Hobbit Hole

This year I was looking to make a relatively simple gingerbread house because my time was limited, so I took it as an opportunity to experiment with some new textures. I decided to make a hobbit hole, both because I love hobbits and because it only takes 2 pieces of gingerbread to make a hobbit hole.

While it’s true that a hobbit hole can be made with only two pieces of gingerbread (one flat with round doors and windows for the front, one draped over a bowl for the hill) I actually made several more pieces of gingerbread. In order to create a smoother transition from the base to the hole I made a few irregularly shaped blobbies to build up a slight mound underneath the hole proper. I also made a few small gingerbread circles for the shutters and the door, scoring them before baking to give them a weathered woodgrain texture. Finally, I shaped two pieces of gingerbread to make a tree for the yard. I won’t say that it was meant to be the Party Tree, since we all know the Party Tree was cut down, but I imagine any self-respecting hobbit would want a nice tree in the yard.

I tried a new technique for the windows – cutting a thin slice of white gum drop and carving some little mullions into it. I think it worked pretty well, though of course it’s more opaque than ideal.

After assembling the hill on the base with royal icing, I kept the decor on the facade to a minimum – a few thin slices of jelly bellies for rocks plus pine nut trim around the door and windows. The finishing touch was black peppercorn knobs on the shutters, and in the exact middle of the door.

For the groundcover I really gave myself free rein to experiment with various foods for texture. Though why I didn’t bother to tint my royal icing brown before I used it to stick the ground cover on I’ll never know. The dirt is composed of peanuts, grape nuts, red pepper flakes, tapioca, and brown sugar. The grass is dried rosemary, which I think looks pretty awesome. I added some broken off pretzel ends to suggest some sort of log support system for the roof. The path to the front door is made of wheat thins. The chimney is made of some sort of ugly gummy candy. I probably shouldn’t have used such obviously commercially manufactured candy. It didn’t really go with the more organic textures of the rest of the house.

The leaves on the tree are made of raw oatmeal, tossed in a bag with some powdered green food coloring and individually applied. For whatever reason, I did bother to tint the royal icing used to apply these green, although I had failed to tint the royal icing for the ground brown.

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

When my sister and I were kids our mom used to make us ice cream cone cupcakes. These are my grown-up version.

The basic technique of the ice cream cone cupcake hasn’t changed since Mom made them for us thirty years ago. Any cake recipe works fine. I used my favorite chocolate recipe. Set up the cake cones (the kind with the flat bottom) on a baking sheet and carefully spoon in the batter, filling each one about three quarters full. I was not as careful as I should have been and wound up with some drips down the sides. On the plus side, the drips get dark when the cupcakes bake and make it look like the ice cream is melting and dripping down the side of the cone.

Ideally, once baked, the cupcakes will wind up with the cake doming up nicely above the lip of the cone. Once they’re cool, they’re ready to frost. Of course, they’re fun and delicious any way you decorate them. I wanted to try to make mine look like real ice cream cones.

I mixed up a batch of buttercream frosting, half vanilla and half chocolate. Then I got a big piping bag with an extra large star decorating tip in it, to imitate the shape of ice cream that comes out of a soft serve dispenser. To mimic the pattern of vanilla and chocolate that you get on a soft serve swirl cone, I filled one side of the piping bag with the vanilla frosting and the other side with the chocolate. When I piped the frosting onto the cupcakes in a spiral, starting at the outside edge of the cone and moving inwards and upwards, it created something pretty similar to the classic swirl cone design.

To make them look even more like real ice cream cones (and because jimmies are good in that take-you-back-to-childhood kind of way) I added some chocolate jimmies on top. I also made maraschino cherries for the top by rolling out balls of pink marzipan, sticking in a premade royal icing stem and coating the whole thing with bright red piping gel. I suppose that I could have used real maraschino cherries, but I was concerned that they would be wet enough to dissolve the frosting. Plus I think marzipan tastes better than real maraschino cherries.

I was very pleased with how my ice cream cone cupcakes looked, but they did suffer from the classic flaw of all ice cream cone cupcakes – you have to eat the top first, so by the time you get to the bottom of the cone, there’s no frosting left. I recall having this issue in my childhood as well. In this case, the contrast was exacerbated by the fact that the tops of the cupcakes had almost too much frosting because I had piped it on quite thickly in order to get the swirl cone aesthetic.

If I were to create these again, I would therefore make sure to fill the cupcakes inside the cone either with some kind of frosting or with some other custard or cream filling. I would think I could accomplish this just by jamming a decorating bag with a nice big round tip deep into the cones once they’re cool, and squeezing. At least that looked like what they did when they filled their cupcakes on the Food Network Cupcake Challenge.

Star Trek Uniform

We all know that all babies look like Winston Churchill. But making a Winston Churchill costume seemed too complicated, so I decided to dress my new baby nephew, Nathan, as another bald icon – Captain Picard.

Just to be clear, I didn’t deliberated make this as a Halloween costume. I made it because I thought it would be funny to dress a baby as a Starfleet Captain. It was pure coincidence that it was about the right size for Nathan to wear on his first Halloween.

I started with a pattern for pants and a long-sleeved one-sy. In the interests of comfort and ease of diapering, I went with elastic waist and ankle on the pants, rather than the slim leg with the boot slit that adult Captain Picard wears. It’s not as if Nathan was going to be wearing low-healed ankle boots with his pants. I made a mock-up of the one-sy on muslin first so that I could draw in the appropriate pattern of red and black sections, which I then cut apart and used as a pattern for cutting the real pieces. The communicator and the pips on the collar are hand-sewn.

I have a friend who was appalled that I deliberately branded my nephew as a Star Trek nerd at such a tender age. Of course, my friend is an alumna of Cal Tech, so I don’t think that she has any right to talk about anyone else’s nerdy-ness.