Illinois pastry chef shares gingerbread building secrets

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For his day job, Eric Larson works for University Housing as head pastry chef. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing the creation of every dessert that is served at the Ikenberry Dining Center. At the request of Chancellor Robert Jones, Larson took a break from these duties to construct a holiday scene complete with a gingerbread Altgeld Hall and Alma Mater statue. It was the focus of the Chancellor’s 2019 Holiday Video. You can watch the video here. Below, he has shared the recipe he used to make this iconic masterpiece.

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Gingerbread Altgeld & Alma Mater Recipe

Gingerbread dough for building construction pieces (not the best for eating)

Ingredients

    • 1 1/4 cup shortening
    • 1 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 T cinnamon
    • 1 t ground ginger
    • 1 t ground nutmeg
    • 9 cups flour
    • ½ cup corn starch
    • 2 cups molasses
    • ¼ cup water (maybe more for pliability)

Instructions

    1. In a large mixer bowl, cream the shortening together with the sugar and spices.
    2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl until the shortening mixture is completely homogeneous.
    3. Add the flour a few cups at a time, mixing after each addition. (If you are using an electric mixer use the slowest speed.) Eventually the shortening will mix completely into the flour and it will resemble just-barely-damp sand.
    4. Pour in the molasses and water and mix until the liquid is distributed throughout the dough. The dough is very stiff, so you’ll need to knead it just to get the whole mass to come together.
    5. Turn the dough out onto a counter top. Knead the dough until it is smooth and homogeneous.
    6. Press the dough into 1” thick rectangle and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let rest an hour or so before you roll it (just leaving it out at room temperature is fine). If you won’t be using it that day, store the dough in the refrigerator, but bring it up to room temperature before you roll and shape it. (it may need a tad more water. Knead in water usiung a spray bottle to not add too much water.)
    7. Roll out dough to 3/16-1/4″ thickness and cut shapes
    8. Let dough dry 24 hours before baking 260 F for 30 minutes (or more depending on the size of the piece)
    9. You can use royal icing to assemble pieces but melted chocolate allows building to come together faster.

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Additional Elements

Chocolate was used to hold the gingerbread piece together, various colors of royal icing were used to decorate, isomalt was used for the windows, colored corn flake cereal was used for the leaves and powdered sugar was used for snow. The trees were made by dipping grape stems into melted chocolate.

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Larson has been a pastry chef at Illinois for more than 24 years. His other pastry creations include fresh pastries baked daily for the Ikenberry Dining Center, a chocolate motorcycle placed atop a retirement cake, a gingerbread President’s House and many more.

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