Monday, 30 May 2011

Time and relative dimension in gingerbread

A few years ago I had my gall-bladder removed. (Nice hook, Strawberry Thief, you’re onto a winning blog entry here…)

No, actually, this has relevance because, sans gall-bladder, my stomach didn’t take to certain foods anymore, not without protesting its discomfort in ways both loud and embarrasing. One of  these foods was fruit-cake because of the irritating dried fruit. Now, I’m not desperate for fruit-cake for 99.9% of the year but at Christmas, for most people, fruit-cake is a bit of a sine qua non. Suddenly, I needed an alternative. It was either that or eat the fruit-cake and make Christmas afternoon unbearable for anyone who shared the room with me.

So I decided to go with gingerbread. Gingerbread is still Christmassy, causes no embarrassing eructations on my part, and is fun to make and to decorate.

One year I made this:

Christmas 2009 I made this:

But Christmas2010/New Year 2011, I made THIS:

It was the suggestion of #2 son, who, like myself, is a huge fan of Dr Who. I grew up with Dr Who. I hid behind the sofa or a cushion whenever there were Daleks and Cybermen and it is a source of unending joy for me that my own sweet boy is now terrified in turn. (Hmm, perhaps that isn’t quite what I meant, but I digress…)

So when he suggested that this year’s construction should be a TARDIS, I was happy to assent. Three days later, 'happy' was possibly not the best choice of adjective to describe my mood, but #2 son was elated and so were all his small friends.

Anyway, this is the story of the making the the gingerbread TARDIS. Fans of Dr Who might not agree that she is ‘Sexy’ but she was ‘Tasty’(and only fans will get that joke.) And, BTW, if copyright is a concern, I acknowledge that the TARDIS concept is wholly the intellectual property of the BBC/lovely Dr Who writers etc and this is not the real TARDIS, this is just a tribute.

Step 1:
Study a bunch of TARDIS images. This is easily achieved if you own boxed sets of Dr Who DVDs as we do. Watch them over and over again. Fetch out pencil, paper and ruler. Try to remember your high school maths. Make a ‘toile’ from cardboard. Use the pieces of cardboard for your dough stencils.

Step 2:
Make the dough. FYI – I am not an expert. I have had no training in making pastry or cakes, I own no fancy equipment. My kitchen is small. Things sometimes go wrong. Like this dough. I followed the recipe but it was far too ‘puffy’ and caused my all kinds of problems later on. Next year, my plan is to source a dough that makes a crisper, lighter gingerbread.

Step 3:
Cut out your pieces and bake them. Each piece takes about 15 minutes and there were so very many pieces. My tiny kitchen has no airconditioning and this was in Perth in January in a record breaking summer. Indoor temperature was in the low 30s.(Centigrade, my US friends, centigrade.)

Step 4:
All good gingerbread cooks know that you make your windows from smashed lollies. I wanted clear windows but the only clear boiled sweets that I could find were sugar-free and eucalyptus-flavoured and that would have been simply nasty. I mean, I don't even eat these lollies when I am sick (I have Allen's Butter Menthols - which taste great and make you forget your sore throat. How effective a medication they are, I am not sure.) So I went with bashed up Starburst lollipops and hoped that the effect would be cosmic.

Step 5:
The fondant. I bought this premade but not pre-coloured. Oh, that the original TARDIS could have been made of unpainted wood but, no, ‘tis blue. So there’s me, sweating into the kitchen (but not, you will be glad to know, into the fondant) and messing around with gel paste.

My hands were this colour for days afterwards. Do you remember that scene in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ where Violet Beauregarde turns into a blueberry?

Step 6:
Roll out the fondant. Hope you have good forearm strength. I didn’t, and my arms only stopped hurting around the time that my fingers lost the blue colour.

Step 7:
Melt apricot jam. Stick on fondant. Cover all the pieces.

Step 8:
I decided to make life easier for myself by stamping in the panel-effect. Technically, on the actual TARDIS, the panels are recessed but making recessed panels would have meant more fondant which would have made the day longer which would have made me swear even more.

Step 9:
Whip up a batch of extra strong royal icing and start constructing. I use mugs to hold the pieces together while the icing dries.

This is when you find out whether your maths was correct. See how one door is higher than the other. Actually, I don’t think it was my maths. I think it was the ‘puffy’ gingerbread recipe.

Step 10:
Oh, sweet heaven, NOOOOOOOOOOOO!

The gingerbread with the fondant on top was too heavy. It folded before my eyes. I think I may have screamed. It's all a dim, dark memory.

Step 11:
Gin and tonic break. Actually, two gin and tonics.

Step 12:
Fortified by “Mother’s Ruin”, I begin the repairs.

Step 13:
No one will notice, right?

Step 14:
The roof and door detail. There should have been four slightly-pitched layers on the roof but I didn’t want to risk another collapse. Nerd that I am, I felt the lack of verisimilitude keenly. Making the light on top was interesting as I had never really paid attention to it before. I also needed to make the notice for the door panel.

Writing in gel-paste with a tooth-pick is fiddly beyond belief. I had to keep pressing on the fondant to give myself more writing space. It was suggested that I could have typed this on the computer and printed it out but I really wanted the whole TARDIS to be edible.

Step 15:
Door signage. Could I find black liquorice straps anywhere in Perth? Could I, hell. What I did find – organic liquorice, which is brown rather than black, doesn’t cut into neat rectangles and looks a bit like squashed slugs, really. By this time, however, I had reached the ‘whatever’ stage. Writing on liquorice using royal icing and a toothpick took over an hour. By that time, I was past caring that some of the signs looked like they said 'publuc'.

Step 16:
Stuck the signage on. We are done. D.O.N.E. Looks like a TARDIS and every bit edible.  Pass the Hendricks. (Actually, I had forgotten to put a Yale lock on the front door. This was pointed out to me later. Too bad. In my eyes, I was done.)

This black-and-white picture is for the William Hartnell/Patrick Troughton fans.

I sprinkled it with edible blue glitter to make it a bit more disco. I also had a tea-light inside to make it glow like the real TARDIS. What you can’t see is that fact that it is crammed, piñata-style, with jelly babies. This was a surprise for when the kids came to demolish it. Jelly-babies, hee hee!, I think Tom Baker would have approved.

Step 17:
Along with the new tradition of the gingerbread creation has grown the tradition of a Gingerbread Smash. We invite our closest friends and their children around for lunch at the end of which we let the kids loose on the gingerbread.

Like this:

And what’s left is this:

After all the angst of baking and creating, it was actually a sense of relief to see it reduced to ruins and stuffed into small mouths. The kids, nerdy offspring of nerdy parents, all knew what it was but, better still, liked the way it tasted. We won't talk about the next hour or so when the blue colouring and sugar hit home...
And that was it for another year. The problem is that with each successive year, I feel the need to go one better. I’m not sure how I’m going to do better than this but if you want to tune back in around December this year, and if this blog is still around, you can see for yourself how I go.

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