Right, those close to me will know that I can be a bit of a perfectionist when making/doing something. If I’m not truly happy with how something has turned out, I will almost definitely do it again to better myself.
This is one of those times.
So last week I started my own personal GBBO Showstopper Challenge by making a Mirror Glaze Cake from the first episode of season 7 of The Great British Bake Off. In my opinion it wasn’t too difficult, and I even managed to complete it in the given time. I was also pretty happy with my end result, so you can imagine I went into week 2 feeling quite smug and confident about the next challenge.
Oh how foolish of me.
This week’s challenge was to construct a 3D ‘gingerbread story’, to the following criteria:
- must say something about yourself
- minimum of 30cm tall
- include 8 characters/objects
- 4 hours
Now, the smug, confident, over ambitious side of me instantly thought, ‘OMG I COULD TOTALLY BUILD MY OWN HOGWARTS!’
*pause for confused silence*
Ok, to me it made sense. I’ve been a massive Potterhead since I first started reading the books back in Year 7, and will forever continue to be so. Always. If any one of the movies were on TV right now, I would happily sit down and watch the rest of it regardless of how many times I’ve already seen it. I could probably even recite them! So yeah, the idea of building my own Hogwarts castle out of gingerbread just seemed like it would be such a fun artsy baking project for someone like me to do! What can I say, I love challenging myself!
However, as always with me, I got a bit too ambitious. Attempting to bake 40+ individual pieces of gingerbread, construct an iconic castle, the Hogwarts Express, the Whomping Willow, the muggle car from The Chamber of Secrets and 3 Quidditch hoops, and ice/decorate everything in under 4 hours? Ha! What was I thinking?!
Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed building something out of biscuits, it’s safe to say that this week I definitely felt the pressure to complete the challenge. I was forgetting to add little details, making a huge mess, producing some shamefully sloppy rushed work, and not to mention stressing over the fact that I couldn’t find a rolling pin! (Seriously, I spent half an hour searching for the darn thing only to settle on using the next best thing. A bottle of vodka.)
In my haste I even failed to realise the camera that I switched to half way through baking didn’t have a memory card in it, so half the photos I took didn’t save. You can imagine the kind of day I was having.
Still, I’m satisfied with what I made as it was technically a first attempt… because let’s face it, I’m definitely trying to make Hogwarts again in the future! *flexed bicep emoji* Though next time I think I’ll make it a little less complicated.
Anyways, here’s what went down this week….
I started things off by making the templates for my design. I drew out a rough image of what I wanted the structure to look like, as well as mapped out each section of the castle that I’d be building… including sizes. I then used this to draw each and every object, wall, door, or piece of roof that I’d need onto tracing paper. I then made a check list of all the individual piece so I wouldn’t miss any. Sad I know, but I’m the kind of person that likes to over-plan.
Once I’d drawn all my templates I got started with the gingerbread dough.
I’d already made a gingerbread house before (see above), so I decided to us the same recipe from my previous post. I personally love heavily spiced gingerbread, so with the addition of ground clove and black pepper this recipe is a firm favourite!
I placed the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle in a large saucepan and melted this over a gentle heat till it was combined. (I actually did this twice to make two batches of the recipe below so I had enough gingerbread.)
I then weighed out the flour, ground spices, salt, pepper and bicarbonate into a large bowl and gave this a quick mix.
I poured the warm syrupy mixture into the flour, and using a wooden spoon, I mixed this till it came together as a stiff deep brown dough. Once I felt it was safe enough to handle with my hands, I kneaded it together into one ball. I then left this to cool to almost room temperature before rolling.
To roll out the dough I took large handfuls of dough and roughly pressed this between two sheets of greaseproof paper before rolling out to a large rectangle of approx. ½cm thickness (with my make-shift rolling pin).
I then used my templates to cut out each piece, re-rolling more dough each time and slowly working my way through my template checklist.
I baked each batch of the gingerbread pieces at 200ºC for about 10 minutes till the edges were beginning to colour. Once baked, I removed these from the oven and left to cool completely before construction.
For the curved turrets, I decided to mould these after baking. First I prepared a Pringles tube by covering it with aluminium foil. Then to create the curved shape, I wrapped the baked gingerbread tightly around the foil tube (with the baking paper too) and secured the fold underneath the tube to hold in place. You want to do this whilst the biscuit is still soft and warm, but careful not to burn yourself! I had toyed with the idea of baking the curved pieces straight onto the foil tubes, but I’ve seen far too many GBBO horror stories where the dough has just slipped off the tube in the oven. Heart palpitations.
Once all my gingerbread pieces had cooled I started to construct. To make the ‘glue’ I watered down a box of royal icing, beating this together to a somewhat thick consistency, and spooned this into a piping bag. I couldn’t tell from the episode if the bakers were supposed to make their own royal icing from scratch, but ain’t anybody got time for that!
Starting with the base pieces, I mounted these on a square tin to raise them slightly off the board. I then began to stick on the walls, holding them in place with a cocktail stick where needed.
To form the rocky mountainous bit below the castle I did that classic primary school bake sale thing of melting a heap of marshmallows and mixing in ALL THE COCO POPS. With slightly wet hands I moulded this around the structure. This is also where I switched cameras and lost all my construction photos. 😦
Nevertheless, I did construct it… complete with Hogwarts Express, Whomping Willow, Quidditch Hoops, and a muggle car. Finally, I dusted the entire thing with icing sugar to give it a snowy feel. And it was done.
How long did it take? I started just after 12pm and finished just before 6pm. It was a looooong day. I did take into account about an hour of taking photos/washing up in between/looking for that darn rolling pin… but still, I definitely went way over the 4 hour time limit. :S
What worked? The recipe for the gingerbread produced a strong biscuit with a good ‘snap’ – though I have tried, tested, and enjoyed this recipe beforehand anyways. I was also surprisingly impressed with how the curved turret pieces turned out – so happy I didn’t try baking them around the tube instead!
What didn’t work? I had initially wanted to make the cones for the turret roof’s out of a ginger waffle cone mixture, but as I was running out of time and ended up just coating the foil cones I’d prepared with dark chocolate. The amount/size of the gingerbread pieces I needed for the design was pretty ambitious too.
Things to improve if I were to take this recipe to the tent? Either scale down the size of the castle so I could get all the elements I wanted to include in the finished structure… or make it a little less complicated. I think the phrase ‘go big or go home’ should definitely be used in moderation when taking on a GBBO challenge!
- 900g plain flour
- 5tsp ground ginger
- 2tsp cinnamon
- 1tsp ground cardamom
- 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
- ½tsp ground clove
- ¼tsp ground black pepper
- ½tsp salt
- 300g unsalted butter
- 300g caster sugar
- 140ml black treacle
- 100ml golden syrup
- Preheat oven to 200ºC.
- In a large bowl combine the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, salt and pepper, and bicarbonate of soda.
- In a large saucepan (these are big quantities!), melt the butter, sugar, treacle and syrup together.
- Once combined, gradually the syrupy mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon (as it will be hot!) till it forms a stiff dough. Warning: Working together this much dough will probably make your arm hate you the next day!
- Leave the dough to rest and cool to almost room temperature. (As long as you can safely handle it with your hands!)
- Roll out the dough in between two sheets of greaseproof paper (to avoid adding more flour) to a thickness of approx. ¼ of an inch.
- Cut to any shape you wish.
- Lay your shapes onto a lined baking tray and bake for 10-12mins until they just begin to colour. They will be soft when lightly pressed but will harden as they cool. They may also bubble slightly in the oven but if you gently press them when you take them out, this will settle as then cool. (Once you’ve removed them from oven (and whilst still warm), you may want to re-trim the cookies using your template to ensure they remain the right size.)
- Leave all pieces to cool and firm up completely.
- Once ready to assemble, you need to make the ‘glue’ by mixing the royal icing sugar with the cold water.
- Place ¾ of the icing into a piping bag with a small to medium sized nozzle, and pipe any design/outlining on the wall pieces and leave to dry – to save dribbling when already assembled.
- With the remaining ¼of the icing, spread a layer onto your cake board, or whatever you’re assembling the house onto, to help the walls stick to the base.
- Now, pipe along the edges of one wall and attach to the base. Continue attaching the other 3 walls. You may want to use a bowl (or a second pair of hands – shout out to the lil sis, Chazza!) to hold the walls until they feel like they’re ready to go on and support themselves. Ahh, they grow up so fast ;).
- Let this dry completely before attaching the roof.
- Once dry, pipe along the top edges of the wall sections, then one by one add the roof pieces. You may want to cut up some cocktails sticks and push them into the top edges of the walls sections, so the roof pieces can sit on these for more support.
- Slather on more icing along all the edges to keep the structure in place, and leave to dry completely for a good few hours.
- Then the fun bit, decorate! Using the icing, pipe designs/attach sweets/add a chimney/build a marshmallow snowman… basically, go crazy!