Do it yourself: gingerbread carousel

Ginger, spice and everything nice

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In this year's gingerbread centerpiece, circus animals parade around a miniature carousel decked out in fantasy-fashion with candy cane poles and gumdrops.

Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
This holiday carousel is made of gingerbread, candy canes, gumdrops and royal frosting.
Click photo for larger image.

Artsy-craftsy bakers who love to make cut-out cookies for the holidays will want to add this edible carousel construction to their repertoires.

It is made using an all-purpose gingerbread from a tried-and-true cookie recipe. Ornamental frosting, called royal icing, is used as glue, caulk and piping. Egg white and cream of tartar ensure that the confectioner's sugar icing dries hard.

This is a family or group project that takes about 10 to 12 hours to complete, with those working hours spread out over a week, depending on how ambitious the decorators are and how fast the various stages take to dry.

Your first decision is where the finished carousel will be displayed. I chose a 12-inch diameter size for the base of the carousel because it will fit nicely on either my wide window sill or on the buffet. I also just happen to have a 12-inch lazy susan, perfect for a merry-go-round. Make it larger, if you like, but keep the discs in proportion.

You need to assemble everything you will use before you begin, so allow plenty of time to shop and gather materials. For circus animals and other decorations, check Pier 1, Christmas ornament departments and Michaels, the Arts & Crafts Store. Find dowel sticks at hardware stores. Make a supermarket run for ingredients. No special equipment is needed. Expect the project to cost approximately $50, which depends on how elaborate you are with decorations. It can add up.

I suggest that you plan to construct the carousel in four stages. You must allow at least 24 to 36 hours between stages for drying. Make up the dough at the first session. Second, roll, cut and bake the discs, and allow to dry. Third, begin layering and construction of the major pieces, and allow to dry. Then ice and decorate the carousel in a last session. The last piece to be set in place is the decorated roof.

To ensure that the roof has a wide, stable base, I used an empty short, wide nut can for the center. When the label is peeled off, the can looks like the mirrored "machinery garage" that's at the center of all merry-go-rounds.

If you want to make circus or farm animals cut out of decorated gingerbread cookies, use the same recipes below.

You will need:

A work area, such as a card table, that will be out of the way and undisturbed

2 long dowel rods, 1/4-inch in diameter

2 long dowel rods, 1/8-inch in diameter

Ruler, sharp knife

Long, even rolling pin, such as a broom handle

Miniature circus animals and holiday decorations

1 empty nut can, 4 inches tall, label removed

Candy canes, more than 4 inches long

Candies, miniature marshmallows, sprinkles

2 recipes gingerbread dough, approximately

2 recipes royal icing, approximately

2 or more flat-sided cookie trays

Parchment paper

Cooling racks

Lazy susan, platter or tray for display

Baking:

You will make 5 gingerbread discs. The base, No. 1, is 12 inches in diameter. The roof, No. 2, is 10 inches in diameter. The second-level disc (to be set on the base), No. 3, is 8 inches in diameter. Two extra decorative roof discs, No. 4 and No. 5, are 6 inches and 4 inches, respectively.

Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
The gingerbread roof of the carousel is decorated with a reindeer, a snowman, Christmas trees and other holiday ornaments.
Click photo for larger image.Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
Miniature circus animals adorn the holiday carousel.
Click photo for larger image.

Disc No. 1, is rolled 1/4 inch thick. Discs No. 2 through No. 5 are rolled 1/8 inch thick. The bottom disc needs to be thicker for stability. Because there is baking powder in the dough, the discs will be thicker and slightly wider when baked.

Note: Make 2 recipes of gingerbread dough. What you don't use can be frozen and used for gingerbread cookies. You will roll out the dough using a slab method, as it is called in pottery classes.

Basic Gingerbread for Carousel

This is a good traditional recipe to keep on file for any gingerbread architecture. You will need two recipes to make the carousel.

  • 3 cups flour, plus flour for dusting
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup molasses, light or dark
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
  • Ornamental royal icing to decorate (see recipe below)

In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, mix the egg with molasses, brown sugar and melted butter. Blend the flour mixture into the egg mixture until all patches of white disappear.

Tape a large piece of parchment paper securely to a flat work surface. Place the 1/4-inch dowel rods 14 inches apart and parallel, and tape them in place.

Place blobs of dough onto the paper and press them into a rough disc. Cover with a second sheet of parchment. With the ends of the rolling pin resting on the dowel rods, roll out the dough. When the rolling pin rolls easily over the surface, the dough will be uniformly thick.

Remove the top piece of parchment paper and reserve. Place a 12-inch diameter mixing bowl upside down on the dough, cut around it with a sharp knife, gently lift the bowl and pull away the scrap dough; reserve the scraps. Remove tape and dowel rods from the paper; set aside.

Using a flat-sided cookie tray (rimless), lift parchment and dough disc onto the tray. Bake at 350 degrees until done and dry, about 15 to 20 minutes or more. (No, the paper will not burn, and it can be reused.) Allow the disc to cool on the tray placed on a rack. When completely cool, use the flat bottom of a quiche pan, a flat cookie sheet or a large, wide spatula and transfer the base to a drying rack. Allow to dry for at least 24 hours.

Continue to roll, cut and bake the remaining discs using 1/8-inch dowels as a thickness guide.

Construction:

Decide which sides are the flattest, prettiest sides of the discs and place those sides up when constructing the carousel.

For the base: Spread a medium-thick layer of royal icing on the platter, tray or lazy susan that will be the base of the carousel. Center the 12-inch disc, No. 1, and gently press to secure. Spread a medium-thick layer of royal icing on that disc. Center the second level disc, No. 3, and gently press to secure. Spread a medium-thick layer of royal icing in the center of disc No. 3. Center the nut can, and gently press to secure. Set aside to dry and harden.

For the roof: Spread a medium-thick layer of royal icing on disc No. 2. Center disc No. 4 over it and press to secure. Spread a medium-thick layer of royal icing on disc No. 4. Center disc No. 5 on it and gently press to secure. Set aside to dry and harden.

Decoration:

When discs have hardened, begin the decorations.

Place wreaths, candies or other small decorations on the sides of the center can, securing them with dabs of icing.

Pipe a ring of rosettes around the base discs. Set animals in place, securing them with dabs of icing. Pipe a ring of rosettes and squiggles around the roof discs. Set decorations in place, securing them with dabs of icing. Place some sort of decoration in the center of disc No. 5 as a topper.

When the decorations and rosettes are completely dry and hardened, prepare the candy canes.

Measure the distance from the surface of the base disc to the top of the can, about 4 inches or so.

Lay one unwrapped candy cane on a cutting board at a time. Measure the length you want it to be. Using a sharp knife, make a quick but gentle blow to the candy cane. It should break fairly clean.

Place the bottoms of the candy canes on the base disc, No. 1, right up against the center disc, No. 3. Secure with royal icing. Hold in place for a minute or two until the icing begins to set up. This is the only tricky part of the construction because the canes might want to tilt. You will need 9 canes, more or less depending on your own design.

Buttress the candy canes on the second disc, No. 3, with gumdrops or other candy, securing them with dabs of icing.

Allow everything to dry and harden for at least 24 hours.

Spread a medium-thick layer of royal icing onto the top of the can and place a generous, but not runny, dab onto the top of each candy cane.

Gently place the decorated roof onto the can. Press gently. Don't worry if all of the candy canes do not touch the underside of the roof.

When the roof is dry and secure, use royal icing in a pastry bag as a caulking gun, and squirt some icing onto the top gaps between the roof and tops of the candy canes. Allow to dry completely.

Keep the carousel in a cool, dry place away from humidifiers or leaky windows.

Ornamental Royal Icing

  • 2 1/3 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 egg whites, from pasteurized eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Beat all ingredients together. Cover bowl with a damp cloth until ready to use or it will dry out while you are working. Place icing in a pastry bag with a plain or rose tip. If you don't have a pastry bag and decorative tips, place the frosting in a zip-lock plastic bag and take a tiny snip off a corner. Use to pipe outlines and decorations.


PG staff writer Marlene Parrish can be reached at 412-481-1620 or mparrish@post-gazette.com .


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