JOE MILLER’S LONG-LASTING GINGERBREAD RECIPE
This gingerbread is tough enough to last up to a year even in high humidity. It’s from a recipe that Emily Wert found online from Joe Miller, a Jacksonville, Fla., gingerbread legend.
Tools: 13-quart steel mixing bowl, 9-quart mixing bowl, small bowl, spatula, whisk, measuring cup, spoons
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for dusting the rolling surface and the rolling pin
6 cups coarse rye flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup lemon juice
2 beaten eggs
2 beaten yolks
1/2 cup margarine
1 1/3 cups honey
3 1/3 cups sugar
Measure out both the all-purpose flour and rye flour, and sift together into the 9-quart bowl. Add the ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt and blend. Combine the lemon juice, beaten eggs and beaten yolks into a small bowl and set it aside.
Using the largest bowl (13 quart), combine the margarine, honey and sugar. Place it over medium heat and stir it with a large spoon until it is soft enough to blend together. The sugar does not need to dissolve. Once the mixture is soft, remove it from the heat. Pour the lemon juice and egg mixture into this bowl of sugar and honey while it is still warm. Using a wire whisk, whip the ingredients together until it is well blended.
Begin to add the flour into the mixture. Once it begins to thicken, use your hands to knead it all together. Continue to knead this dough into a smooth ball and cover with plastic wrap.
Use small amounts of flour to dust onto the rolling surface and the rolling pin. Take a portion of the completed dough (what you would need for a piece of the house) and knead this dough until it is soft. Roll it out on the surface until it is the desired thickness. When it is baked, this dough will rise a little. You will need to experiment with the thickness you will use. Cut your shapes (from templates made of poster board created when planning your gingerbread house), and transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking tray. Check and trim shapes after moving to baking sheet.
Bake the shapes at 350 degrees. If the dough is 1/4 inch thick, bake it for 15 minutes. For dough 3/8 inch thick, bake longer, about 20-25 minutes.
If this dough cools too much, it will be hard to roll. Take cold dough (just the amount you need) and wrap it in plastic wrap. Microwave it for 15-30 seconds. This gingerbread dough is NOT conventional.
When Emily Wert bakes, she bakes like an architect.
Her gingerbread uses rye flour, which tastes a bit pungent but produces sturdier load-bearing walls.
The odds are good that no one will actually consume her latest creation, just as it’s likely that no one will eat the butter sculpture at the Minnesota state fair.
But they could. Wert’s constructions are all edible, down to the parquet floors made of chewing gum and the thatched roofs made of Frosted Mini-Wheats.
Wert, 56, is among that small group of creatives who take Martha Stewart one step further. While some of us are content to buy a gingerbread house kit with pre-cut slabs, Wert and her husband, Jim, build one-of-a-kind confections that take up all the real estate on top of their 9-foot Knabe grand piano.
Each year, the Morningside couple throws a Christmas party for 400 or so, built around a theme either from J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, depending on what new movie is out. Each year, she makes a new culinary centerpiece that draws oohs and aahs from the costumed celebrants.
One year, it was the ship from Lewis’ book “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Before that, she built Professor Kirke’s country house from Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” This year brings “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” to theaters, the last of the three movies drawn from Tolkien’s Middle Earth saga, “The Hobbit.”
And the Werts are building Lake-town.
It’s a complex of four buildings amid a tangle of rickety walkways and pretzel railings. Tiny shirts and pants trimmed from fruit leather hang like laundry from licorice-whip clotheslines. The challenge for Emily Wert this year is putting her gingerbread subdivision on stilts in the middle of a small pond made of molten blue sugar.
In the movie, Lake-town is burned to a crisp by the murderous dragon, Smaug. This Lake-town is baked to a golden brown at 350 degrees. The creation takes planning. “I began thinking about this a year ago,” she said.
A recent weekday found her home from her job as a church-school librarian, using a hacksaw to craft gingerbread posts. For each thick corner post, she laminated two gingerbread beams together, using royal icing (confectioners’ sugar and egg whites).
She creates a template for her structures using poster board, which she assembles into a likeness of the house. She then disassembles the paper mock-up so that each segment can be traced onto the gingerbread dough. She’s a math major and former programmer at Southern Bell, so she has the chops of an engineer. But her heart is in Middle Earth.
Jim, 56, an independent consultant for nonprofits, handles the shingling and the finish work. Their four grown children will arrive in time for the party, turned out as elves, dwarfs and wizards, and will help serve the guests.
The Werts’ creations are durable. In one corner of their rambling Victorian house is last year’s folly, the domed White Council Chamber where the elves Galadriel and Elrond debated with Gandalf. The structure sits on stone cliffs, made of an amalgam of royal icing and Rice Krispies, and the foundation is still Gibraltar solid.
The chamber still gives off a faint aroma of ginger. Emily insists on following the recipe, even though her confections are decorative. That means the chef cannot skimp on heaping teaspoons of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.
"It has to smell like gingerbread," she said.
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