So, you've probably made or decorated Gingerbread Houses for Christmas. Why not Gingerbread Baskets for Easter?
I've constructed 3-D gingerbread houses for Christmas, tulip bouquets, St. Patrick's Day Houses, Valentine's Day Houses, and much more. Today I'm featuring my homemade Easter Baskets chocked full of treats. Take a look. These are from my own designs from start to finish. I encourage everyone to try gingerbread, whether you make it from scratch or work with a store-bought kit with the kids.
Today I'm featuring my homemade Easter Baskets chocked full of treats. Take a look. These are from my own designs and are worth a try for anyone who loves gingerbread. Easter is another excuse to test your skills with an additionally beautiful gingerbread treat. It can also be a pleasing accomplishment as you continue on your journey with gingerbread construction. (Don't get me wrong! I'm not afraid to say that not everything I have tried on my own has been successful. But, I've researched and tried out many different techniques, adapting those that work best for my designs. I enjoy the journey.)
Weeks before I begin to mix the gingerbread and do any baking, I spend time researching gingerbread making through various books, magazines and online resources that specialize in designing and making gingerbread. This is the part of the process that I enjoy the most. What recipes work better for edible cookies and which are better for structural building like a gingerbread house? There is definitely a difference. The softer recipes are better for eating. The "hard as cement" gingerbread recipes are superb for designing and building anything from a small house to a large multi-tiered structure. Take a look at how other gingerbread structures are put together. How are they decorated? That’s another fun part of the process – obtaining already produced candy items for decorating…and determining what type of frosting piping decorating to incorporate.
I make my patterns out of heavy paper - usually from last year's calendar pages. That type of paper seems to repel the oils of the cookie dough better and the paper stock lasts long enough to use over again.
As I make my patterns, I fit them together to see how they fit and what overall size I will end up with, keeping in mind that gingerbread dough can spread, making the fitting of pieces a little more difficult. Don't be afraid to make extra pieces and to be ready with a sharp knife to shave edges in order to make pieces fit better. I play around with the sizing, curves, angles, heights, widths and depths to make it all fit together in the design mode. I usually make a full-sized mockup using hard card stock to see how everything fits together. I’m not
saying it’s the right way to do it, but it’s the process I learned and enjoy.
Be sure to label the patterns as to what part they make, i.e., side, handle, base, inside construction, etc. I also write the number of pieces needed to be cut out, right on the pattern. That way I'm not surprised after completing my baking that I didn't make enough of each section. If I have extra gingerbread dough, I also make a few extra handles, just in case. They are the easiest to break.
When I make the two pieces for the inside supports, I cut indentations in them before I bake them so that I can interlock them and "cement" them together. When I test them to interlock them, I sometimes need to scrape a little more off the inside edges so that they interlock completely. That's a support that won't come apart!
After making my patterns, I mix and roll out the gingerbread dough, laying pattern pieces on the dough to cut out with a very sharp knife, making sure all edges are straight and that all corners are squared off where they need to be.
One challenging part of making the baskets was to get the curves in the sides of the baskets just right. I worked with different sized empty vegetable and soup cans to help get the curves just right so that the pieces fit together. I baked the sides of the baskets flat and while still warm, fit them over the curves of the cans, being careful not to let the gingerbread crack. Let them dry and then "glue" them together with royal frosting, using heavy vegetable cans to prop them while the "glue" dries. If any cracks appear, I just smooth them over with melted chocolate. That gives the rounded sections an more finished look, too.
If you’ve never made gingerbread structures before you may want to start small. Maybe begin by making a couple of different gingerbread cookie recipes to get the hang of working with gingerbread. Compare those recipes to a
construction recipe. Of course, the structural batter will take a few more arm muscles in getting it mixed and rolled out. Start smaller and you won’t be disappointed or become disenchanted with the process partway compared with a larger project. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Take classes if you prefer that process. Watch videos online. There are so many talented people out there offering videos to help you along to a successful final product. Most of them enjoy being asked about their expertise.
Once I have the design settled on, I move on to figuring out how much gingerbread to make, and then make and bake my gingerbread. If I’m unsure of the shape of pieces, I’ll make a duplicate of certain sections in case I break one in the set-up process. I’m not afraid to trim down some of the pieces with the sharp edge of a knife, scraping them to fit better. I never make the pieces and assemble them the same day. I allow them to dry for a couple of days – that's another reason I like to work in cooler, drier days. I also use heavy items to help hold walls, etc. in place while they dry overnight.
I decided to make support structures for the inside of my larger baskets. I use a crisscross structure inside to help keep the curved sides "standing at a attention" to keep them straight up and down. I even made a false bottom, in addition to the base, to lay on top of the crisscross structure so there was a hefty floor on which to lay all of the treats.
I won’t go into any particular gingerbread recipe at this time, but encourage you to test and find a recipe you are comfortable with. Think through what exactly you would like to build and decorate. Many people start out with pre-baked gingerbread houses with readymade frosting and set of decorations to help you complete a quick project. Those are great starter kits and a lot of fun for kids. It’s something you can handle in an afternoon. There
are also magazines and books available for you to follow very good directions to replicate what a gingerbread artist has already tested and figured out for you. These are great, too, because they have been tested as far as structure strength, etc. And, of course, there are many YouTube videos and Gingerbread baking and making competitions available to watch. There are just so many options for help. NOTE: In this picture, you can see some extra spacing around the bottom inside edges of the basket. This happens from the curved edges not being exactly the curves as the round bottom. Before you finish, just pipe some "cement" frosting in those spaces to cover them up. Once the flat layer of gingerbread is added and cemented on top of the inside crisscross supports, no one will ever see the spaces.
After I have the basic gingerbread basket together and have let it dry overnight, I begin to pipe on the basket weave all around the outside of the structure. For me, I place the naked basket onto a box on my counter, topped with a small Lazy Susan. That way I can pipe and turn the basket as I pipe around the outside. Then I pipe a pattern on top of the edge of the basket to cover any ugly construction pieces. You'll notice that the interior structure takes up most of the basket's insides, giving me a good support for adding Easter grasses and treats later.
What about handles?
Of course, I added handles to some of the baskets. The attaching of the handles was a little tricky. I had to remind the recipients NOT to lift the baskets by the handles. I tried a couple handles before I got them just right, carving a couple small indentations on either side of the basket, in order to "cement" them in place with royal icing. It works!
For a better structure I made extra handles so that I could double up on the handles, "cementing" two of them together to make one sturdy handle. I also used melting candies to hold the handles in place and dry before I inserted the entire structure inside in the baskets. That's when I had to made some adjustments by carving some indentions around the basket handles.
Do you want to make a small house? Make a different type of structure? In this case I’m making a round gingerbread structure for the basket. After I bake and put the basket together, then I get into the frosting piping, with a basket pattern all around the basket.
I should also say that I tried another version of the round basket. I made a number of round circles from gingerbread dough and cut the centers out so that I had "rings" of gingerbread dough. Then after they were baked, I "cemented" a bunch of them on top of each other in order to make a found basket. To make the false bottom, I inserted one full circle, not a ring, about 3 layers from the top. This gave me a false bottom so that I did not have to fill the entire basket with grass and treats. To cover up the raw edges of the rings, I spread a crumb coat of the colored frosting around the outside edge of the basket. Then I used the same colored frosting for piping the basket weave. This process worked very well.
Do you want to get kids involved? This particular project could involve older youth, depending on what their interest is and what their hand coordination skills are. It’s a wonderful learning experience for all.
Do you want to enter a local gingerbread competition to further test your creativity and gingerbread skills? Do you want to recreate a local landmark? There are so many ways you can get involved…but, make sure you have fun!
I have spent time online, down candy aisles and in specialty shops researching what could be turned into great decorating items, according to the theme, taking into account colors, sizes, shapes and dimensions for fitting items together. If I can’t find the right decorations for my structures, I’ll make my own out of royal icing, that’s the “cement” I use for putting my structures together. It can also be piped into different shapes (such as hearts or flowers) and sizes and colors onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Let them dry overnight and pull them off the paper. Now you have unique customized decorations that no one else will have on their structures.
For these Easter baskets, I didn’t use much for purchased decorations, except for what I placed inside the baskets. Most of my décor involves the piping of the basket pattern around the baskets.
How to display your gingerbread masterpiece?
I had decided that I was not about to toss out my homemade Easter Baskets when the holiday was over. In fact, I've
keep some of my gingerbread pieces for over 5 years. To that end, I researched many different types of clear plastic domed display units that would look great on display in my dining room, and also serve as a storage unit. What I found were Nordic Ware clean plastic display bell-type domes that are lightweight and easy to cover and seal with bubble wrap for storing in a plastic tub. You might recognize the Nordic Ware name as a famous maker of fabulous metal Bundt cake pans. Yes, that's the very same Nordic Ware that produces these lightweight domed display units. I actually invested in the taller cupcake display domes and dismantled the innards so that I could display a taller gingerbread unit. So, when I plan my gingerbread house or basket or flowers, I keep the size of the dome in mind.
I love these domes! They are lightweight and easy to work with. The only thing I wish is that I could find domes even larger/taller to handle larger gingerbread creations.
What about storage?
I have saved some of my favorite gingerbread projects from year to year, storing them carefully inside a sturdy clear dome and then wrapped in heavy plastic wrap. I surround the clear dome with paper stuffing and then seal them in plastic totes and store them in a cool dry place. It’s amazing how the colors hold from year to year as long as you don’t display them in a sunny spot.
I’ve enjoyed researching, designing, baking and constructing gingerbread projects. I hope these photos and my comments give you ideas for some of the things you can accomplish. Take the leap, if you haven't already, to create your own original gingerbread structures. Whether you’re designing, making and baking gingerbread or working on a store-bought kit, do what you’re comfortable with. And, best of luck while you "Bake your own Memories!”