Every good house needs plans.... even if it's just made out of gingerbread. We printed full size plans of the Tower to keep the scale correct
Every year Lucas and I work on our Christmas project together... a Gingerbread House. We've done many types over the years... an Irish Cottage, Country Church, a Log Cabin, and one of our biggest--our own home, Buddleside. That was the biggest and heaviest to date Victorian roof pitches and wraparound porch... even down to our hammock (made out of Fruit Rollups hanging on the front porch). Last year, in honor of our Voyage in Italy, we build a Trullo, those pointy roofed houses in Puglia (see post HERE).
But even last year, before we decided on the Trullo design, we had another thought... to build a Gingerbread Leaning Tower of Pisa. Well, as you can see by the photo above, this year we decided to do it! I think we succeeded... I was pretty rough going, though. Of course, the obvious challenge is that it leans. Another main problem was how to construct--and bake--the curved tower sections. I researched covering a cardboard tube with gingerbread and leaving the tube inside. But I discovered that gingerbread sort of melts downward as you heat a tube sitting vertically in the oven. The other method is to lay the gingerbread covered tube on its side in the oven and turn it every minute or so as it bakes. We decided against this because attaching balconies would be a real hassle. The Leaning Tower has balconies on six levels. We decided to create cylinders alternating with round cookies to construct the tower.
The solution to forming the curved shapes was to make half-cylinders and then put two together to form each floor of the tower. Next was coming up with a jig that could cool the shaped pieces just as they came out of the oven.... without them cracking or sloughing off pieces. I created a rig out of a large wooden rolling pin attached to our large roasting pan. As we quickly found out, the gingerbread recipe that Lisa had prepared was too crumbly at first... which we fixed by adding a bit of boiling water and re-kneading. But then we found that would not hold together when draped over the rolling pin form immediately after baking. We needed a new recipe....
The failed recipe... gravity was it's enemy.
The new recipe... almost fudge-like and pliable.
The recipe that worked was more fudge-like in texture. It molded well. It cut well. And most important, after baking (undercooking a bit) it molded to the cylinder form without cracking!
The new recipe shaping up on the form
The half-sections for the cylinders
So, I baked up some half-cylinders, then the gingerbread rounds to act as each level's floor and balcony.I decided to bake the bottom level as one complete cylinder... molded over a cardboard and metal iced tea contained that I cut at the correct angle for the Tower's sunken foundation. I rolled out the gingerbread and then rolled it up around the tube. As it baked, I kept turning it--about ever 2 minutes, for 15 minutes. This kept it from melting down off the tube. Perfect!
The lower foundation base baking
The doors... the feet on one of Lucas' Lego men made the panel impressions
The various parts... the doors, molded angels, archways for the campanile, etc.
Next I created the smaller parts: doors, hearts, angels and the arches and rings needed to create the campanile (bell tower)... after all, the Leaning Tower is actually a functioning bell tower. Ours was going to have bells!
At first, we thought of using pizzelle for the floors, but decided they wouldn't be strong enough
We attached a vertical 1" thick dowel to a plywood base... the dowel comes up through each floor's round cookies and are "grouted" with royal icing
Lucas and I needed five hands to put together the fragile campanile top... my hands were shaking as I glued them with royal icing
We attached the first level with duct tape (inside the cylinder) to the plywood base. We then "glued" each level, one by one with royal icing, cutting offset holes in each round cookie to allow for the dowel. Lucas put a special candy inside each level that only he would know about. By the time we got to the top level, the dowel "just" made it... touching the side of the curved wall. Another 1/2" off would have been a disaster. All the levels were already "glued"! The campanile was the delicate part. It was all hands on deck to get this assembled and then lifted into position. It really was the crowing glory of the piece. Once it was up there, the thing really looked like the Leaning Tower!
Then it was the fun part... Lucas organized all the candy and we started decorating. The chocolate, foil wrapped bells up on top. The doors and angels. Gummy bears, M&Ms, Live Savers, jelly beans, peppermint swirls... The hardest part was attaching all the pretzel columns... we have about 1/3 as many as the real tower, but they still took us over an hour to do.
By the end, my hands were shaking and my fingers were cramped from pressing the stiff royal icing out of pastry bags for hours on end. The assembly and decorating pretty much took us an entire day.
It was worth it, though. We think it turned out to be one of our best. What do you all think?
Jerry, Lisa and Lucas Finzi... Merry Christmas--Buon Natale!
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Here's a quick way to use up the last of your Christmas Turkey... Zuppa di Tacchino con Acini di Pepe.
The soup is fairly basic: dice and saute some onion in olive oil, add cut up pieces of leftover turkey into pot, add diced carrots and celery, spice up with pepper, salt and two tablespoons of Italian Seasoning... After simmering for a hour or more ('til the veggies are tender) add some liquid smoke (3-4 good dashes), and finally about 1 and a half cups acini di pepe soup pasta (this is a small, cylindrical pasta similar to pastina). Stir for the first minute so the pasta doesn't stick together. Then heat until the pasta is tender.
If you added enough pasta, the soup takes on a very thick texture and is like a lazy man's risotto...
Serve with a couple of pieces of crusty, toasted bread and top off the soup with shards of your favorite cheese... this time I used a nutty Mahon.
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