In honor of our trip to King Arthur Flour this past summer, Uncle Paul and I decided to make this year’s gingerbread house into a gingerbread castle.
I am extremely proud of our final product, but it took A LOT of work! Last year we did our little minimalist cabin in one day whereas this year we spent 5 days working!
So, in the name of remembering what we did here is the full run down of our work!
In advance of beginning work we scoured the internet for some free template ideas that we could use (we aren’t advanced enough to make our own templates just yet). The first one I found was from a mom working on her child’s school project on castles, so it was very traditional and boxy with the main goal of explaining all of the parts of a castle. I liked it for its size, its dragon, and its walls with space for little gingerbread men to walk on it, but I was envisioning more of a fairy tale look which brought me to this template. I didn’t like the lack of true stained glass windows and the gum paste on the turrets, but I did like the overall look, so this is the one we decided to go with.
Paul printed out the template and we spent our planning day assembling the castle using the actual template pieces to make sure we were envisioning the correct size and knew how everything would fit together in the end. Once we felt good about that we made the dough using the recipe linked from the template itself and left it to chill overnight.
We started rolling out and cutting pieces from the dough we made, but quickly realized it was way too soft for construction (we should’ve gotten that hint when we found ourselves snacking on the dough as we made it whereas construction gingerbread never tastes good enough to eat). We made a few of the larger pieces before deciding that everything was too puffy and cake-like and that we should just start again. So we pulled up the gingerbread recipe we used last year (with much success) and made 2 batches of that. Alas this meant we lost a day as we then had to wait for this dough to chill overnight. Oh well, lesson learned!
At last we were officially ready to start the rolling out and cutting.
Since we didn’t like the look of the gum paste windows in the sample photo and very much liked the look of our stained glass windows from last year we decided we would use the templates for the gum paste windows to cut out holes for us to make stained glass windows. That required an exacto knife and a lot of patience, but I liked the detail work– it felt a little like playing a game of Operation!
It took the whole day, but by days end we had all of our pieces cut, baked, and ready for decorating!
The dragon was my own addition to the mix. I made it by tracing a cookie cutter image from the internet but drawing the wings separately and creating a notch there and on the back of the dragon so that the wings fit in to make it 3D.
We also spent part of the day experimenting with how to handle the cones for the turrets. The easy way out would have been to buy ice cream cones and just use those, but we wanted our work to be 100% ours. Paul knew a basic recipe for ice cream cones so he sculpted some cones out of foil and experimented with baking the ice cream cone batter in a disc and then wrapping it around a cone while still hot from the over. It produced results like these:
We weren’t exactly overjoyed at the inconsistencies in shapes, the holes in the tops, or the way there was always a flap hanging over one part of the cone where we had to join the edges together. We tried other methods– baking the batter in a more triangular shape to eliminate overhang; applying batter directly to the foil cone and baking it that way (to no one’s surprise, it just ran off the cone); baking them part way, shaping them around the cone, and pasting them shut with fresh batter before baking them more, etc. Nothing really did the trick. As a last ditch effort I tried rolling out the gingerbread dough as thinly as I could and wrapping that around the cone and baking it. That resulted in something like this:
Much smoother and easier to control in terms of shape/size, so that’s the route we decided to take and determined that for homework Paul would take care of making the remaining cones.
The last thing we had to do before calling it a night was to pour the stained glass. We were trying to envision the color scheme we wanted, but weren’t quite sure we wanted to limit ourselves to one or two colors so decided to do a couple different jewel tones (blue and purple like last year, but also green and clear).
Paul handled making the syrup and pouring the windows, so I don’t know all of the ins and outs of that aside from knowing he basically makes sugar syrup as if he were making a lollipop and then we color it and quickly pour it into the window holes (it starts to dry VERY quickly, so this is a work fast kind of project).
We poured them on a Silpat, so we got a little texture to them, but I think it made it look a little more authentic 🙂
I assigned myself a bit of homework in the form of decorating my dragon. I knew it would take a lot of time to get him just right and I was proud of his look, so I wanted to take my time. I did a few (bad) sample sketches of how I wanted his coloring to look and made a small batch of royal icing that I divided in three to make some yellow, some orange, and some red. I have never before had success in making truly red royal icing, but this time I succeeded! I read that if you just keep adding red gel food coloring eventually it will turn truly red. Since this was a small batch of icing I was able to make that approach work, but shudder to think how much icing you would need if you were doing a big project. I also added in a little black cocoa to give it a less neon vibe. From there I used small paint brushes to execute my vision for the dragon, completing the look with some toothpick drags for a feathered look.
At last it was time to decorate! By far the most fun part, in my opinion. I tend to be a minimalist where candy application is concerned, so our decor was very focused on piping and sugar pearls.
We also had a lot of peppermint crunch and peppermint dust that we wanted to use, so we decided to do all of the roof pieces in some variation of peppermint. The peppermint dust on the turrets was the most interesting. We covered the turrets in royal icing and used a small shovel to sprinkle the dust over them and sort of patted it all on and hoped for the best! In the end I think it worked out really nicely.
With some borderline piper’s arthritis setting in we called it a day!
We could see the light at the end of the tunnel! Or the lights inside of the castle as it were 🙂 We basically followed the instructions that came with the template in terms of how to assemble and in what order. We started with the main house, then the turrets, then the bridge (letting each piece dry fully before putting any sort of roofs or pieces that have to stand up on them. The bridge was the most confusing just because there was a support piece whose function we weren’t entirely sure of, but we think we pretty much got it figured out correctly (and here I am 2 weeks later and it’s still standing, so I now know we were right).
Once we had all of the main pieces built we could figure out the size that the castle was going to be in the end. The recipe called for us building 4″ deep gingerbread support pieces for the main house and the porticullis, but we didn’t like that idea and decided to use wood blocks instead. We measured the collective depth of the porticullis and main house (including a little space between the two) and made a 4″ tall block that was the appropriate length to hold both of those pieces.
We also decided to make a big flat piece of the original reject batch of gingerbread to use as an overall base for the structure (as in we put it on top of the cutting board we were using for support), so we cut a hole in that that was the size of the block and were able to fit the block right in the hole so that it had extra support and then top the block with gingerbread so it didn’t just look like plain foil.
The reason we had to make sure the house and porticullis were elevated was so that the bridge lined up with the front of the house and allowed room for us to make the moat! From the beginning we knew we wanted a moat even though it wasn’t included on the template’s design. To measure to make the moat we looked at the length of the bridge to make sure the moat would run under the full length of the bridge and then looked at the width of our cutting board to determine how long the moat could be. We sketched a shape on parchment paper showing a moat as wide as the bridge is long and as long as the cutting board is wide and Paul made some fresh blue syrup for us to pour in that shape. Once poured I also swirled some green in there to give it a more murky effect.
Then it was time to start thinking about finishing touches! We had 4 strands of lights and decided that we wanted the water to have some light in it, so we strung one LED strand over the gingerbread base where we knew the moat would be and used some staples to hold it in place until we placed the moat. A line of royal icing around the perimeter of the water was enough to hold it in place and voila! That section was done.
Next came the turrets and house. We used one strand to light both turrets on the right side, one for both on the left side, and one for the house and porticullis turrets. We just sort of stuffed the lights up in each of the turrets and then carefully secured the turret itself in place to the gingerbread base. It was tricky to get the lights to 1) show up in all of the windows and 2) not show between turrets when we had to run them from one to another, but with a little finesse we were good.
The last adjustment we made was regarding the turret roofs. They were the last thing we added and we realized that our original gingerbread cones were WAY too tall, so Paul used a serrated knife to CAREFULLY trim them to appropriate heights depending on which turret they were topping. We had sort of run hot and cold on how we felt about the look of the turrets, but in the end were really happy with how neat the bases looked once we trimmed them and how even the peppermint dust application was in the end.
So, that brings us to the end of our adventure!
I think I may have scared Paul off from gingerbread forever, so maybe we’ll do something a little simpler next year, but I couldn’t be happier with our end result!