As a very special treat for my readers, I decided to invite Mrs. Santa Claus to guest post on Life’s a Feast. In keeping with the Christmas spirit, Mrs. Claus agreed to lend a helping hand. I had a wonderful time baking with her and we spent a fabulous afternoon together in my kitchen laughing and chatting. She’s a hoot, I can tell you that. And quite a woman! To tell you the truth, I think she was a rather relieved to take a break and get away from the North Pole and all those men up there and spend a little quality “girl time”. I was thrilled with the opportunity to get to know her and have her guest post for me. Thank you, Mrs. Claus, and I hope we can make this a regular happening. And with no further ado…. Mrs. Claus!
Well now, I was just tickled pink when Jamie asked me if I would guest post for her. She was a bit worried that I would be too busy at this time of year, but I put her worries to rest right away. “Honey,” I said, “there are just so many fur-trimmed jackets and bonnets one woman can sew, so many little bells to attach to so many tiny elf caps before I scream, so I’d be happy to take a wee break and write something up for your delightful blog!” Once I made sure that no toys had been broken in the brouhaha or inadvertently left behind, Rudolphs’s nose had been shined and Santa was bundled up all cozy, list tucked safely in his pocket, I was as free as a, well, as free as my jolly old man splashing in the Florida waves the day after Christmas…
Now you might think that I lead a pretty glamorous life up here at the North Pole: romantic white landscape, gentle, doe-eyed reindeer, piles of gaily-colored wrapping paper and pretty ribbon as far as the eye can see, but you don’t know the half of it! Being married to the most popular man in the world just ain’t all it’s cracked up to be: and I say Michelle Obama, David Furbish and whoever’s dating that there George what’s-his-name, you know, the cute one, you all ain’t got nothing on fame and popularity. Oh, my man may go under different aliases in different parts of the world: Père Noël, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Weihnachtsmann, Sinterklaas, but everyone knows who they’re talking about. And my man can’t just get his mug shown on tv, leaving all you gals woozy and weak-kneed and all the men steaming, no, he needs to put out. Presents. Presents, presents and more presents. And just ask the others how they feel about their so-called “better half” getting all the attention! Everywhere we turn it’s Santa this and Santa that…
And I, Mrs. Santa Claus, well, I am more than just a pretty face, the woman behind the man. No, I’m moral support, cookie baker, list checker (yes indeed, no matter what that song says, it’s me!), suit sewer, and the list goes on and on. You know how men are! They would lose their heads if they weren’t screwed onto their shoulders! And I’m taking care of a workshop full of them. So I do more than I am ever given credit for. And those Santa’s Helpers? It may be toys that they’re making but it’s not all fun and games what with the thumbs being hammered and the sore backs, those darn elves keep coming to me looking for compensation for work-related injuries!
And keeping them dressed warmly and holding those Man-Colds at bay is a job in and of itself, what with all the chicken soup and hot cocoa I keep on the stove and all those teeny tiny socks to darn, they just don’t take care of themselves! I mean, what would happen to Christmas if they all got sick? And Santa? You know I love him, but keeping him clothed in that silly red and white suit and making sure he stays healthy before the big day is a full time job! Tried putting him on a diet, too, but no…. he thinks being pleasantly plump is part of the package deal, what everyone expects of him. Well, if he keels over from all that extra weight before next Christmas, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
So, Jamie asked me to guest post on her blog. I thought I’d really like the diversion from all the holiday running around. What to make? And when I saw that she had a gingerbread house to make for that Daring Baker’s challenge I said “Well, doll, that’s right up my alley! Why don’t I just help you bake and put that together? I mean, who knows more about candy-covered houses and snow-laden landscapes than I do?” So here I am taking a few out of my busy schedule to give a helping hand. Think all those elves can take care of themselves for a bit?
Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi asked all the Daring Bakers (and me, Mrs. Claus) to bake a homey, traditional Gingerbread House for December 2009’s Daring Baker’s Challenge. Anna offered us a recipe from Good Housekeeping and Y from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as well as giving us recipes for both Royal Icing and sugar “glue”. Very Christmassy indeed!
Well, Jamie and I were both very excited by this challenge and dove right in. Little did we realize how difficult working with the dough would be and not an elf in sight to help out. We chose Y’s Scandinavian recipe and though the dough pulled together a charm, rolling it out proved a true challenge. It crumbled into a million pieces and had to be wet, pressed and beaten into submission. We finally succeeded in rolling out enough of the dough for our template (pattern) cut outs and some fun cookie cut outs to complete the North Pole scene (moose and Christmas trees). We baked it up then Clem, Jamie’s son, did help with the gluing together and decorating with whatever bits and pieces of decorative sugars and candies we found lying around the house, secreted away in drawers (she does have an impressive candy stash!).
I would like to thank both Anna and Y for this fun and festive challenge. I think that next time Jamie will be using one of her own cut out cookie doughs for this, either vanilla or chocolate (although a true gingerbread house dough, Y warned us, is tougher to work with as it is made more for its sturdiness and lng-lasting ability rather than good looks and tastiness). The cooked sugar used to glue the pieces together as well as the royal icing hardened faster than expected so we had to work very quickly to pull it all together, but in the end we were all quite thrilled with the final results. Marty is also truly fascinated and has been trying to climb his way up onto the table to look at the house up close. Maybe it’s Santa’s bulging cock-eyed eyes up there that makes Marty think they’re related!
Thanks to Lis and Ivonne for keeping the Daring Baker’s home fires burning! Thank you Anna and Y and thank you Clem for the help. And a huge thank you for Mrs. Claus for taking time out during this busiest of seasons to guest post for me. You deserve so much more credit than you usually get! Now off you go on vacation to the sun and fun of Florida…. Stop by my mom’s house while you’re down there and say “Ho Ho Ho” for me.
Scandinavian Gingerbread House (Pepparkakstuga)
From The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas
(Half recipe would work fine for a small house. I got a lot of left over dough)
1 cup (225 g) butter, room temperature
1 cup (220 g) brown sugar, well packed
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger *
3 teaspoons ground cloves *
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups (625 g) all-purpose flour, more if needed
* I omitted the ginger and replaced with 2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
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.
Draw and cut out patterns for the house, front and back walls, side walls, roof pieces, door which will be cut out of front wall, chimney.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Roll out the dough a little at a time on a floured work surface to a thickness of no less than 1/8-inch. Place the templates on the dough and, using a sharp knife, cut around the templates. Transfer the pieces to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Cut out any extra pieces using cookie cutters as you like (Christmas cookie cutters of course).
Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes until set and slightly puffed. Remove the baking sheets onto wire cooling racks and allow the pieces to cool on the baking sheets.
Can be halved
1 large egg white
3 cups (330 g) powdered sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp 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.
I halved this amount
2 cups (400g) sugar
Place in a small saucepan and heat until just boiling and the sugar dissolves. Dredge or brush the edges of the pieces to glue them together keeping the pan over very low heat. If the syrup crystallizes, remake it.
Now piece together the walls then adding the roof on by dipping into or brushing the edges of the pieces with the cooked sugar then pressing together. Work very quickly because the sugar glue works fast and well. Use the sugar to glue on the chimney and door.
Decorate with the royal icing, candy, colored almond paste (I rolled out the paste to the thickness desired using a glass, cut out trees with a cookie cutter and the holly leaves using a paring knife ten glued the pieces onto the house using a dab of beaten egg yolk).
Keep it away from the dog.