Monday, December 19, 2016

Old World Gingerbread House and Snow Queen Scarf

Food is an important part of the holidays for me.  It's not like that for everyone.  I've actually met people who don't recall any special food from their childhood associated with the holidays other than that they had a turkey dinner.  My Steve is one of those people.  It's taken us a long time but after 30 years together we've come up with some wonderful food traditions for our holidays and without a doubt building a gingerbread house at Christmas is at the top of our list.

The origins of our tradition began with a trip to Chile many years ago and our stay at the Hyatt Hotel in Santiago where in lobby they had an actual gingerbread house (made of cookie dough and frosted) that you could walk inside and from which they sold individual gingerbread houses and cookie boxes. During our stay we consumed several of these delicious houses in an embarrassingly short period of time and have been left wanting more ever since.

And it remained just a wistful reminiscence until Steve suggested that we try making our own gingerbread house.  And so we did.  With a success that has left us giddy with delight and has amused us in the process more than I can say. There is something very fun about frosting and decorating a gingerbread house that will bring out the kid in everyone. Just you wait and see.

The most important part of making a gingerbread house is to use a wonderfully rich and flavorful gingerbread  because a large part of the fun is eating the house.  And when I thought about it I realized that I already had the perfect recipe that I had been using to make gingerbread men for many years. This recipe works beautifully to construct a gingerbread house and makes exactly the right quantity and it is so so so much better frosted and coated in candy!

A couple of housekeeping points before I get to the recipe.  It's best to plan on making your gingerbread house over two days, although it can be made in one.  I recommend that on the first day you make the gingerbread dough, let the dough chill, and bake the individual house pieces.  On the second day you can make the royal icing and decorate the house.  I like to ice the entire house as it will keep the gingerbread fresh and tastes wonderful.

Old World Gingerbread House Recipe ~

Gingerbread Dough:

1 C. shortening
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves or allspice
(note: if you like a lot of spice you can increase the ginger and cinnamon by 1 tsp and and the cloves by 1/2 tsp.)
1 C. granular sugar
1 C. molasses
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp. instant coffee moistened in a little hot water (I use espresso powder)
5 C. All purpose flour

Royal Icing:

1 lb. sifted confectioners sugar
3 egg whites
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice or 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

Suggested Decorations:

Candy Canes (You can use them whole or crush them for sprinkles)
gum drops
skittles (original soft style work best)
multi-colored sprinkles and sugars
Avoid unwrapped hard candies that will melt in the frosting

DAY 1 ~

Prepare the Dough Steps:
1. Cream first 6 ingredients;
2. Cream in sugar and molasses;
3. Add in beaten eggs and coffee (or espresso);
4. Add flour 1 cup at a time. After adding 3 cups stir in the last 2 cups by hand.
5. Allow dough to chill in the refrigerator several hours or until it's easy to handle.

Baking Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 325 to 340 degrees (I generally preheat to 340 degrees) and prepare baking sheets by covering with parchment paper or silplat.
2.  While oven preheats download a gingerbread house template.  I highly recommend the free King Arthur Template. I divide the dough into half and I use a full half of the dough to make the 2 sides of the house.  I then divide the remaining dough into 4 pieces to create the roof (2 pieces) and the ends (2 pieces).  You want to divide the dough like this so that you use all your dough and that way you know your house is of the right thickness.  I typically have only enough scraps left over to make a small gingerbread man.  This style of gingerbread is meant to be thick and if it is too thin it will be dry and not as enjoyable to eat.

3.  Bake approx. 18-20 minutes (with my oven I generally preheat to 340 degrees and bake for 18 minutes) and cool on a wire rack.  You can then proceed to setting up and decorating your house or wrap the pieces well (air tight) if you plan on decorating the next day. If you intend to wait longer than a day to decorate I would freeze the house pieces until you are ready to keep them as fresh as possible.

DAY 2 ~

1.  Prepare a surface to construct your house.  I like to use a cutting board but any flat surface will work.  Lay out your gingerbread house pieces and find some soup cans that can be used to stabilize the house while it sets.  Before preparing your icing review the entire King Arthur Template for tips on how to set up your house.

2.  Preparing Royal Icing as follows*:  whip eggs whites until creamy and add either lemon juice or cream of tartar. Then add powdered sugar and whip until soft peaks form.  At this point I recommend you remove 3/4s of the icing and place into a sealed plastic bag (sealing the plastic bag will keep the icing soft) to use later for icing the house.  The remaining 1/4 amount of icing should be whipped until stiff peaks form (the longer you whip it the faster the icing will set and the harder it will dry). This firmer and fast setting icing is used to set up your house.  Scoop this icing into a small plastic bag and make a small cut in one corner which can be used to pipe out the icing as needed. Now follow the assembly steps in the King Arthur Template.  Once your house is assembled allow it to set 2 to 3 hours (or until firm) before icing and decorating.

3.  When your house is set use the icing you set aside earlier to ice all surfaces (icing all surfaces will keep the gingerbread fresh longer) and quickly decorate before the icing sets.

4.  Allow decorated house to set for a minimum of 8 to 12 hours (the longer setting time is needed because you are using a softer icing which is more enjoyable to eat that the firm icing used to set up the house).

*Alternative icing options:  1)  You can make two batches of icing.  The first batch (whipped until firm peaks) can be used to set up the house and the second batch (whipped to soft peaks) can be used to ice and decorate the house; 2)  If you are pressed for time you can simply use the firmer icing to both set up the house and decorate the house, but I don't recommend this as the firmer icing isn't as enjoyable to eat as the softer icing.

I hope this will become part of your family Christmas holiday traditions!

Adapted from Yankee Magazine recipe for Gingerbread Gentlemen (1993 issue).

Snow Queen Scarf

Before it gets lost in the shuffle I wanted to quickly share this scarf knit in a thick opulent combination of silk and wool, that makes me feel positively queenly when I wear it!  I purchased this yarn as a club offering several years ago from The Verdant Gryphon and the designer/dyer took her inspiration from The Snow Queen, one of Hans Christan Anderson's well known fairy tales. Although not nearly as well known as The Little Mermaid.  If you are not familiar with his work, all of his fairy tales are sad but they are beautifully told to reveals how through acts of kindness or selflessness anyone no matter how far they have fallen or how lowly they are in this world can achieve redemption. A thought provoking and interesting subject to explore no matter your age and is one reason his stories are worth telling and retelling through the ages.

While I chose not to use the design that came with this club offering I absolutely love the yarn and am also glad that I have the beautifully illustrated copy of The Snow Queen that came with it.  As always these clubs are risky as you have no idea what color, pattern and notions will be sent.  That being said I have rarely been disappointed in a yarn club.

Particulars:  Saroyan (free pattern) designed by Liz Abinante (; US 9 needles; 2 skeins The Verdant Gryphon, Codex (worsted 52% silk/ 48%wool 234 yds/113g per skein).  My only modification was to use 2 colors instead of a solid color.  To knit this using 2 colors simply twist the yarns intarsia style.  To maximize the amount of the light blue color I knit the entire edging in the contrasting color instead of simply the leaf.  Lightly blocked dimensions 66" x 10" (at widest point).

Wishing You a Merry Christmas ~

With the success of his calendar shot Simcha announced that he's available for kisses and autographs. For a price. Le sigh, despite our best efforts he still has a working dog mentality.

Until next time be well and love well and from all of us at The Knitting Blog by Mr. Puffy the Dog, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Jolly Christmas Socks ~

This year I've stepped up early and have already begun my holiday decorating.  I sort of had to as we are going away for Christmas and if I didn't decorate early there wouldn't be any decorating at all. And where's the fun in that?  In general though, it is my preference to decorate closer to the holiday and then enjoy the decorations through New Year's Day. I'm old school that way.  And in probably lots of other ways as well.

So ho-ho-ho here I am wearing my Christmas Stockings.  That I absolutely love.  Unseemingly so, given my age. And in full candor they are knit in a light fingering yarn so probably won't wear well at all. What was I thinking?  I should know better than this.  But don't I look like a cute elf wearing them?

I did not use a pattern for these socks.  After my last post on being a self confessed "pattern hog" I felt the need to say that.  I simply used my favorite sock techniques to create these "so not your basic sock" socks.  When knitting with a hand dyed yarn it's all about knowing when to back off and let the yarn itself shine, jingle and two step into the limelight.  Anyone care to do-si-do?  No?  Perhaps after you've had a spiked eggnog or two. Shoes are optional. Especially when you have super cool socks on.

This is just a quick post because I'm hoping to have a Christmas post up before we leave on our Christmas break. But in case that doesn't happen (it requires delicate timing and participation by Steve) and I'm gone until after Christmas I wanted to leave you with a message that I hope will resonate with everyone everywhere no matter what side of the aisle or ocean you are on.  It's a wish for peace on earth and goodwill toward all mankind.

Particulars:  There is no pattern.  I simply used a combination of my favorite sock techniques.  I actually plan on writing up a sock pattern in the Spring so stayed tuned if you are a new sock knitter and are looking for a good basic sock pattern.  I used LYDIA sock yarn; 460 yrds/100g light fingering (75% merino /% nylon) in the colorway "Tis the Season," purchased with a mini contrasting green sock yarn.  I actually have 60 grams of the main color left over which is enough for another pair of socks so long as I use a contrasting cuff, heel, and toe yarn again.  I really enjoyed knitting with this yarn and colorway but recommend that you use a bright contrasting color as I did to bring it to life.

I love knitting socks and this blog abounds with them.  Here's some links to socks previously featured on the blog: Orzivals; Sock Love; Embossed Leaf; Cabled Rib Socks; Knee High Socks; Smaug; Ripple Effect; Kelmscott; Halloween Goth; Monkey Socks; Basket Weave Socks; Dublin Bay; Serpentine Socks; Bird of Paradise socks (featuring Mr. Puffy, bless his heart) and there are others too but this gives a good selection of different patterns.  Of these I believe the Dublin Bay and Orzival are free patterns.

Until next time be well, love well and have a jolly time decorating for the holidays!