Gingerbread Houses (and other edible abodes)

I’ve been holding a Rowdy Baker “Holiday House” contest for five years running now, and have seen some great houses made . . . mostly made by youngsters. I love seeing kids in the kitchen, and am thrilled to have them participate, but am convinced that adults are missing out on all the fun!

And it is fun. It’s also messy, frustrating, and persnickety, but mostly FUN!

I’m just beginning to get comfortable with creating my own templates for the structures. I (loosely) followed instructions from a great book: “The Gingerbread Architect” by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chattman, for some of my creations and still use the recipe in the book for my gingerbread base, though I add a little less leavening and a little more spice than the authors call for.

The collapse of my house in 2015 was not the fault of the plans in the book. I think I just wasn’t patient enough. It really helps to spread your efforts out over a few days and let that royal icing set hard as you go.

I don’t enter my own contest, of course, but I do play along. I can’t ask people to do something I wouldn’t do, right? Besides, I love making huge messes and staying up until the wee hours creating all the little details. Sometimes it’s challenging, but I try to make every single item on my houses edible.

I’ll show you the five I’ve made so far, and just add to this post every year.

2017 A mountain of fudge with a gingerbread cabin and gingerbread critters.

2016 (my personal favorite) a barn with gum paste and/or chocolate clay reindeer and farm animals inside. This thing was huge. And heavy!

2015 I actually made two. One was a monster of a house (which collapsed the next day in a very dramatic fashion.) and the other was an igloo made of sugar.

2014 was a more traditional house. I put a glow stick inside and the light shone through the windows.

2013 was the year that started it all. A blogging friend and I put out a challenge to make a pretzel house. The two of us were the only ones who actually entered, but we sure had a blast. 

So there you have it: five years of planning, swearing, and creating. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The holidays are so busy, it’s hard to cut out time for a project like this, but so much of it can be simplified. And when it’s done (which is never, because you’ll keep thinking of just one more thing to add to your house) you’ll be pretty proud of your accomplishment.

Let that flour fly!

Lorinda

Orange Cranberry Cupcakes

Chopped fresh cranberries and orange zest add little bursts of flavor to these sweet vanilla cupcakes. The fluffy orange icing is made with a generous amount of whipping cream, which keeps it from being too sweet.

Make sure to freeze lots of cranberries this season, because these cupcakes aren’t just for the holidays – you’ll want to make them all year long.

You know how many sweets I bake (my sweet tooth is legendary), so you might be surprised to know that I really prefer my cake unadorned, or at least minimally so, and sometimes even (gasp) scrape off some of the icing. Peer pressure often has me piling the icing on cupcakes just like everyone else, and I have to admit it makes for beautiful photos.  But how on earth are you supposed to eat a cupcake with mountain-high icing without having it go right up your nose?

Eeeuw. Not attractive.

So I’ll give you two options. A half-batch of icing is enough for a sweet little rosette on each cupcake, like this:

Or, if you love your icing, make a full batch and pile it higher, like this:

Yes, you could make even more and go for the mountain effect, but I didn’t go there. This time.

For an artsy effect, you might want to gently heat and drizzle orange marmalade or cranberry sauce over the icing, which would be lovely. But for the love of all that’s holy, do NOT use fresh cranberries to decorate the cupcakes unless you want to watch everyone pucker.  Sour, sour, sour. The berries that are baked into the cake itself are delicious, though.

Orange Cranberry Cupcakes
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Author:
Sweet orange cupcakes studded with bits of chopped fresh cranberries, topped with whipped orange icing. Makes 24 tall cupcakes, or approximately 28-30 standard cupcakes.
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2¼ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3½ cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • grated zest from 1 large orange
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ICING:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 2 tablespoons concentrated frozen orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • grated zest from 1 large orange
  • pinch salt
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • orange food coloring if desired
  • Candy orange slice or sprinkles for decorating
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Place extra large baking cups in two 12-cavity cupcake pans. (If you are using regular baking cups, this recipe will make approximately 28-30.)
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy - about 5 minutes.
  3. Add vanilla and orange extracts and mix until combined.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating and scraping the bowl between each addition.
  5. In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
  6. Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, beginning with the flour and ending with the buttermilk, approximately ⅓ of each at a time. Stir each addition well before adding the next.
  7. Beat mixture just until well blended.
  8. Add 1 tablespoon flour to the cranberries and toss to coat. Fold cranberries and orange zest into batter.
  9. Scoop into cupcake liners. For extra large (or tulip-type) liners fill a little over half full - about level with the pan. If you're using regular liners, fill approximately ⅔ full.
  10. Bake approximately 20-25 minutes, or until cupcake springs back up when pressed on the top.
  11. Cool on a rack.
  12. ICING:
  13. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, orange juice, and vanilla together well.
  14. Add powdered sugar and orange zest, beat until combined. If too stiff to mix, add a little of the whipping cream.
  15. Add whipping cream and beat until light and fluffy. This will take several minutes.
  16. Place half of the icing in a bowl and add a small amount of orange food coloring.
  17. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip with both colors to get a swirled look. For a rosette, start in the center of your cupcake and work in circles outward. For a mounded "mountain" effect, start on the outside and work your way in, increasing pressure at the center. Top with a candy orange slice or sprinkles.

My next-door neighbor, Pam, gave me some wonderful parchment supplies and I’m in love with these extra-large liners. They come up high so you can use a little more batter. (They fit nicely into two of my standard cupcake pans but were a little too big for the other.) If you can’t find them, you can use tulip-type liners or just make more regular-sized cupcakes.

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy.

Add vanilla, orange extract, and eggs. Beat well.

Add one-third of the flour. Stir.

Add one-third of the buttermilk. Stir.

….and repeat. Again!

Dust the cranberries with flour. Fold into batter along with orange zest

Fill tall cups a little over half full.

Beat butter, shortening, orange juice, and vanilla together. Add powdered sugar and orange zest.

Whip in the cream. So fluffy!

Put both colors together in a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip and make ’em pretty! Top with an orange candy slice.

These would make a perfect holiday dessert . . . not too rich, not too heavy, and so festive!

Time’s flying and Christmas is just around the corner. I’m so not ready. The next time you hear from me I’ll probably be pushing chocolate hearts, so let me say it right now:

Merry, Merry Christmas!

Lorinda