Gingerbread Igloo

December 23, 2009 at 12:00 am 48 comments

As most college deadlines draw near (January 1st), the flurry of college applications is drawing to a close. One of the coolest things about this entire process has been watching my friends go through it – not because I like to watch them agonize over their essays or anxiously stress over early decision emails. No, I like seeing my friends pick out the colleges that are right for them based on their unique interests.

In middle school, we were generally the same. Some of us were more inclined towards English and social studies, whereas others were more talented in math and science (I knew right away that I was not a math or science person). But when it came down to it, we were interested in the same classes, depending on how cool or funny the teacher was.

But now, after four years of high school, we aren’t so similar anymore. Slowly, quietly, I’ve watched my friends develop their real joys and callings in life. I’ve seen their passions burst forth like the cherry blossoms in spring, and I’ve seen the unfiltered pleasure on their faces when they are doing something they love. And even though I don’t share their interests, I know exactly how they feel.

One of my friends, M-, is an amazing artist. She loves the beautiful, the romantic, the optimistic, and her art is visual poetry. She uses soft, bright colors and gentle swirls of paint to compose half-opened flowers, graceful ballerinas, and sweeping landscapes reminiscent of Thomas Kinkade.

When I look at her work I can’t turn away. Her paintings seem to fill me with liquid sunshine from my shoes up, they’re so light and dreamy. The beauty and inspiration on her canvas reflects what a beautiful and inspiring person she herself is. Every work of art is a confession, and every confession is exhilarating to see.

Another one of my good friends, C-, has found that he was meant to play the cello. Although he was technically “late” to the music scene, not starting when he was very young, his gift is undeniable. C-‘s dedication is astounding – some days he goes to orchestra during school, attends two cello lessons outside of class, plays at a symphony in the evenings, and then practices again upon arriving home.

As I don’t play an instrument myself, my ear is untrained and naive. But when I hear him play, even if I cannot recognize the composer or identify any incorrect notes, I can feel the emotion. It runs up my spine in slow, deliberate waves, totally at the command of his bow. He closes his eyes when he plays, and I have a feeling the music envelopes him completely – mind, body, and spirit. [It was he I made the Cello Birthday Cake for.]

I could go on and on. The talents of my friends would fill up not one, but many long winded posts. My friend M- is a skilled badminton player, A- makes gorgeous dresses out of trash bags (as well as art of all mediums), K- is passionate about math (MIT, congratulations!), and E- finds peace when she runs.

I guess it’s not hard to conclude what I’ve found my greatest enjoyment to be too – baking, of course. While I could never work on a piece of art for hours, or play a musical piece over and over until callouses formed on my fingertips, I can spend an entire afternoon in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, it took days and hours of work even with help (thanks, E-!) to complete this Gingerbread Igloo for the Daring Bakers.

But it was a labor of love – from cutting out every one of the individual gingerbread bricks, to making 3 pourable fondants because they all failed, to piping out the pine trees. And I don’t know how many of my friends could stand doing that.

But for me, the best things about these passions my friends and I have developed is this: they do not solely define us. I don’t want to walk around school being called “The Baker” without any more dimension to me. I have dreams and ambitions that go beyond the kitchen, even though a piece of my heart will always rest between the KitchenAid and the sugar bin. I am a writer, a poet, a photographer, a thinker.

M- is not simply the artist. She is considering a career in medicine, she leads the school through student government, and she likes working with the school district. And C-, though he plans to go to music school, plays frisbee and can’t deny his interest in chess and cross country.

I love that we have found something that helps us discover and understand who we are, something that brings happiness and relaxation. But I am also grateful for how rounded and open-minded my friends are. They are multifaceted and flexible, and I can’t wait to see how far they all go in college and in life.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.


To make the igloo, I baked a lot of small rectangular “bricks” from the gingerbread. I used a bowl as a guide as I assembled it, and used royal icing to cement it. I used poured fondant to coat the top of the igloo, and sprinkled it with powdered sugar, shredded coconut, and blue sugar for “snow.” I made a sled from candy canes and a gingerbread square, and a fire pit of chocolate graham crackers with a swedish fish roasting on top.

As many of the Daring Bakers admitted, this recipe was not very tasty. I don’t plan on eating the igloo or any of the decorations (except, perhaps, the snow.) My dad and I agreed that the gingerbread tasted like pasty graham crackers, and after a few bites we pronounced it disgusting.

On the other hand, my mom adored this recipe. Too often she finds desserts too sweet and too rich, and she thought the gingerbread was a great snack. She ended up eating all of the leftover bricks.

And since I give credit where credit is due – the gingerbread igloo was my dad’s interpretation of the gingerbread house challenge. But I’m the one who carried it out! :) The trees, which drew much praise from my parents, was probably the easiest part. You simply pipe very extended stars on to ice cream cones. You can see the full steps on Sweetopia, the blog of the very creative and talented Marian.

Here are the instructions as given on the Daring Baker site. Since I didn’t particularly like it, I’m not providing a printable version, or a recipe for the poured fondant. If anyone really wants instructions on the igloo, leave a comment and I’ll go back and put it in.

Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
From The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.

2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.

3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.

4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]

5. Preheat the oven to 375’F (190’C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

Royal Icing

1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren’t using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

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Good Morning Bacon + Chocolate = World Peace?

48 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marie-Sophie  |  December 23, 2009 at 1:40 am

    I can’t believe how pretty your gingerbread “house” is !! :-)
    Here in Germany a “Lebkuchenhaus” is a very traditional thing to make for christmas and I have to admit I’ve never done it so far … but definetely next year!

    Merry Christmas, Elissa!

    Reply
  • 2. Yumi  |  December 23, 2009 at 2:25 am

    Adorable!

    I was thinking of constructing a gingerbread house this year–I’ve always wanted to–with my sister or my boyfriend. But seeing as my sister may be too young (she’s 3) and my boyfriend more inclined to eat the candy and leave the house-building to me…I think I’ll just stick with gingerbread men or something.

    As for the gingerbread recipe–I wonder if it’s something butter and more sugar could fix? I might find out…

    Reply
  • 3. Holiday Recipes  |  December 23, 2009 at 3:02 am

    very good posting about gingerbread! i like this recipes.

    Reply
  • 4. linda  |  December 23, 2009 at 5:45 am

    i have been checking in since your “good morning” post & your igloo & sleigh are amazing & you are so gifted! but… what struck me more is your sense of self & those of your treasured friends.
    elissa, i am wishing you, your parents & those you hold dear a very joyous & magical 2010! happy holidays!

    Reply
  • 5. Tonic  |  December 23, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Amazing job on your gingerbread igloo, and your photos are beautiful!!!

    Reply
  • 6. Rochelle (Acquired Taste)  |  December 23, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Beautiful igloo! I love the attention to detail with things like the little sled :)

    Reply
  • 7. Jennifer J  |  December 23, 2009 at 8:37 am

    I love the sentiment: “a piece of my heart will always rest between the KitchenAid and the sugar bin.” You truly are a gifted writer, photographer and baker. Relish your passions. And, I have no doubt, as time passes, you’ll discover more interests and talents. Always cherish the wonderment. Happy holidays!

    Reply
  • 8. Lauren  |  December 23, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Wonderful Elissa! I love how we all evolve through high school. It really it a beautiful thing. Good luck with your college applications!

    Love the igloo, and the photos, and everything!!

    Reply
  • 9. Cirri  |  December 23, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Your igloo is very cute , the next christmas i´ll make my own Congratulations and Merry christmas!

    Reply
  • 10. Julie  |  December 23, 2009 at 10:06 am

    ( Talk to your friend (M?) about a career path in Bio-medical/scientific illustration. It’s what I’m doing currently, in which I was able to combine my passion for biology with my artistic skills. )

    Anyways, love the gingerbread house! Although it’s such a let down that the bread never seems to taste as nice as it looks… Happy Holidays!

    Reply
  • 11. Alana  |  December 23, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Like Jennifer, I adore the phrase “a piece of my heart will always rest between the KitchenAid and the sugar bin.” I definitely share the sentiment.

    I’m a couple years out of college, and it’s pretty fun to look back at what I thought my friends and I would do with our lives when we were in high school. Some have stuck to exactly what they loved, while others have made huge changes or found new passions. Watching it all develop is slow, but I agree that it’s a fascinating process.

    Reply
  • 12. Margarita  |  December 23, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Oh, my, Elissa, that’s exactly right, how you put it into words, your expression of, “every work of art is a confession”a jewel amongst so many others. It’s so true. Every beautiful thing you and your friends create is a a window to your soul and we can see through it. You expose the beauty of your dreams through the wonder of a snow covered igloo and the words you choose to reveal what is in your heart. I’m grateful to be able to enjoy your gifts through your blog. I hope you’ve all had and are having happy holidays. Safe travels wherever the holidays may take you.<3

    Reply
  • 13. Monica H  |  December 23, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    very cute! All it lacks is a little penguin. I only say that because I love them and I believe they belong in every winter scene :-)

    Reply
  • 14. Hillary  |  December 24, 2009 at 12:52 am

    You think your unique and individual in high school…just wait ’til college. Your true colors really come out. Thanks again for another thoughtful post. You are full of talent, Miss Elissa! Happy Holidays =)

    Reply
  • 15. Lucy  |  December 24, 2009 at 9:32 am

    I love your ideas – they turn out so fantastically after all the hours of hard work that must be involved. Your baking shows true dedication and gives beautiful results!

    Reply
  • 16. Leslie  |  December 24, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Such a clever idea to do an igloo. The trees are amazing too!

    Reply
  • 17. swee  |  December 24, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Aaww igloo, how come I didn’t think of that before … great idea. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays :)

    Reply
  • 18. pragmaticattic  |  December 24, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    So clever! Looks great.

    Reply
  • 19. Karen  |  December 25, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Awwwww how cuuuute! Especially that tiny sleigh. Beautiful job!

    Reply
  • 20. Jill  |  December 25, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Very cute igloo–I love the little sled and your trees are adorable!
    Merry Christmas!!

    Reply
  • 21. jo  |  December 26, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Your blog is so well written, congrats on your skills and your creative writing. You are a very talented individual.

    Reply
  • 22. Brenda  |  December 26, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Congratulations on all your success!

    Reply
  • 23. Nellen  |  December 26, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    I was just reading news stuff on AOL, when all of a sudden it was about YOU!! I thought “OMG I follow her blog” I really enjoy reading your blog and now many more people will too.
    CONGRATULATIONS TO YOU!!!

    Reply
  • 24. Miss Donna  |  December 26, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    The AOL piece on you piqued my curiosity. To me your baking is nice, your writing is wonderful. You are very talented. I think you will be a wonderful writer….you could do restaurant and food reviews.

    Reply
  • 25. Kelly  |  December 27, 2009 at 12:24 am

    you know, after reading this it really made me think. about everything you said about college. i think i’m going to go to school in london. thanks

    Reply
  • 26. kai  |  December 27, 2009 at 12:25 am

    the igloo!!

    ahhhh the pictures are so pretty!!! it’s like a mini world (i wanna see how you did the pine trees though.)

    and hey, math/science people can get jealous of the english/humanities people. writing essays are painful. ><

    look forward to seeing you back in WA soon!

    Reply
  • 27. jaz  |  December 27, 2009 at 5:35 am

    hi…i just found you on aol. nice blog. i love to see young people cooking. it is such a wonderful hobby to have! i have been cooking seriously since i was 9 years old. my cooking and baking has evolved tremendously throughout my life as i am sure yours will too. i am still teaching myself new things all the time! you can check out my blog if you want to see some of what i do.

    Reply
  • 28. amy  |  December 27, 2009 at 7:11 am

    I just “stumbled” across your blog via a tagline on AOL.com, and I am thoroughly impressed! Good for you that you have something you can be passionate about!! You need to write a cookbook! I am going to share this with my 19 year old daughter who loves to write and is into photography as well. She has never been interested much in cooking/baking, so I thought she might be inspired by someone close to her own age, thanks for you efforts in sharing your experiences with us all!

    Reply
  • 29. grace :)  |  December 27, 2009 at 10:22 am

    hi (:
    I saw your blog on AOL and I decided to…check it out?
    anyway, you’re an amazing artist! and being a writer myself, you have such a talent for writing as well.
    good luck!

    Reply
  • 30. Angela @ A Spoonful of Sugar  |  December 27, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    This is absolutely stunning work, Elissa!! And your photography is amazing. You should be very proud of yourself.

    Reply
  • 31. Tanjila Jesmeen  |  December 27, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    yummy!! :-) very very nice.thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • 32. Amaka  |  December 28, 2009 at 1:37 am

    Hey Elissa,

    I’m so glad I finally opened the links of my AOL homepage because I never would have discovered your blog!! Although its only been a day, I’m severly addicited. I know I will never make any of these recipes because I cannot cook/bake to save my life, but looking at your pictures is a delight! I got soo jealous because you are really talented and my pictures always come out blurry. Anyways good luck with college apps, I’m also a hs senior from Georgia and I just finished mine too. I read on the AOL page your looking at Brown and Columbia and while they are both supercompetitve I know you’ll get in because of your talent. I thought these would just be photographs and recipes but ur also an amazing writer. Sorry this is long but keep up the good work!

    Amaka

    Reply
  • 33. Marian (Sweetopia)  |  December 28, 2009 at 2:54 am

    Elissa, thank you for mentioning me in your post; your trees look lovely, and your gingerbread igloo so unique and charming! I can imagine that it took some finagling to make such a unique structure come together with icing, but the results are worth it! (If I do say so myself ;-)

    Again I also have to mention how well-written your post is – A pleasure to read, thank you!

    Reply
  • 34. Meeta  |  December 28, 2009 at 5:11 am

    love the igloo what a innovative idea! well done!

    Reply
  • 35. wic  |  December 28, 2009 at 6:09 am

    stunning work. love the idea and what you did with it.

    Reply
  • 36. Chefany  |  December 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    This is just too cute and I am so impressed with such a young and ambitious baker! I am a culinary instructor in baking and pastry and I only wish all my students were as motivated as you are! Congratualtions on the cutes igloo I have ever seen :)

    Reply
  • 37. Christi  |  December 28, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Yay, and igloo! I love it!

    Reply
  • 38. MandyM  |  December 28, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Fantastic igloo, must have taken a lot of patience sticking all those gingerbread bricks together! Lovely baking :)

    Reply
  • 39. McMom  |  December 28, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Brilliant! My Canadian husband would love this! Your site is beautiful. Wonderful layout and the photos are fantastic.

    Reply
  • 40. Sue  |  December 28, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Your igloo is so cute and original…I can imagine that a dome shape would be difficult to achieve! GREAT job!!! Your little sled is darling! On another note, I love your cello cake! It is an inspiration and now I want to attempt a violin cake for my violin-playing son-in-law!

    Happy New year and good luck with your decisions for your future!

    Reply
  • 41. Making my Mark  |  December 29, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Very unique. The gingerbread decorating night my family had produced nothing like this.

    Reply
  • 42. Valérie  |  December 30, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    This is so unbelievably creative and well-crafted! Simply amazing!

    Reply
  • 43. Jenny  |  December 31, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    What a fantastic igloo! And the piped trees are perfect – I didn’t think of that one!

    Jenny
    purplehousedirt.com

    Reply
  • 44. Jiyeon  |  January 1, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    I love this post

    Reply
  • 45. Ashley  |  January 3, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    That’s too bad that it didn’t actually taste good – I have the book the recipe is from but haven’t made anything from it yet and am now a bit scared to! I love your igloo and trees! And sled. All so cute.

    Reply
  • 46. Valerie Corbin  |  December 21, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Thank you so much for the recipe, we love that its not too sweet. We made an igloo also. (Used a form underneath though, we were in a hurry. We made fondant penguins and Polar bears, and those christmas tress. We as a family won first place thanks to you!

    Reply
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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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