The Gingerbread Gristmill (Part 2)

To continue where we left of yesterday…

Siding, Stonework and Shingles
Step 1: Apply the frosting on the walls to mimic wood siding.
Jennifer: A slightly tedious process, that left my hands very tired. Try applying frosting evenly on four 12” plus high walls! Overall I was quite pleased with the results.

Step 2: Add the glass to the windows.
Audry: This step actually started the night before. After Thanksgiving dinner was cleaned up, I followed a recipe for hard candy by boiling water, sugar, and corn syrup to the “hard-crack stage” – 300 deg F. This mixture was originally meant to be poured into the pond and waterway of the base, but it was so hot and thick and syrupy that I was afraid of the potential mess if something went wrong. The mixture also turned yellow as it started to caramelize, so I decided at the last minute to just pour it onto greased aluminum foil and score it while it was hot. We broke the candy along the score lines once it cooled, into rectangles that I then glued over the backs of the window openings with icing. One of the windows fell off when we were assembling the walls, but luckily none fell off after the roof was on and we couldn’t reach the inside!

Step 3: Assemble the walls and roof
Goal: Figure out creative ways to get the walls to fit together and fit in the opening on the base that is now slightly too small (because we didn’t take into account that gingerbread expands when you cook it!).

Another problem we faced was reinforcing our walls and roof. Because they were so big, the centers were still soft, and we were worried they might collapse. Using leftover gingerbread pieces and many, many, many pretzel rods, we invented a new construction technique: post and pretzel! We also used about a batch of frosting, but we stuck to the rules and made sure everything was edible!

Step 4: Apply chex cereal shingles.
Jennifer: Slightly tedious, as Audry did one then I did another. Back and forth we went. Row after row…lots of fun!!! It looked so cool when it was done.

Making the Stream
Jennifer: Ha! Oh I have to laugh over this one. We went back and forth over how to do this.

Audry: After I chickened out on pouring boiling sugar into the base, Jennifer wanted to just dissolve sugar in water, pour it in, and let it dry. I insisted it wouldn’t work and suggested if we dissolved a LOT of unflavored gelatin in water, it would congeal at room temperature and we could use that for water. We made the mixture, but when it showed no signs of gelling, decided instead to layer all the leftover “window” candy in the water areas. This actually looked pretty cool – like ice. But when Jennifer stuck her finger in the forgotten pitcher of gelatin and realized it had completely congealed, we couldn’t leave well enough alone. We decided to re-melt it and pour it into the water areas on top of the candy to fill in the spaces. Worked great until it sprung a leak. We managed to stop the leak by putting an ice pack on to help the gelatin congeal faster, then plugged up the end with wood glue and more foil. If I had it to do over, I’d have left the candy alone.

Jennifer: Yeah, the candy looked cool, and the gelatin ended up melting the candy (which caused more problems), but in the end it still looks cool.

All the Little Details
Wreaths and Garland:
Audry: Jennifer spent quite a bit of time cutting the stickiest substance on earth – green candy cherries – into pieces and re-assembling them in the shapes of wreaths and garlands. She then attached these to the building with green-tinted frosting and the aid of a small pretzel stick (which didn’t stick to the cherries quite so badly as her fingers)

Jennifer: Ha! Sticky indeed! I had the idea to use candy cherries for wreaths almost from the beginning. It took a bit to get them to work (mainly trying to get them to NOT stick to my fingers), but the outcome was worth the effort. They add the perfect holiday touch to the gristmill. I love them and the splash of color they add to the house.

Audry: I dyed a small bowl of frosting bright red, which let me tell you, takes a lot of food coloring! I piped some bow shapes onto a piece of parchment paper and left them to dry… forever! It must have been the food coloring, because while the other icing turned into rocks within about 15 minutes, those bows just would not dry. I eventually managed to break the streamers off of all of them trying to take them off the parchment paper, but I just “glued” the pieces of the two most intact ones to the porch with some more red icing and you couldn’t tell the difference.

Jennifer: It’s true, you can’t tell and they add the perfect finishing touch.

The Fence:
Audry: By the time we got to the landscaping it was getting late and we were getting really tired. Instead of doing the smart thing and assembling the pretzel-stick fence laying down and then putting it in place once it was dry, I decided it would be quicker to icing the pretzels directly to the base. Wrong. After an extremely frustrating process of trying in vain to get them to stand up, I tore the whole thing off the base and put it together lying down like I should have in the first place. Once it was hard, it was easy to attach. I would have liked to build the rest of the fences, but it was just too late, and we decided it wasn’t going to make an appreciable difference to the overall model.

Paths and Snow:
Audry: The final touch was of course the ground around the building. Jennifer used mini marshmallows and graham crackers to build up the terrain in the appropriate areas, then (after thinning our final batch of white icing two separate times) I piped it onto the base in small areas and Jennifer covered it with almond meal for the road, and shredded coconut for the snowy areas. I was skeptical at first, but it turned out really nicely – and smelled great too!

Jennifer: The car smelled awesome on the drive home! Gingerbread, almond meal and coconut are a great combinations of smells! Yes, Audry was skeptical of my almond meal road and my desire to cover the marshmallows with frosting so they could be coated with dried coconut, but in the end it really came out great! I was really happy with how it all looked when finished.

Safeguarding our creation!
Jennifer: Let us tell you, a 24 inch by 24 inch base is big! Very big. We had to figure out how to protect the house so we could get it from Rhinebeck, NY to Monroe, NY (Friday evening) and then from there to Stow, MA (Saturday). And then from Stow to Sturbridge, MA (Monday).

Audry: Using two boxes, a large flat piece of corrugated cardboard Jeff’s dad found in the basement, and plenty of packing tape and duct tape (don’t ask how close I came to cutting off Jennifer’s thumb instead of a piece of packing tape) we built a surprisingly sturdy box around the whole thing that made us feel pretty confident it could survive the hours it would have to spend in the car. I had nightmares that night that the whole thing had shaken to pieces, but Jennifer texted me when she got to Monroe to let me know it had arrived safe and sound.

Jennifer: Needless to say, it did make it there safe and sound. Our gingerbread house is a well traveled house! Three states in four days. Not bad!

Okay…this post has gotten long, so go see Part 3: The Completed Creation!


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