The Condemned Gingerbread House

It's that time of year! 


I don't consider myself to be a beginner baker. I've been baking in some form or another since I was a child, beginning with boxed cake mixes and working my way up to my grandma's butter cookies from scratch. Yet, this weekend made me feel like I knew absolutely nothing about baking and had never baked a single thing in my life, because the supposed "beginner" recipes I was using either left out vital information or didn't explain how to do certain techniques well enough, and by the time I realized it, I was in over my head and there was no going back.



While this happened with two recipes this weekend, I want to focus on the horror that became my gingerbread house (yes, there will be pictures.) I've never made gingerbread cookies before, but I have made many other cookies, so I didn't making these would be too difficult or much different than ones I've made before. Unable to do several of our usual Christmas traditions because of the pandemic, I decided to go "Crazy Christmas" in the house this year and put up 5 Christmas trees. I also wanted to make a gingerbread house to add to the festive décor. 



Everything went fine and well while I mixed up the dough. It smelled delicious and was just the right texture...until I chilled it like the recipe said to, before rolling it out to cut the cookies. When I took the dough out after properly chilling it and tried to roll it, the dough just cracked and no cookies would stay together. I ended up microwaving it for a few seconds to get it back to a moldable texture, and while this worked, it changed the texture of the dough, so that when I baked the cookies, they all ended up spreading and becoming misshapen blobs of doom.



Of course, after this happened, and I spent some time on Google trying to figure out what I did wrong, and there are a lot of bakers like me who have had this happen. Many suggest rolling the dough out first instead, then chilling it and cutting the cookies out. After what I experienced, it definitely makes more sense to me to do it that way. I feel like everyone who rolls the dough when it's cold must have some super secret technique that they share with each other, and I'm still the misfit who gets left out so no one told me what the secret to doing it is. 


Next, after the cookies and the pieces for the house were properly cooled, I of course made my royal icing to decorate them and to glue the house together. It tasted delicious, the colors I mixed looked lovely, and according to the "expert" recipe I was using, the texture of the icing was perfect. But we all know that's not how life goes, don't we? 


If it was, this show would've ended with the penultimate episode instead of the actual finale.


I took the advice of another website and decorated the pieces flat first. I also used a box inside to help prop up the walls, which was also recommended. Everything went fine there; my decorating skills aren't the greatest, but I was still enjoying the process, even if it did look like my toddler was the one who had decorated it instead of the 30-something year old who theoretically should be able to pipe straight lines. (I can't even sew a straight line to save my life, so I guess I should've known I can't pipe one either!) I let the pieces set, and then tried to put it together, and of course everything went even more downhill then.



Turns out, my icing was not the right consistency, no matter what the "expert" claimed. It was the right texture for flooding, but not even close to thick enough to actually hold the house together, which apparently the recipe didn't take into account. It got even worse because she suggested putting a damp cloth over the bowl with the leftover icing in it to keep it from hardening...which it did, but it also made it even more runny, which I didn't realize until I was trying to pipe it out. All of the icing just started melting together. It was even making some of the decorations I had already done on the walls melt and slide off. I panicked and just kept using more to try and get the pieces to stick, but of course that did nothing but make a stickier (delicious) mess. (and no, this gingerbread house is not worth melting for!) I finally shoved it in the fridge, hoping the cold would help it set. I left it in overnight, and while it did melt a little bit when I took it out, it seems to have finally set as a dilapidated mess.



None of the pieces were the right sizes anymore because they had spread so much during the baking because of the fiasco I had with the dough earlier, so the roof wouldn't even fit onto it. I tried just propping it up on the box that I was using on the inside to help prop up the walls, but of course, half of it fell off, too, taking the walls apart with it.


I thought I had done enough research to do this project from scratch, without having to use a store-bought kit. I had read several articles, even watched how-to videos. I'd probably spent at least a week reading over recipes and articles to make sure I knew what I was doing. The main person's tutorial I was following has written and published cookbooks, so they aren't just a random blogger like me who has no real expertise but just likes to ramble on about things. (I am purposefully leaving out the name, lest this post be found by her bajillion followers, and then I get angry emails that it was all my fault and her recipes are perfect. This happens in her Facebook group all the time when someone says that one of her recipes didn't work or taste well.) 




And in my defense, the cookies do taste delicious (I used a recipe for the gingerbread from a book I have, and then was following said person's royal icing recipe/gingerbread house making tutorial.) 

 I'm going by The Great British Bake-Off rules...apparently the appearance doesn't matter, as long as they taste good, since it's a baking show, which means these are a win!

But unfortunately, all the preparation in the world doesn't help when all of the recipes say the same thing, but it doesn't work at all. I am definitely taking this as a learning experience in two ways. One, I know what to do better next time I attempt this and I feel like I could actually do it now (not going to this year though...there are other things I'd rather bake.) And two, as it relates to knitting (hey! I did manage to include something about knitting!)

No matter if I think my pattern is as clear as possible, there probably is still someone out there who does something similar to my gingerbread fiasco. Maybe I left out an instruction or didn't explain something as well as I thought I did. And for that, I am truly sorry, to anyone who has had a similar experience with one of my patterns as I did with my gingerbread house. I will do my absolute best to make my directions as clear as possible for knitters of all skill levels so that you avoid the pain and suffering the gingerbread house has caused me. And because you've read this far, you now deserve to see the pictures of probably my biggest baking fail ever. I give you, The Condemned Gingerbread House:

Notice the snow piled up in front of the door? That's because the door literally started sliding off. The icing covering the snowflake is because it dripped before I could outline the snowflake, and ruined my plan for that, too.

The roof slid off, then the walls separated. For some reason half of the roof managed to cling on for survival. The trees managed to stay on somehow, but the candy canes were another casualty. The people are lying down because they were so exasperated at the terrible job I was doing building their house. 

So there it is, in all it's terribly glory. It's now sitting on the table anyway, and I guess it's actually the perfect gingerbread house to represent the misery that 2020 has caused. My biggest baking fail ever, in one of the worst years ever. Well, that there's pictures of. Let's not talk about the time I set the oven on fire while trying to bake a cake when I was teenager....




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