Christmas baking: mini gingerbread houses and Black Bun

Firstly, let me build up some anticipation by mentioning that I was OBSESSED by this cutter for two full years. I don’t even know where I saw it (Pintrest probably, the devil’s moodboard) but once I’d set my beady little eyes on it I could not let it go. The harder I found procuring one the more desperate I became. Only one company  makes this exact cutter, which stamps out all the pieces for the house in one fell swoop, and they only sell in the states. They would not ship to the UK, so I tried using a New York hotel as the delivery address and was thwarted once again as they couldn’t process the UK billing address for my UK credit card. Buggered. Until Amazon.com started stocking them! And those little minions of consumerism will accept any payment in any currency and ship anywhere you like in their quest to monopolise the retail world!… Thank goodness.

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So now I have this cutter my life is complete. The resultant houses are not quite as mini as I thought they’d be. Not that I want them any smaller, they’re fiddly enough as it is. They may look simple, but at times I felt like I might as well be making a gingerbread scale model of the Brighton Pavilion.

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Be warned, there is great potential for Pintrest fails here. See the idyllic dream-scene on the left below, adjacent to one of my collapsing sheds:

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It’d be nice to find a biscuit recipe which doesn’t puff up, for the perfect replication of a cutter. This gingerbread from the Hummingbird bakery book is my favourite recipe: although it does rise and spread a tiny bit, especially if you don’t roll it terribly thin. To make construction easier, I should have cut the edges of the side wall biscuits and the roof edges of the end wall biscuits, just to straighten them up. Trying to glue it all together was tricky anyway and it turns out rounded things do not fit against straight things. Shouldn’t have been a revelation really, but it kind of was.

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I bought writing icing to be the mortar of my tiny house, but to be honest the little tubes were very hard to squeeze and I think I’ve given myself RSI. Next time I’ll make my own icing and just snip the end of a disposable bag to a very tiny hole. Plus, if I were making my own icing it would’ve all been the desired colours and I wouldn’t have had to ration the white, leaving me with urine yellow or barbie pink glowing out at the joins.

The first few attempts at construction were calamitous but once I had a system going, propping them up against spice jars while each stage hardened, there was a definite improvement. Nonetheless, the batch of dough made enough biscuits for around 20 houses and I still only managed to end up with 6 good ones. Not that this was a problem – we only have six chairs and four of those had to come in from the garden, so more houses would’ve be surplus to my dinner party requirements!

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On to the black bun!

I mentioned to my mum some time ago that I wanted to make a Christmas cake in a pie. To be honest, I thought this was ingenious and was quite pleased with myself. Sadly she told me this was basically already a thing, taking the form of the Scottish Black Bun.

I did some research, she’s not wrong. Although the traditional version is baked in a loaf tin, resulting is square slices of rich fruit filling, surrounded on all four sides with shortcrust pastry. It wasn’t quite what I had in mind, plus I felt that proportionally it looked like a lot of mince to not a lot of pie. So I followed Paul Hollywood’s recipe, which you can find for free here, but used a regular pie dish.

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( The lattice top was a spontaneous addition when I realised I did not have enough pastry.)

I took the resulting festive bounty to my girlfriends’ aunts’ house for Christmas lunch and it was very well received! If anyone felt that it looked more like actual minced meat than mincemeat then they were polite enough to say so while I was out of earshot.

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I ate it – it was quite good! Especially with some cream to help lubricate that very heavy filling. In fact, a great deal of it got eaten despite serious competition from the other puddings on offer, and the fact that we were all replete with Christmas lunch.

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Also, look at this great Buche de Noel which myself and Lucy (…mostly Lucy) made!

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This is a another Paul Hollywood number, from his How to Bake book. I’ve made several things from it not and they are invariably winners! I’d thoroughly recommend it as a good all-rounder.

 

So my Christmas cookery efforts are over for another year. Time to take a break from using the kitchen and actually clean it.

 

Post script: In reading this back I’ve noticed a little of the Nigella Lawson in my tone. I would like to re-iterate – I am not fancy. In the slightest. I just received the majority of her back catalogue (not a euphemism) for Christmas and am tits deep in posh speak. Apologies.

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