Gingerbread TARDISes are cool!

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Before August 2014, I was just a woman with friends who obsessed and squeed over Doctor Who.  I didn’t understand what it meant when someone said that David Tennant was their favorite Doctor.  I had no idea that I could possibly be even more spooked by statues.  And I only had a vague idea as to what a TARDIS was.

Once I finished watching the entire Star Trek: TNG series, I decided that all my geeky friends must be on to something and decided to try it.  I was instantly hooked.  I loved the wit with which each episode was written.  I loved that Rose wasn’t just an along for the ride, do what you’re told, sort of girl.  I loved the jovial snark that hid the deep anguish of Christopher Eccleston’s Time Lord.  It’s probably a good thing that Mike wanted to watch with me, otherwise I would have binge-watched the whole series.  (As opposed to finishing it in 2 months.)

Last year, I made gingerbread houses from scratch for the first time.  I wanted to do that again this year, but change it to something more interesting, more challenging.  A gingerbread Hobbit hole!  Sensing inevitable scream-crying of epic proportions because of such a difficult undertaking, Mike suggested something “easier”: a gingerbread TARDIS.  OF COURSE!  How could I have not thought of a gingerbread TARDIS?  And, as I’m wont to do, I spoke the words that always lead to my doom: How hard can it be?

When I began this blog, I promised I would share triumphs and failures alike.  I’ll call this one a hybrid of the two.  A failumph.  The pieces baked, (my rectangles were 5×9″) well, though not as straight as I would have liked.  The real challenge was getting the royal icing the exact shade of blue befitting a TARDIS.  I had leftover royal blue gel food coloring from Zoe’s 1st birthday cookie monster cupcakes, so I just used that.  
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More accurately, I should say that I just used half a pot of the food coloring, plus some black.  Safe for consumption, but not guaranteed to not turn your liver blue.

Some things I learned
I try really hard, and I know a few things about decorating, but I am by no means proficient at it.  Each horrible-looking project is another chance for me to learn something new to forget about the next time I decorate.  The first thing that I should have done differently is the size tip I used to outline each rectangle.  It was way too big.  Rectangles, that pretty much fit together before they were iced, didn’t fit together properly because the large lines of icing bumped against one another.  It’s part of the reason why I was only able to put together two pieces of the TARDIS.
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The second thing I learned is that, while royal icing is shelf-stable for several days, colors will change.  In this case, the blue became much darker.  It did, however, allow me to learn royal icing surgery.  It finally occurred to my foggy-headed fibro brain, to simply add the white icing to the deeper blue icing in order to achieve the original TARDIS blue I had created.  I would need to remove the dark blue cross pieces from the front panel.  There may be a much better way to do this but, what worked for me was to simply use a food-grade brush to wet the portions of icing that I wanted to remove, and then use a serrated knife to chisel away the unwanted blue.  Once the areas were level with the rest of the panel, I could go over the same areas with the correct color blue.  Water was also an effective tool for spreading icing.  It allowed me to move the icing, which was beginning to harden, to the places I wanted.  I basically painted the crosspieces on with thick icing.
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Remedy less murdery than the Sisters of Plenitude.
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The third thing I learned may seem completely stupid, but I found a way to intersect lines without making them cross.  Crossing any lines always leads to an unwanted bump-ups where they cross.  Rather than crossing them, I soon learned that I should be making L shapes.

I learned that painting with icing and making hundreds of dots can be really therapeutic.  I decided to make the inside of the TARDIS. It’s much more difficult on the inside. Using what I had on hand, I did my best to make the goldish-brown interior walls of 9 and 10’s TARDIS.  (Mostly because that was going to be infinitely easier than attempting 11’s.)  It was a little too yellow, so I painted over it with really watery brown icing.  It gave the brown color the walls needed, without obscuring the gold underneath.  Later I sprayed the insides with edible glitter.  I feel a little bad that I didn’t outline the circles with hexagons, but I felt that would have been obsessive.
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Edible markers are your best friends! Especially with a project that required fitting so many squares and rectangles on the pieces, it was a relief to have edible markers to mark where the ruler said lines should go.  The outside panels weren’t perfect, but they’re a lot better than what they would have been, had I just been eyeballing it.

The controls
For funsies, I wanted to see if I could make the TARDIS controls with what I had on hand.  It was supposed to be my gingerbread house, so why not use candy?  The base was 4 gingersnap cookies iced together, with the two on top and bottom cut out into oval shapes.  The center tower is made of mini gumdrops, a peppermint round, and M&Ms.  It’s absolutely horrible….and I love it.

Sometimes you gotta laugh
It’s safe to say that my TARDIS did not turn out the way I had envisioned.  I put a lot of work, care, and attention into this thing, and it came out mediocre, at best.  (And no, I’m not fishing; I know what the final product looks like.)  So, when pieces began falling off and breaking and the panels wouldn’t fit together, I couldn’t help but just throw my head back and giggle hysterically.  I joked that it could just be the TARDIS that Vincent Van Gogh painted.  Ultimately, I had a much better idea*.
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*I’m aware it’s the wrong TARDIS for blowing up.  Just…just…okay?

Homemade gingerbread houses

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Yesterday and today have been snow days for Rachael. We had sleet and freezing rain on Monday and a couple of inches of snow that hit during rush hour today. Since the government is closed, Mike is working from home. So we were able to all go outside as a family and play in the snow for a bit.
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They named him Olaf.
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I am unbelievably sore from playing outside. It was not helped by the fact that Mike tackled me to the ground during a snowball fight. Yes. He tackled the woman with fibromyalgia to the ground.

I decided that yesterday and today would be perfect days to make gingerbread houses with the girls. I wanted to make them from scratch, rather than using a store bought kit, for a few reasons.
1) Store bought kits can be really expensive.
2) The “gingerbread” in the kits is stale and gross.
3) The candy in the kits can be stale, too.
4) The pouch the icing comes in is really difficult to use.
5) A kit a friend bought ended up having a couple of maggots crawling inside the box. Just..eww.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say this process is quick and easy. If you really just don’t care about eating the house and want to make the house in quick order, (although putting together a kit isn’t a super fast process either) then just get a kit. But if you want to inhale the wonderful warm smell of orange and spices as you assemble your house, knowing that you’ll have a fantastic snack for later, a Christmas party centerpiece, or even a gift, this is for you.
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It’s a Christmas-themed snack.

Gingerbread

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp + a tiny pinch kosher salt

2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup dark molasses
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

Sift together into a separate bowl the dry ingredients, flour through salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, molasses, and orange juice. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and orange zest. Beat until smooth and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.

Mixing on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Scrape the bowl to fully, making sure to check the bottom of the bowl, as necessary. Add the molasses mixture to the bowl. Mix until all ingredients are fully integrated, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.
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Divide batter in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap. Try to make the batter uniform, patting it into a flat disc. Refrigerate for one hour.
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Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Take out one portion of dough from the refrigerator at a time. Flour a clean surface and knead some flour into your dough. When you take the dough out of the fridge, it will be firm, but still wet. Kneading some flour into the dough will make it manageable when you cut out your pieces and lift them off of the counter. Roll out the dough to approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. (The thicker the dough, the more difficult it will be to bake it uniformly and use for assembly.) Cut your pieces using a sharp knife with a smooth blade. I used these templates from Martha Stewart’s website: 1 and 2. Use a metal spatula to lift the pieces. If the dough is really wet and not coming off of your rolling surface easily, knead more flour into your dough and try rolling out your dough again.

Bake your pieces at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Smaller pieces will only need 8 minutes, while larger pieces may need 10+ minutes. If the middle of your large piece still feels extra soft to the touch, it may need some more time. Once out of the oven, allow your cookie sheets to cool on racks for about 5 minutes. Transfer pieces to cooling racks to cool completely. The larger pieces will be fragile, and require the use of a very large spatula, (I used a pancake spatula) for the transfer.

So, you’re going to need some glue to hold this all together. Enter royal icing. It’s super simple to make.

Royal Icing

Ingredients

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp meringue powder
5 Tbsp water, plus more for thinning

Combine the ingredients in your mixing bowl, fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low for 5-7 minutes, until the icing is no longer shiny. At this point, your icing is going to be too stiff for decorating. Add a small amount of water, about a teaspoon at a time, until you are able to pipe it through a piping bag and tip. If you add too much water, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it back up. When not in use, keep the icing covered in a air-tight container. If the icing is already in a bag, wrap the tip with a damp paper towel and place the bag in an air-tight container. The icing will keep on the counter for 1-2 weeks. If you want a color other than white, you can tint it with gel food coloring. Liquid food coloring will thin the icing out.

Assembly

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You’ll need to pipe a line of icing and settle the front piece into the icing. Have a can ready to keep your pieces standing until the icing hardens. Allow the bottom pieces to set before attaching the roof pieces. Use your candy of choice to decorate, using the royal icing as glue.

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Gingerbread recipe adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli, Food Network.
Royal icing from Annie’s Eats.