Aw yeah… smell those spices. It’s gingerbread time for me and my fellow pastry people around the world. As I plan for my annual geeky gingerbread house, I’m reminded of all the little tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years when it comes to making gingerbread showpieces. As a preface to my planned Bake With Me series on this year’s project, I decided to share some of my favorite methods for making sure showpieces look great.
Let’s dive right in!
1. If you aren’t serving your centerpiece, don’t make your life more difficult than it needs to be by using a soft dough.
Creating gingerbread showpieces with the intent of serving is great, but let’s be honest: most of us make them as decorations. That means they’ll be sitting out for many days, collecting dust and going stale. Either no one will eat them, or no one will ENJOY eating them by the time you actually get around to serving the thing. There’s no reason to use a regular gingerbread cookie recipe if you won’t be serving the showpiece within a day or two. Instead, use a recipe that isn’t intended to be eaten and has no leavening. This will both prevent warping and make assembly easier. The showpiece will still smell great, look beautiful, and it will technically be edible in case some precocious tot decides to yoink a piece.
Need a recommendation for a great recipe? I’m a big fan of Haniela’s Gingerbread for Houses and Centerpieces.
2. Roll your dough out directly onto a silicone mat.
Nothing is more annoying than ruining a perfectly cut out gingerbread piece by stretching or squishing it on the way to the baking sheet. Here’s an easy solution: roll the gingerbread out directly onto a silicone baking mat that’s been very lightly rubbed in shortening. Cut out your pieces on the mat (careful not to press too hard or you’ll slice into the mat itself!) and peel away the extra. All that’s left come baking time is lifting the silicone mat onto a cookie sheet. No stretching, no swearing.
3. Bake in two stages so that you can correct imperfections early.
Bubbling and warping are only natural, even for unleavened recipes. You’re still dealing with eggs and flour, after all. The best way to handle these issues is to fix them before the baking is complete. Once your gingerbread is set but not browned (typically about 5 minutes before the baking process is complete), pull it out of the oven. Quickly use a toothpick to prick any bubbles and pat them down, then place your template over the appropriate piece and neaten up the edges with a knife. Do all this while the cookie is still hot and malleable, preferably with gloves to avoid burning yourself. Once your pieces are cleaned up, return them to the oven for the final 5 minutes or so of baking.
4. Color your icing glue to match the gingerbread.
Sometimes white icing seams are genuinely charming, but more often than not people want to achieve a cleaner look. A good solution is to color your icing glue brown using cinnamon, food coloring, or a mix of both. This will make any overflowing icing much less obvious. Just remember that royal icing in particular will darken as it dries, so err on the side of a slightly paler brown than your cookie when you mix.
5. The microplane grater soothes all edge pain.
After baking, edges usually aren’t perfectly straight. This creates issues with assembly, and can mess up the overall look of a piece. Additionally, diagonally joined pieces (like a roof) rarely fit together in a way that creates a nice corner right out of the oven.
All of this can be fixed with a microplane grater. You can use it to file down the edges of a cooled piece and make it perfectly straight, or you can use it to refine the shape in any other way. You can file away diagonally at an edge to allow pieces being glued together at a diagonal to fit together more smoothly. I’ve even used a microplane to round off corners. Just be sure you’re working with a firm gingerbread, or at least one that has a crisped up edge. Go slowly and carefully to avoid breakage, then admire that smooth smooth finish.
I hope you all have tons of fun with your gingerbread creations, and I’ll see you soon for a Bake With Me!
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