Tuesday, October 15, 2013

GingerBOO Haunted House

I think this is my favorite detail on the house.
I've made plenty of gingerbread houses before. Big ones, small ones, simple ones, crazy ones ... all for Christmas.

But I never thought about building a Halloween-themed house until I got a haunted house cookie cutter kit from Sweet Creations by Good Cook. The kit I included the 3 required cutters (front/back, sides, and roof) and some decorating tools.


This is exactly the kind of crazy project I love - baking, getting messy, and being a little bit silly.

Is he climbing out of the house or trying not to fall in?
I was going to use one of my usual recipes when I realized that the recipe on the back of the box was a little different from what I normally do. Not the flavors or ingredients, but the technique. This one begins by boiling the molasses and brown sugar, just like you'd do if you were making some kind if candy.

So, I figured I'd give it a try.

I skipped the ginger - to me, gingerbread is a Christmas thing. But a nice molasses cookie is fine for Halloween.

Gingerbread Haunted House
Adapted from Good Cook

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temp
1 large egg yolk, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger (I didn't use this)

Put the brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, and ginger (if using) in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Remove from the heat and add the baking soda. It will foam up - that's what it's supposed to do - don't fret about it.

Add the butter a tablespoon at a time (you don't have to be accurate - just add lumps of butter) stirring well after each addition until the butter is incorporated.

Add the egg, vanilla, and salt and stir to combine.

Add the flour, 1/2 at a time, stirring well to incorporate the flour after each addition.

Flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Knead the dough, adding flour, if needed, until the dough is no longer sticky. It should still be soft - it will firm up a lot as it cools.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or put it in a plastic bag. It helps if you flatten it at the point - it will make rolling easier, later. Refrigerate until well-chilled - at least 2 hours or overnight.

In theory - if you're in a real hurry - you could skip the chilling step. But at this point you've got a warmish dough that - if you didn't go crazy adding flour - is still very soft. It needs a bit of chilling to be firm enough to roll the dough evenly, cut it, and move the pieces without them mangling themselves into odd shapes.

Refrigerating also helps hydrate the flour, which results in a better cookie. I tend to refrigerate all my cookie doughs, even if the instructions don't call for it.

When you're ready to bake, take the dough out of the fridge, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Flour your work surface lightly and divide the dough in half. Roll the first half to 1/8 inch thick and cut as many pieces from the dough as you can.

When the dough first comes out of the refrigerator, it will be quite hard, but it will soften as you begin to work with it. If you flattened the dough as I suggested, it will be a lot easier than if you left it as a ball. If the dough gets too soft and mushy as you work with it, put it back in the fridge for another little rest.

You should be able to cut the front and back house pieces as well as one of the sides or a roof piece from the first half of the dough, depending on the shape you rolled. If you can't get at least that many pieces, think about rolling the dough thinner - this makes crisp cookies rather than a cakey gingerbread, so the pieces can be very thin.

You should be able to cut the rest of the required pieces from the second half of the dough, or you might need to re-roll the scraps to get the last piece or two.

If you're using the same kit I used, you'll need a total of two pieces from the front/back, two sides, and four roof pieces. If you're using a different template, just make sure you can cut about half the pieces from the first half of the dough.

When you place the front/back pieces on the baking sheet, flip one upside down. The back and front pieces need to be mirror images of each other when you bake them, or the back of your house will have to be the bottom side of the cookie. Which isn't terrible, but it won't have the same look at the other sides.

Roll the second piece of dough to the same thickness and cut as many more of the required pieces as possible. Use the decorating functions of the kit to emboss it with the designs, or leave the pieces plain. Or add your own embellishments. Carefully transfer the pieces on the baking sheets.

Or - to make sure you don't mess up the shape of the cookies when you're transferring them, you can put the cookie dough on the parchment, cut the shapes, then remove the scraps from around the cookie pieces. This ensures that your cookies are exactly the right shape, but you might not be able to fit as many pieces on the baking sheets.

Since this is a spooky Halloween house, it doesn't really matter if the edges are a little wonky, but it will fit together better if all the shapes are correct.

Bake the cookie pieces at 350 degrees until the cookies are barely browning on the edges - 12 to 18 minutes. Move the pieces to a rack to cool completely before assembling.

If you have extra dough after you've cut all the required pieces, you can gather it together, re-roll it, and cut regular cookie shapes or decorative pieces for the house.

Assemble the house with royal icing and decorate as desired. I used some gel paste coloring added to the royal icing, and I also used some food-writer pens to color and add details.

I did some of the decorating before I assembled the house, which made a whole lot of sense. But some of the decorations - like the ones that wrapped around two sides of the house or that were directly on the seams - had to be done after the house was assembled.

For assembly, I found it easiest to join the front to a side piece first, and when it was stuck together just enough so I could let go of the two pieces, I attached another side. When that seemed stable, I attached the back. Since this was a crooked, spooky house, it didn't matter if everything aligned perfectly.

If you've got someone around who can hold the pieces for you while the icing sets, that can be helpful, but it doesn't take long until the icing firms up enough to hold the pieces together. The key is to use a small bead of icing rather than slathering it on - the thin icing will dry faster, then you can add more if you need to fill some gaps or do some decorating. And then just make sure the first pieces are at the corrent angle so the other two will fit. If the walls are a little off, though, I don't think anyone will notice.

And let's be honest here. Royal icing covers a lot of mistakes.

Along with the cookie cutter set, I got a nice box of other Halloween goodies as part of the Good Cook Kitchen Experts program. Looking for something? Check out the Halloween Cake Pops and the Haunted Cupcake Display