One of the things that has tickled me recently about being a blogger is that we get invited to events - me? Really?!
I don't escape in the evenings very often at all, possibly twice a year so clearly when an invitation drops into ones inbox that involves the words Prosecco, mulled wine, gingerbread and London - one jumps at the chance.
That's right, last Tuesday, I headed to L'ateliers des Chefs in St Paul's for a Gingerbread House Bake-off. I arrived 30 minutes early on a freezing cold night in my Christmas jumper, not really knowing what to expect. The event was organised on behalf of NEFF and Currys PC World.
Around 30 bloggers showed up, tucking into a lot of cheese and crackers and we were given a demonstration of the NEFF Slide and Hide oven, the one where the door magically slides away under the actual oven - a genius design.
Now to the baking. Pretty much most of us in the room were complete strangers, standing nervously waiting for instructions. We were put into three teams our challenge was to bake, build and decorate a gingerbread house and make bruschetta. There were no instructions, apart from a quick briefing by one of the chefs - the gingerbread dough had already been rolled and chilled, we were left to fend for ourselves! BAKE!!
I will say this now, I am not a leader by any means, I think this was apparent - I did a lot of watching to begin with. Some of our team took on the task of cutting the gingerbread house from a template whilst others cut out some shapes with cookie cutters. It is important to keep the dough as cool as possible.
Then the foundations of the house went into the oven.
Meanwhile we had a bench full of ingredients for the bruschetta including French bread, tomatoes, fresh herbs, salt and oils (and a chunk of salmon that we didn't use). We kind of cluelessly compiled something edible, if a bit salty, and sat them all pretty on bits of slate.
In the meantime a lot of drinking happened.
Thankfully it seemed we had a knowledgeable baker amongst us who knew how to make royal icing. For those who don't know the recipe is 4 egg whites, 2 juiced lemons and 900g of icing sugar all whisked together. This would be our cement for the house and also our decorations.
The gingerbread came out of the oven after about 15 minutes, we may have accidentally left the cookies in slightly longer (seriously they were hollow in the middle).
Roof decorations began, with chocolate button tiles, that were slightly melting with the warm gingerbread, no need for icing there - genius!
We used some food colouring for a nice atomic shade of green and also made a very fetching magenta colour icing and the team started to assemble the house - it was all a little wonky, some initiative was taken and a plastic box may have been used to try and keep the "crack den" upright. Ta-dah!
The decor was questionable - bit all was made better with some glitter and lots of sweets.
Then.... disaster struck - an epic collapse - this could not be salvaged. Proud of our efforts we took the "den" to the judging table. The other team's houses were pretty fabulous, with great detail, jelly succulents and even a curtain at the door, plus crushed biscuit soil.
Here is our team entry. We stood no chance really.
The other teams entries .....
Needless to say, erm well, we came last....
It was a great fun event and I met some really lovely ladies. My bi-yearly night out was a success - hurrah! I walked back to the train station with a lovely bunch including Fran from Whinge Whinge Wine and Lisa from Pass the Prosecco Please - when I got home it was way past my bedtime.
If you would like to have a go at baking your own gingerbread house from scratch here is the recipe:
For the biscuit:
375 grams unsalted butter
150 grams golden syrup
4 teaspoons ground ginger
300 grams soft dark brown sugar
900 grams plain flour
20 grams bicarbonate of soda
For the icing:
4 egg whites
Juice of 2 whole lemons
900 grams icing sugar
Directions to make the biscuit
Set the oven to 180°C.
Melt together the butter, brown sugar and golden syrup in a small pan over a low heat.
Mix the plain flour, ground ginger and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, then pour in the butter mixture and stir until everything is incorporated.
Knead by hand until a smooth, firm dough is achieved.
Fold 2 sheets of baking paper in half and make a crease; open at the creases, and divide the dough equally between the two sheets.
Place the dough on one half of the baking paper, fold the paper back along the crease and roll the dough into a flat, even shape. Do this for both sheets of baking paper. This will give you 2 sheets of dough of even thickness.
Cut the dough in the requisite shapes, using the stencil provided. (See bottom of the page).
Bake for 15 minutes; the biscuit will still be slightly soft when it comes out of the oven.
While the biscuit is still hot, recut the shapes, as the mix will have slightly joined together during baking.
At this stage, you can cut out windows and doors.
Leave to cool. Once cooled and set, carefully remove the excess trimmings and assemble.
Directions to make the icing
Whisk the egg whites in a mixer until frothy.
Add the icing sugar and mix on a low speed until combined.
Add the lemon juice, increase the speed and mix again until incorporated.
If desired, split the mix and add food colouring of your choice.
Pour the mixture into multiple icing bags and place different tips on each one to give you more choices when decorating.
The icing needs time to set firmly, so make sure it has rested.
Cement the walls with thick layers of icing using a wide nozzle.
Decorate as desired and enjoy with the whole family!
Thank you NEFF and Currys PC World for giving this tired Mum the night off.