Fancy gingerbread ornaments for Christmas
Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Decorating the Christmas tree before the special event has always been one of the most cherished holiday activities involving family members -- and brings them closer together.
Creative ideas for ornamental objects to bring out the festive atmosphere can emerge from various sources, even from unusual ones like the kitchen -- no doubt one of the busiest spots in the house during this time of year.
Executive chef Thomas Rappl and pastry chef Sapto Wibowo from Inter-Continental MidPlaza Jakarta use a gingerbread recipe and mold the dough to create fancy ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree and gingerbread house.
For centuries, gingerbread could not be separated from Christmas festivities. According to www.christmascabin.com, the history of gingerbread can be traced back at least to the 11th century; what is known as gingerbread in one place may vary in taste, form and presentation from others. It may resemble cake, cookies or bread while the flavor can range from mild or sweet to spicy, but it has almost always been cut into a variety of shapes and colorfully decorated.
Gingerbread, from its very beginnings, was said to be a popular fairground delicacy and many fairs became known as gingerbread fairs. If a fair were held to honor a town's saint, then people might find the saint's image imprinted into the gingerbread they bought.
In the past, gingerbread could only be prepared by gingerbread bakers who held the rights to bake it, except at Christmas and Easter.
Talking about tradition, compared with other European countries, Germany has the strongest tradition of flat gingerbread, with Nuremberg later becoming known as the gingerbread capital, where fancy-shaped gingerbread, including the house-shaped lebkuchenhaeusel -- inspired by the Hansel and Gretel tale -- was widely sold at fairs, carnivals and markets.
In France, a baker of pain d'epices (spiced bread) had a special place and was to be distinguished from other pastrycooks and bakers. There was also an old tradition of holding a gingerbread fair at an abbey in Paris where monks sold pig-shaped gingerbread.
The treat's popularity soon spread and it was settlers from Northern Europe who introduced the tradition of making gingerbread to North America where locals used it to make Victorian houses, richly adorned with colorful candies and icicles.
Here, for the ingredients, chef Rappl uses honey, flour, palm sugar, milk, eggs and spices and mixes them together into a firm dough, letting it rest in the refrigerator before rolling it and cutting it into various shapes like crescent moons, stars and small trees before baking them.
It is their colorful frostings and fancy shapes that make gingerbread cookies interesting Christmas tree ornaments. And like decorating the tree using other ornaments, preparing the dough and decorating these edible decorations can involve other family members, including children.
"Children can help cut the dough using variously shaped cookie cutters and decorate the cookies once they are cooked. They'll love it because the icing, candies and other decorative elements are colorful and it's quite easy to do it," he said. He added that at the hotel, gingerbread houses are sold at the Deli, while the gingerbread ornaments are available upon request.
In the making of a simple triangular prism gingerbread house, he prepared two rectangles for the roof and two triangles for the front and rear part of the house.
"Make sure the sides of the triangle are of the same length as the width of the rectangles and assemble them using royal icing. Make a little cut for the door at the center of the triangle."
The gingerbread dough can be prepared two days ahead; keep it wrapped in the refrigerator until ready for rolling. Once baked, these ornaments can be kept for a week.
When having guests over, these ornaments can also serve as gifts for children and they can choose the shapes they like straight from the Christmas tree.
"In making these decorations for gifts as well, make sure to wrap each ornament in cling film to be hygienic," Sapto said.
Making your own gingerbread
1. Honey 1 kg 2. Plain flour 1 kg 3. Baking flour 1 kg 4. Palm Sugar 1 kg 5. Milk 600 ml 6. Eggs 2 7. Ammoniac 10 gm 8. Gingerbread spice 20 gm
* Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius * Mix all the ingredients to form a firm dough. * Roll it and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least two hours. * Divide the dough into a workable size and roll out to a thickness of about 3 mm. * Cut it using cookie cutters, or for the gingerbread house, cut it into two rectangles and two triangles (the dimensions depend on the size of the house you want). * Line baking tray with baking paper. * Place dough on the paper, glaze with fresh milk and bake in oven for 15 minutes.
1. Icing sugar 1 kg 2. Egg white 4 3. Vinegar 5 ml 4. Colorings
* Layer the seams of the house and the edges of the roof with some of the royal icing and carefully assemble the pieces. * Divide the remaining icing into separate bowls and tint them with different colors. Use them to decorate the ornaments and the house. * You can also use your favorite sweets and cookies to decorate Christmas tree ornaments and the gingerbread house. * Stick the decorations to the house with tempered chocolate or royal icing.