At the beginning of the month, several people messaged me on Instagram to say they were looking forward to seeing what I’d make for this year’s gingerbread creation.
I was flattered. I was also looking forward to seeing how far my cookie genius would take me.
Last year’s Ambani Gingerhouse involved the brilliance of molds made out of leftover gingerbread dough to create perfectly-sized hard candy windows. It also required working in the presence of two curious cats, and with limited counter space.
It wasn’t enough to woo the judges of the online contest I entered, but when I edited last year’s post to announce my defeat, I also mentioned recruiting a friend for 2019’s project.
Tammy is someone who, like me, is delighted to go overboard on baking projects. She specializes in not being able to decide which cake to bake; instead, she bakes them all to stack atop one another. In 2017, for her boyfriend’s birthday, she served up a cake that was about a foot tall and took her well into the wee hours of the night to make. As one of the attendees at this birthday party, I got to eat this magnificent cake.
Anyway! I asked her what she had in mind for our gingerbread project.
“St. Basil’s Cathedral!”
Uh, yeah, that’s not ambitious at all.
“Let’s do it.”
Since Tammy works consistent full-time hours, and I had three days off in a row coming up, I figured I’d take care of the template. As long as I could build St. Basil’s out of cardboard pieces, I knew we’d be able to transform it into a much tastier version.
Rather than measure and draw lines on pieces of cardboard before cutting them to size, I went to the art supply store and brought home a glue stick and a pad of grid paper.
“This is going to save me so much time,” I thought.
Two days later, I had our base, the first tier of the centre tower, and the secondary towers.
The rest of it would be aluminum cans and inverted waffle cones, I decided.
Tammy owns a stand mixer, which was also going to be a time-saver.
But what about the onion domes? How were we going to pull that off? Our first thought was to make them out of meringue even though neither of us had ever made meringue*.
Worst-case scenario: we’d resort to using actual onions. I mean, onions are edible.
Despite all the time-saving measures we took and working as a pair, the process was taking longer than Tammy expected. The meringue onion domes weren’t looking very onion-y. I was getting worried Tammy was starting to get stressed out. Even Yann remarked how frazzled she seemed to be when Tammy told him about her meringue failures.
This is supposed to be fun.
“Oh, but Yann doesn’t really know me. I am happy we’re doing this, I swear!”
“We could still use onions. Or perhaps turnips rolled in sparkling sugar?”
Tammy was so determined to make the meringue idea work, that she ordered silicone moulds online.
The idea of using real onions left my mind only after I realized that the large pieces of gingerbread that made up the base to support the nine towers were starting to sag under the weight of the undecorated towers. We were going to have to go light on the candy-studding, and using real onions was definitely out of the picture.
The domes weren’t our only challenge. I knew that if I could build a cardboard version of St. Basil’s, that it would work with gingerbread pieces, but when I decided to cheat with aluminum cans, I had set us up for failure.
Wrapping rectangular pieces of dough around cans wrapped in parchment paper, and then pulling the cans out before baking did not work. At all.
Nor did leaving the can in place: the dough sagged down the cans like old socks.
Laying the empty cans horizontally on a baking sheet and rotating them in the oven every few minutes produced the best results.
At least I was able to stuff some scraps from the failed tower pieces into the base for extra support. With two large containers full of aborted meringue blobs, Tammy suggested colouring them pink and then packing them inside the base.
“It’d be like insulation!”
We didn’t have to go that far. We decorated the base and towers separately and hoped for the best.
The silicone moulds did not produce the non-onion onion domes we had dreamed up. To compensate for this disappointment, Tammy decided to buy extra candy, including a bag of gummy sharks.
Eating candy while armed with a piping bag full of royal icing gave us unsteady hands. My talent is planning and assembling cookies, not piping pretty rosettes: they come out looking like turds. I can’t even use a piping bag without burping a glob of icing out of the opposite end. Sometimes on Tammy’s carpet.
In my defense, I only use my piping kit once a year.
This is supposed to be fun.
Hey, shark domes are fun!
I had made a candy cross for one of my previous houses (St. Sarah’s Church from The Walking Dead) using blue raspberry sour livewires and actual wire, which is cheating. This time, we used Popeye candy sticks, which were used to be called candy cigarettes and had a red burning tip. Gone are the days when it was considered cute for kids to pretend-smoke.
We finished decorating Cookie St. Basil’s Cathedral at midnight. It only took 24 cups of flour, 6 sticks of butter, 4 cups of molasses, and 130 separate pieces. Also, a lot of dirty dishes, almost none of which I washed.
*Edit: I got a text from Tammy that read, “Hey! I’ve made meringues before!” Then another, “A few times. Just not for a while…”