Saturday, 1 September 2012

Kitchen Drama: the Gingerbread Theatre

Achievements should be celebrated - on that, I think, we can all agree. When you are only just 11 years old and you have been through a long and trying process to reach a particular goal, and you have succeeded, then the celebration should be all the bigger.

My younger son had recently received the long-awaited letter telling him that he had been successful in gaining a place in the high school course of his dreams. Since the beginning of the year, he had been required to participate in workshops and auditions, write essays, do a major test and at long last we had written proof that his hard work and persistance had not been in vain. He had been selected for a place in a Gifted and Talented Drama Programme.

This is why we decided on a tea-party and this is why I decided to attempt gingerbread once again.

If you know me, you will know that I go down the gingerbread route once a year, and once only for good reason. I usually over-task myself with a project on a mighty scale and everyone has to live with the angst and the frustration as I make it happen. My previous edifices have been houses, churches and the very memorable TARDIS.

This time, in keeping with the drama theme, I decided I was going to make a theatre - a little gingerbread theatre which would be simple and low-key and fun to do. I would be a happy baker and a happy mother and everyone around me would be happy too.

It didn't happen this way.

The first thing I was determined to do was to find a gingerbread recipe that was not too heavy. In previous years, I have had tried recipes that use SR flour and baking soda - the dough has risen too much and softens too easily after building and the walls come tumbling down. This time I found this recipe from the ABC and it worked really well. I actually halved the quantity of baking soda and rolled the dough very thinly. This gave me more 'well-behaved' gingerbread for my construction. I used the other quantities exactly and it gave me enough gingerbread for the whole theatre plus enough left-over for emergencies (and in the end, I needed it!)

Warm gingerbread dough

My plan. I am the first to admit that I am no architect.
I based my measurements on an A4 piece of paper. The idea was to make a base and on the base place a back wall and a proscenium. The proscenium would be set back slightly to allow an stage apron at the front. The back wall would have a scene drawn on marzipan. There would be 'red velvet' curtains and flats made to look like trees and bushes. I was aiming for a scene out of Macbeth as my son had had to recite a soliloquy from Macbeth for his final audition.

The base and back wall pieces.

Proscenium and supports.
 I had got up early in the morning (about 6.30am) and so by about 9am, I was ready to build. All the sections were baked and cooled. I had my 'cement' ready. Before I had always used royal icing to stick the gingerbread sections together, but my experience with the Danish wedding cake had shown me that chocolate was an easier way to go. It is also less messy if you pop your chocolate pieces into a disposable piping bag and melt the chocolate in the microwave.

Chocolate 'cement'

Building the base
While I was waiting for the base to set, I got into the fun part. I rolled a very thin sheet of marzipan and stuck it to the back wall section using melted raspberry jam. Then I got busy with melted chocolate, edible sparkles and edible ink...

It's a blasted heath or Birnham Wood or something of which Shakespare would have approved.
This was then affixed to the base.

It took a lot of chocolate and a lot of propping up but eventually it was standing.
Then it was time to put the rest of it together. The proscenium was propped up with little triangles of gingerbread. I made the curtains out of pre-coloured red fondant. I also made a playbill with my son's name on it as well as the Masks of Comedy and Tragedy to decorate the front of the stage. This was ironic as a kitchen tragedy was only hours away...

It's either one or the other in this house.
I couldn't believe it! I was finished. A mere 7 hours and it was all done. Everyone was summoned to admire my work and the boys were cautioned 'not to touch' several times.

Lead on, MacDuff!

The view from above.

 So I washed up and tidied the kitchen and washed all the chocolate and sparkles off my hands. Then it was time for a cup of tea and an afternoon nap.

While I was sleeping, my older son decided to get up close to the proscenium. Up close as in touching it until it came away from the base. He is 15, has autism and his impulse control is usually better. He was fascinated by the theatre though and I guess that it was too much for him to resist. He loves cooking and cookbooks and food. Most of the time I involve him in any cooking that I do - perhaps I would have been wise to let him help?

There were tears - his and mine. I had no excuse except exhaustion and the disappointment of seeing my day's work literally in pieces.

The ruins
I tried to fix it with extra chocolate and hold it up with satay sticks but it had been weakened where it had snapped and there was nothing for it but to rebuilt the whole proscenium section. This included remaking the curtains which had also been crushed and snapped. I couldn't face anymore baking and put the renovations on hold until Sunday morning.

Proscenium Mark II - it was moved forward where the foundation was stronger.

 So, up early on Sunday morning (another 6.30am start!) and I did it all again. I was so glad to have kept the extra dough in the fridge - at least that was one thing that I didn't have to make again. New proscenium, new curtains, more melted chocolate. All of this knowing that by 3pm that same afternoon, the whole structure was going to be ripped to pieces and eaten anyway.

But the most important thing is a happy child, right?

11 year old and his special theatre

The next stage I want to see is a real one - with 11 year old on it.
Later that day, in front of friends, having been congratulated on his success and wished all the best for a happy high school experience, 11 year old brought down the house, literally.

And just in case you were wondering, yes, it tasted great! Especially the back wall with the marzipan and raspberry jam - that was a great combo. I know because even when we'd given gingerbread to our guests to take away and eaten some ourselves, we still had enough to last us for a week.

And that's enough about gingerbread for this year. Unless I can be tempted to create something else at Christmas - you never know...



  1. You are one talented chef and a supermum to boot!

  2. Wow! I'm so impressed! Such beautiful work!

  3. Aww! Such a heartwarming tale with a happy ending =D Looks delicious!