Concerning gingerbread people.
You know, if we were professional bakers we probably could have had this done and dusted in half the time. A third of the time. Total man hours required for myself and Sam (of Tea and Cake fame) to make 100 gingerbread people turned out to be about 14; my standard hourly rate (for callouts) is £50, which makes these some of the most expensive gingerbread men ever made. Or, would do, if we were charging for anything other than ingredients.
But, we did it, they are done and we did them. 100 gingerbread people, as a T&C enterprise for one of Sam's friends, getting married one Saturday in November and wanting wedding favours for people. You know how I say things like "try everything once, just so you know you'll never have to do it again"? Well, without a bigger oven, a higher working surface and something to pulverize crystallised ginger without gumming up I'm never making this many gingerbread men again...
The recipe was the standard one that I swiped from my mother, and modified slightly with some different spices and some maple syrup, with the extra addition of a couple of tablespoons of blitzed crystallised ginger. It's a bit gummy, that stuff, so my hand mixer didn't really like it very much. It makes quite a difference to the mixture, though - a bit of texture and some more ginger in there, without having big lumps of mouth-searing surprise. Fifty raw gingerbread men look like this:
... and as they were cooling, but before I put them in airtight tins, they looked like this:
They stayed crisp overnight (hoorah!) in the airtight tins, but I did have to make another batch before going to bed because some were a bit too singed around the edges and were more like those biscuits you get in plastic packets when you order coffee in hotels that are trying, but don't quite get coffee. Perfectly edible if you like that sort of thing, but not really suitable.
Met Sam at the station, we went home and took out the ladies that she'd done, melted some chocolate (which set really quickly, so I decided that properly tempered chocolate was a luxury we couldn't afford in this situation and went for speed and simplicity over my own "technique above all else!" aesthetics), and decorated the ladies.
Then we set the chaps out, melted more chocolate, and did them. By the time we got to the end of the chaps it was 10pm, we were shattered and backs were really aching, and you can tell by the lack of suits and more... odd decor some of the chaps got. There was a skellington, someone in an X-ray machine, and a member of the Syndikat.
We did special ones for the bride and groom, too. Lots of chocolate! We did comment on the decoration as we were doing it; some of the ladies were very obviously grannies, some were in evening wear, some in dungarees. The gents were... eclectic, I think.
We certainly had fun making them - a lot of fun - but it's hard, hard work. I have much more respect for bakers, especially ones who do artisinal things like this. We could have done single colour, five blobs and a smile, and be done in ten minutes, but where's the artistry in that? This was all about the handmade product, the joy of uniqueness, and I think we did a pretty good job with that.
Richard was a star and ran out for tupperware with mere minutes to go before Sainsbury's closed; when packed up, the 100 gingerbread people looked like this:
Makes approx 24 5" men, 50 3"
340 g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarb
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
1 heaped tsp ground mixed spice
120 g butter
170 g light soft brown sugar
30g golden syrup
40g maple syrup
1 large egg, beaten.
1 heaped tbsp finely processed crystallised ginger
Oven at gas 5/190c
Sift together flour, bicarb, and spices. Rub in the butter, then stir in the sugar and crystallised ginger. Beat the syrup and egg together (if it helps, pop the syrup tin in a bowl of hot water to soften before weighing it out) and stir into the dry ingredients to form a soft dough. Thinly roll out some of the dough onto a floured surface - about the thickness of a £1 coin - and stamp out shapes. Put shapes well spread out onto a sheet of baking parchment and put in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.
Take out of the fridge and put into the oven for 15-20 minutes. While that batch is baking you can gather the offcuts, re-roll and stamp, and put that batch into the fridge to chill. If you use two baking sheets - one for cold, one for hot - and just transfer the baking parchment you can have quite a production line going! Cool on a rack, and when cold pop into airtight boxes, where they should keep crispy for about a week. Don't leave them overnight to cool, though - they'll go soggy.