{recipe + craft} The Gingerbread Casbah

And now for something completely different: the GINGERBREAD CASBAH.

The gingerbread casbah came into being because every year, we throw a themed Christmas party for around 100 of our closest friends. Since we just took a honeymoon to the Middle East, we thought we could try out some new tricks at a Middle East-themed Christmas party. After all, that is where the whole Christmas thing started, right? An evite full of bad puns later (“we are Beiruting for you to come”, and so forth) we had our “Christmas at the Casbah” party ready to go, and all we needed was an impressive centerpiece.

This is not really a casbah, but a typical courtyard house. (Casbah sounds cooler though, so that’s more of a marketing-focused name for it.) On our honeymoon, we stayed in a beautiful hotel in Old City of Damascus called Beit Al Mamlouka, and I very loosely modeled the casbah on my recollections of how it looked. I say “very loosely” because their floors weren’t made of sour belts and jujubes, and their walls weren’t edible.

For the gingerbread, I used a recipe that C&H tweeted me– and it was great. Alas, I haven’t actually tasted it, but from a construction point of view it was tops – simple to make, very easy to roll out, not too sticky, sturdy, and kept its shape during baking. Also, it smells delicious, which adds a nice extra sensory dimension to the house. The royal icing that glues the whole thing together is just a stiff mixture of egg whites and powdered sugar with a pinch of cream of tartar, mixed with the paddle attachment of a Kitchen-Aid.

I did most of the shape-cutting freehand, but used a star cutters for the front windows. To make the windows, we rolled out the dough and put it on a silpat. Then we cut shapes out and arranged crushed jolly ranchers inside. When they baked, they became clear and solid. You have to let them cool while carefully loosening them from the silpat, as the candy stays soft and molten for about 30 minutes after coming out of the oven. Once they harden fully, they are structurally quite sound.

I thought that doing this alone would be both boring and incredibly frustrating and also not come out as well, so I assembled a crack team to help out. Rodney the pastry chef is always an excellent addition to this type of team, and did lots of the rolling, fine icing work, and construction assistance. Heather took care of cobblestones and windows, while MJ formed small furnishings including the excellent hookah.

I am a firm believer that everything on a true gingerbread house should be edible, and should be candy. Also, I can make like anything out of marzipan or fondant- ergo, marzipan and fondant are cheating. Sculpting something out of a tootsie roll is so much more impressive. So I refused to allow any non-edible, non-candy/gingerbread/icing objects adorn the house.

I bought electric flicker tea lights to illuminate it during the party, to make the windows shine. Merry Christmas everyone!

Here’s the breakdown of what’s what:

  • Windows: crushed jolly ranchers baked into the gingerbread
  • Tile floor: rainbow sour belts, jujubes, licorice wheels, and silver dragees
  • Balcony floors: red hots, tic tacs, and silver dragees
  • Balcony railings: sesame candies, licorice wheels (unrolled), jujubes
  • Cobblestones: formed tootsie roll slices with yellow sprinkles
  • Hanging lamps: licorice wheels and Haribo raspberry gummies
  • Hookah: deconstructed tootsie rolls, sour belts, and licorice wheels
  • Table: gingerbread star with dragees and jujubes
  • Chair: sesame candies and tootsie rolls
  • Tree: iced cookie with Haribo raspberry gummy and tootsie roll
  • Camels: iced cookies with sprinkles

I wasn’t able to find any other instances of Middle Eastern gingerbread architecture on the web, but I did come across some gingerbread structures of note. Here are a few of my favorites from around teh interwebz.

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18 Responses

  1. Talley says:

    Impressive! love the interior.

  2. Veronica says:

    WOW AMAZING :D!! Love it!

  3. Rosa says:

    I love your casbah! So pretty! you are very talented!

    Best wishes for 2010!



  4. Gala says:

    Wow great idea, gorgeous windows and attention to detail.

  5. karen says:

    Thanks everyone! Now I have a whole year to figure out what gingerbread structure to make next year… 🙂

  6. Kirstin says:

    This is AMAZING! Seriously, great job! Your attention to detail is insane! I’ve studied Middle Eastern architecture before and it definitely has some authentic elements too 🙂

  7. tia says:

    i love how you did the floor w the rainbow candy strips! so cool.

  8. Janet says:

    Wonderfully colorful. I love the windows.

  9. Jill says:

    What a totally CREATIVE gingerbread piece!! I love all the details and the windows are just beautiful!! 🙂

  10. Lisa says:

    Oh wow..love all the little details in your gingerbread house, and it looks simply loevly and colorful! Great job! Have a wonderful New Year!

  11. fairy_mi says:

    Wow, what a fabulous gingerbread house!
    Great shape and lovely decorations!
    Wtg for the fabulous job!
    (also a DB)

  12. anna says:

    This is AMAZING and I love your “everything must be edible” attitude. Right on! The little hookah is AWESOME. Great job on this challenge! 😀

  13. Elise says:

    Brilliant, I love it!

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