Wednesday, December 19, 2007

gluten-free gingerbread circus!

As most people know, Tal is allergic to wheat and wheat-related grains (basically, he can eat rice, sorghum, corn, quinoa, and other starches such as tapioca and potato). So Christmas time is a time of marathon baking, now. We not only need to bake all the usual fare (but gluten-free), to be shared at the (yes, DAILY) festive dinners we'll be attending or hosting for the next couple of weeks, but we also need to have enough on hand so that at every gathering where cookies/cakes may be presented, we have a suitable (and exciting!) alternative or two. That's all on top of the breads, buiscuits, pies, cakes, etc. that we bake, regardless. It should be renamed: Standing in the Kitchen Month.

So for those interested, here is the latest: a Gingerbread Circus! It was Tali's idea, and thank goodness Rhiannon was also excited about it! It took us about 8 hours, spread out over two days... phewf. This thing better be delicious when we devour it! We also have about 50 individual cookies, iced and ready to be packaged up for various events.

The recipe is adapted to be gluten-free from my friend Miki's (and her Mum's) family recipe

Gingerbread Boys
1 ½ cups white rice flour
1 cup tapioca flour
½ cup corn flour
½ cup potato starch
2 tsp guar gum
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup butter
1 cup natural cane sugar
½ cup molasses
1 egg

Combine flours, guar gum, salt, baking powder, and spices in a bowl.

In a separate (large) bowl, cream the butter with the sugar and molasses until fluffy. Add egg and dry ingredients, and continue mixing until thoroughly combined. Shape into a 1-inch thick, flat puck, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate approximately 3 hours, until firm.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease cookie sheets.

Roll 1/4–inch thick, and cut to desired shapes. For curved walls, engine cylinders, etc., drape a rectangle of dough over a clean (label- and glue-removed) tin can. If the dough does not reach the bottom to stabilize the can, place small bits of dough around the bottom to stabilize. Some small shapes (cones, etc.) will hold their form during baking.

In this photo you see Tali's original design specifications (the drawing with the orange roof and circus performers dressed in blue), as well as our scrap-paper model (on the right, by Tal's hands), and all the pieces, carefully cut out on the tray and on the table.

Bake until lightly browned on the edges. The darker you let it get, the sturdier will be your gingerbread construction!

Frosting Paint:
for gluing and decorating gingerbread constructions

2.5 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 egg-whites
1 or 2 drops of 100% essential oil of your choice: vanilla, orange, and peppermint are our favourites!

Beat all ingredients until just mixed, then continue beating until stiff (on high with a mixer). A knife drawn through should leave a clean path. This time we added a little butter to the icing, to make it softer... mmmm...

Separate into bowls and tint with natural food colourings. We typically use:
turmeric (yellow)
spirulina (green)
beet powder or juice (red/pink)
cocoa (brown, or black when mixed with spirulina)

This time we actually just blended carrots into one part, and beets into another, and found the textured colours we got quite beautiful! And they were tasty, too! Here's Tal's explanation of the colouring:

Add water ½ tsp at a time to thin frosting paint, as necessary. Keep covered and refrigerated when not in use.

We also used some melted dark chocolate to attach the walls, tightrope standard, and standing people to the base.

What did the kids do in this??Obviously, this required a lot of adult help. The kids planned it all, with some architectural-stability advice from me. Taliesin helped make the dough while Rhiannon was at preschool. Then we worked out the pieces together; I cut the papers, they cut the gingerbread. Day 2: We all mixed the icing. Then we tried propping it up, together, but it was just too fickle for the 3 sets of hands together, so then the kids painted individual cookies while I (with plenty of guidance and a few holding-up assists) stuck all the main pieces to the board with melted chocolate. We popped it in the freezer multiple times with various (cups & bowls) supports to hold it while the chocolate hardened. When it was all pretty stable, they finished the circus implements (Tali made a hamster-wheel and trapeze, which are inside the tent), and iced and decorated the whole thing. The white-chocolate path was my addition. :--)

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