Making a gingerbread house with Neff

I’ve already shared a couple of pictures here and on my social channels of the gingerbread house i helped to construct at a blogging event a week or so ago. And it was billed as a bit of a bake off, which involved competition and skill. Thankfully I’d been teamed with some proper food bloggers who brought their knowledge to our team’s enthusiasm. Before being let loose on the challenge, we learnt more about the ovens and what lie ahead of us and although the dough had been made for us in the interests of time, instead of a recipe to follow we had to use our instincts, which is where those food bloggers came into their own. Between them they knew how long to cook the individual shapes for, and how to make Royal Icing. I quickly learnt this is where my icing goes wrong as I’ve not made that type of icing before. Lesson number one learnt and stored away for home use!

Setting the challenge and learning more about Neff ovens

But starting off there was a simple cutting out job to do. First the templates and then the templates and gingerbread dough. With the dough cut out one of the most challenging parts of the evening was fitting the dough onto the trays to go into the oven, as with three teams cooking there was as much competition for oven space. Thankfully none of us were so competitive that we resorted to dirty tactics, everyone played fair, even to the point of checking on each other’s baking.

Starting off with a template
Many hands make a NEFF gingerbread - part 1

I’m a fan of Neff ovens, I’m on my second at home - the second one as when we did our kitchen we opted to upgrade our appliances too, and it was an easy choice when our kitchen suppliers asked which brand of appliances we wanted. Definitely Neff. They’re reliable, cook well, look good and why move from what you know?

Our only regret, well with hindsight, that has to be the timing of our kitchen refurb, which was just as the ‘slide and hide’ models were starting to be available. Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m not sure we would have delayed it just for an oven door which disappears, but I know one thing, next time we buy an oven that’s what we’ll be aiming for.

Another thing I learnt from the evening was that clean ovens are more efficient than, well than mine. That’s lesson learnt number two, but that’s one that is likely to take a bit more elbow grease, or delegated elbow grease, to put right. But it’s something to aim for, kitchen goals and all that…

With our gingerbread baked and trimmed - it’s important to do that while it’s still warm, and a tip we picked up was to use those templates again, and not worry too much if it cracks, as there’s always icing. That’s my own real-world, icing loving, tip there - but it works.

originally bunting, but used as pebbles in the end

While the main components were cooking we set about making some gingerbread and French stick canapes; there were circles, stars, snowmen and Christmas tree shapes - and more besides. Not liking to waste any of the dough I attempted some triangular bunting shapes, see above. The shapes expanded during cooking, and so the PR friendly bunting transformed into stepping stones to go outside our house.

And that icing, that’s all mine - it’s a bit wobbly in places, but not bad for a first attempt at lettering, hey?

construction is starting
construction part 2 - and many hands make a NEFF gingerbread house

Construction was made easier with many hands, and so I can confirm many hands do make light work. After my mini-venture into icing, I was happy to leave the construction cement-like icing to those that really knew what they were doing, happy to record the events in much the same way that Kevin McCloud does on Grand Designs, but with much less mud.

Confident that our house wouldn’t fall down, it was time for decorating, and the next challenge of the evening was trying not to eat our construction supplies - well until the decorating was done that is.

Finishing the roof, if only all roofs had chocolate buttons

You’ll have seen my 3D tree here before, but I’m sharing it again because I’m so proud of how it turned out. I’d love to say it was planned, but when I saw two stars and a circle going spare, along with plenty of green icing I couldn’t help myself. The jelly babies proved to be the perfect baubles, and the tree looked great in our garden.

My 3D tree which you've seen before

It was my first time making a gingerbread house, and it was way easier than I thought, especially with the combined knowledge of our team’s food bloggers. If you’re tempted to try one for yourself, give it a go, as not only is it fun to make, it also tastes fantastic too as my work colleagues can testify - and I’m sure it’ll be easier with the recipe too, so here’s the recipe of our gingerbread houses - thanks Neff.

the final result - our neff gingerbread house

* This is a collaborative post, but as usual all views are my own. Thanks to Neff and their partners for a great evening, and of course for the gingerbread house!

Airplants, wonder plants

These plants are fascinating. They’re from South America and named because they use their short, wiry roots to attach themselves to branches, cliff-faces and pretty much anywhere rather than rooting in soil.

They have requirements for air, light, water and warmth and benefit from brighter conditions, rainfall and humidity, so they’ll have thrived this summer in the UK. I saw these, and was fascinated by them at Gardeners’ World Live in Birmingham this year.

And just because they don’t grow in soil, doesn’t mean they aren’t pretty. I mean, just look at these:

vibrant colours, a pink you wouldn't believe
oranges and wispy white airplants

I wasn’t expecting such vibrant colours either. The sort of plants that I expected were more like this, but even these have a tinge of pink, which change colour in bright light.

Growing on rocks

But what was even more fascinating was the baskets of air plants ready to be bought. They have an almost water-plant quality to them don’t they?

choose your own air plants at gardeners' world live

And there’s definitely a hint of spider plant babies to them too isn’t there?

One thing that’s struck me as I’m typing this post is how I’m describing the plants: water-like, spider-like, but I hope you can see what I mean. Often air plants are grown on logs, and this was an option in Birmingham, as well as some clear glass tubes which gave them a more modern feel.

air plants growing logs
vibrant red airplants

But be warned, air plants grow, flower, set seed and die - so if you want a long lasting display, it’s worth cultivating your own from the offsets - and then you’ll be in the same situation as I am with my aloe veras, where I can’t bear to part with any of them!

What do you think, could you be an air plant convert?

Fog in the park

This year has been a bit of a one for weather, hasn’t it? And it keeps on coming.  The latest instalment was a bit of a pea-souper, or fog if you’ve no idea what I mean, and it made yesterday’s walk to work through Greenwich Park just a little bit more tranquil, and mysterious, than normal.  So much so that I couldn’t help but pause, just for a moment and capture it with my trusty iPhone. 

A view across a tranquil Greenwich Park in Fog
a closer look at the same tree

Somehow the fog makes the trees look more delicate, and more beautiful than they would against the usual morning sky, don’t you think?

Fog in the dip in Greenwich Park

As my route took me through the park I was curious to see how the fog had enveloped it, hugging it’s contours and softening the distant views. 

Trees in the distance and the maritime museum on the right

But, even so, it’s still not what I’d call cold, and that’s something I’ll happily take, but just so you know weather, colder isn’t needed, and nor is any more of your extremes, if that’s ok...