to do it.

In our next class, we tackled some trickier flowers and added leaves. As our regular readers know, I break stuff. Our pretty flowers start as little balls of gum paste/fondant on a piece of spaghetti. This is all well and good until "someone" keeps breaking the spaghetti.
Never the less, I persevered and created more pretty things! I love making pretty things! I sound like such a girl when I say this. I feel like you all need to watch me swear at the TV during a football game to let you know how un-girly-girl I am.
For your viewing pleasure (I hope!):
Please remember to subscribe to keep up to date on all our fun GingerBuilder adventures. (My Denver Broncos made it to the Super bowl, maybe I will post a video of me swearing at the TV)
Have a wonderful week!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ginger--For your Health

Came across this image on Pinterest:

It led me to and THIS link in particular.

Of course you can explore medical resources and you'll find much of the same information.

Ginger is pretty awesome.

Gingerbuilders has cooked with ground ginger, fresh ginger, and crystallized ginger.

With ginger in Stir fry, cookies, or ice cream, now we can argue that they are all good for us in some way. 

So we'll keep creating...because we care about your health!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gingerbread Ice Cream

Crazy Stephanie loves ice cream, even during a polar vortex.  So when it was too cold to go outside (-20 in Ohio?!) She (I) dreamed of food to pass the time.

And Gingerbread Ice Cream is the stuff dreams are made of!

Erin has this wonderful book Gingerbread by Jennifer Lindner McGlinn.

We wanted to try out some recipes.  The Gingerbread Ice Cream recipe called to me.

But, New Year's resolutions and all, I did want to lighten up the ice cream as best as I could.
The recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups cream and 1 1/2 cups milk.  I decided to use 3 cups of fat free half&half.  Every little bit counts...

Please note that the ingredients of your ice cream will very much affect the texture and consistency.  Skim milk vs. whole, for example.  I do not recommend using skim milk in ice cream.  However, I have found success with using half and half, and I find that I don't have to compromise on the consistency or flavor.

Friends and family all love my ice cream and no one is the wiser.

Now get on with the recipe!!

Most ice creams have a similar base.  I've seen 6-8 egg yolks, some cream, (half and half in my case), salt, sugar, and flavorings.  Once you get that basic recipe down, I recommend experimenting with flavors and chunky deliciousness added into the ice cream (chocolate chips, cookies, etc.).

Here's my journey with Gingerbread Ice Cream adapted from the book by Jennifer Lindner McGlinn.

Total time: 2 days.  (This is because I mixed the base one day, let it chill overnight, then make the ice cream the next day.  Really, it's not hard, but everything needs time to set up.)

 Ingredients: Half&Half, ginger, egg yolks, light brown sugar, molasses, vanilla extract, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, and salt.

 Stir together half&half and fresh ginger in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium/high heat.  Remove from heat and set aside to infuse 30 minutes to an hour.

 Strain the cream/milk mixture and discard the ginger.  Return the mix to a saucepan and boil again over medium high heat.

 Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks, brown sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sat in a large bowl until smooth and thick.  (I recommend reserving the egg whites for meringues or really healthy omelets.)

 As soon as cream mix comes to a boil, temper the egg mix.  The book says "gradually drizzle" the cream into the yolk mix and whisk constantly.  I recommend taking 1/4 cup of the mix and whisking it in with the eggs.  This brings the temp of the eggs up slowly without scrambling them.  Do this a few more times.  When eggs are hot enough, add the whole bowl into the cream mix.

 Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mix coats the back of a spoon.  (It's better here to remove the mix from the heat too early rather than too late.  You don't want chunks.  Please note that the chunks in this recipe are spices and not scrambled eggs.  Eew.)  Also, KEEP STIRRING.  You don't want sticking or a skin.  Eew again.

By "coats the back of spoon" see the photo.  I ran my finger along the back of a wooden spoon.  The mix is thick enough to coat the spoon and hold its shape.  Perfect.

Strain the custard again (in case you did cook some eggs wrong--better safe than sorry!) and stir in that vanilla extract you forgot about.

The book says to set your bowl with the mix in it into a larger bowl of ice water and chill for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then, chill in the refrigerator for at LEAST six hours if not overnight.  I just covered the dish and put it directly in my fridge.  This is how I've always done ice cream before.

Next, the recipe says to use the directions on your ice cream machine to finish the process.  Here's Mine:

Freeze the bowl AT LEAST 15 hours before use.  I got it out of the freezer, hooked it up as fast as possible, and added my cream mix.

Ice cream can "stir" 20-30 minutes depending on texture.  You don't want to over mix!  If your machine starts clicking, stop it!  You can also stop with 10 minutes to go, add any chunky ingredients (dried fruit, chocolate chips etc.) at that time, then finish stirring.  Pop it in the freezer for at least 20 minutes after to set up.

Even with the half&half, as far as texture goes: NAILED IT!!!!

This stuff was awesome!  I recommend topping with it fun ingredients like chocolate chips, graham crackers, peppermint candies, currants, molasses cookies that are crumbled, whatever you want!

What would you add?

I also recommend adding less clove and nutmeg than the book calls for.  The suggested amount made the ice cream almost spicy.  No no.  We just want a taste.

So with that said, here's the Gingerbuilders' Version:

Gingerbread Ice Cream

3 cups fat free half and half
1 3-4 inch piece of fresh ginger (about 1 1/4 ounces) peeled and chopped
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8-1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract

Stir together half&half and fresh ginger in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium/high heat.  Remove from heat and set aside to infuse 30 minutes-1 hour.  Strain the half&half and discard the ginger.  Return the mix to a saucepan and boil again over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks, brown sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl until smooth and thick.  As soon as the half&half comes to a boil, take 1/4 cup of the it and whisk it in with the eggs.  Do this 2 more times.  
Pour the entire egg mix into the saucepan with the rest of the half&half and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon.  (Better to remove too early than too late.)  Strain the custard and stir in the vanilla extract.  Cover the custard, and place it in the refrigerator to chill at least 6 hours, up to overnight.Follow the instructions on your ice cream machine to complete the dessert.  Freeze the ice cream at least 1 hour.  Serve with graham crackers, candy canes, currants, molasses cookies, chocolate chips, etc. etc etc!

I'll try a delicious variation on Gingerbread Ice Cream in another blog, so stay tuned!