This year, CDH and I thought we’d surprise our friends with the most metal of Christmas culinary delights ever created: a Viking ship made entirely from gingerbread.
It sounded like a great idea, but it morphed into an epic beast of a project. Since no gingerbread book contains instructions for making a Viking ship, we had to invent the process from scratch, costing us a lot of money in ingredients, several test batches, and over a week of our time. But the results (and everyone’s reactions) made it totally worthwhile.
In case you ever want to repeat this experiment in gingerbread insanity, I’ve written a complete tutorial below, so you can see how we did and hopefully improve upon it.
First, you need a buttload of gingerbread. When I first had the idea for this ship, I found a few books about gingerbread baking from the library. They contained a recipe custom-designed for gingerbread construction – sturdy, crispy, and unlikely to buckle. Thinking I was onto a winner, I made up this and we made our first attempt at creating a boat using a piece for the bottom, a piece for each side and a dragon’s head prow.
FACT: recipes containing ¾ cup of molassas should be avoided at all cost.
The gingerbread tasted foul. So awful I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy of metal. So I got out my favorite gingerbread recipe, which is not ideal for boat-building, but tastes delicious. Here it is below:
- 125 g butter
- 1/2 cup lightly packed soft brown sugar
- 1/3 cup golden syrup
- 1 egg
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1/3 cup self-raising flour
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Beat butter, sugar and syrup in a large bowl until light and creamy. Add the egg and beat well.
sift the flours, ginger and soda. Mix on a low setting or use a knife to mix until just combined
On a floured surface, knead the dough a little. Don’t overhandle.
lay a sheet of baking paper over a tray or chopping board. Roll our your dough. We rolled ours out to about 2mm thick. preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Refrigerate the dough for around 15 minutes before use it. A little longer if you live in New Zealand and are trying to make a gingerbread viking ship at the height of summer.
Now, our ship was enormous (it doesn’t fit in one piece in the oven, fridge or cupboard), so we used two batches just for the hull, and another batch for the hull we accidentally broke and had to throw out, and another batch for the sail and dragon’s head. You may like to start with a slightly-less ambitious size.
To make the hull from gingerbread you will need:
- Gingerbread dough (see above)
- Sturdy carboard (not corrugated. We used scrap Braille paper)
- Tinfoil (we have a 25m roll. You will need a LOT of tinfoil)
- Baking paper (ditto)
- A giant bag of white rice
- A smidge of milk
- An oven
- A flat oven tray and a small roasting dish
- A bag of pasta (or more rice – but don’t cook!)
- An eternity of patience
CDH developed a method for creating the hull. Using his knowledge of boat-building techniques learned in his five years as a maritime archaeologist, he created the half-hull shape and a series of <> out of carboard. He wrapped each piece in tinfoul to keep it from burning in the oven. He then cooked all the rice in the house and used the rice to “stuff” between the carboard. The stickiness of the cooked rice kept the hull shape.
He then covered the whole thing in more tinfoil, and we waited for the rice to cool.
He then covered it in baking paper, took one of the sheets of gingerbread from the fridge, cut it into planks, and lay the planks over the hull, starting on the bottom edge, overlapping them slightly and using milk to bind them together. He made sure they met at the end and there were no gaps. We used about 1 ½ sheets of gingerbread for each half of the hull.
Shove your boat inside your now pre-heated oven. Keep it in the centre of the oven. Set the timer for 10 minutes. When it goes off, come back and check your boat. Turn it around (we do this because our oven cooks unevenly and the side near the back cooks faster) and cook for probably another 5 minutes, check again, cook again. Keep doing this for a few minutes each time until the outside is cooked, not burned, but nice and brown. Your bottom edge will probably end up a bit black, but don’t worry too much. You can cover it with icing if you’re really worried.
Leave this to cool for a half-hour or so. Prepare the roasting dish by shoving a bunch of pasta inside. Make a hole in the centre. Now, CAREFULLY lift off your boat and peel away the baking paper. Tip your boat upside down and turn it into the roasting dish. You’ll notice the inside of your hull will still be quite raw. The pasta will help it to keep it’s shape and not crack or collapse. Now, bung it back in the oven for another few minutes to attempt to cook the underside a bit better.
When it’s cooked, leave it to cool while you cut and sculpt the second half. Store both halves in a cool, dry place. Refrigerating for long periods of time will cause the hull to go moist and collapse.
Now you can start on the fun bits!
To make swords and axes you need
- icing – we used white icing but royal would also work
Swords: with a sharp, non-serrated knife, cut jetplanes into “sword” shapes.
Axes: cut ends off bananas. “Screw” the end of a smoke into the bottom of a banana to make a hole. Pipe a little icing into the hole (just a tiny, tiny bit) then squish the smoke in.
To make a Viking, you need:
- 2 mallopuffs (or whatever they call chocolate-coated marshmallow biscuits in your country)
- 1 golf-ball sized glob of marzipan
- 2 golf-ball sized globs of white icing
- Cocoa powder
- Food coloring
- Chocolate chips (or those little silver ball things)
- Raspberry jubes
- 2 bananas
First, take a chunk of the icing and press it out flat with your fingers. Wrap a mallowpuff inside it, so all the mallowpuff is covered. This is the Viking’s podgy belly. It doesn’t matter what color the icing is since it will be mostly covered.
Next, roll out two short, fat sticks of icing to be the Viking’s legs. Stick these to one edge of the mallowpuff, like the picture below, so the bulbous part of the puff faces forward. Stick a raspberry jube on each foot.
Pinch off two small bits of marzipan and roll into balls. press on behind the backs of the legs for an attractive bare Viking bottom.
Now, get a handful of icing and either some brown food coloring or some cocoa powder and knead until you have a brown icing. I do this over the sink as it can go everywhere. The cocoa powder can change the consistancy of the icing a little, so use only a couple of pinches at a time and keep kneading till you’ve got the desired color.
Roll this out flat (I use my fingers on a plastic chopping board) into a long shape. Wrap it around the body like in the picture above. This makes a tunic. Make sure you’ve got a bit of the round marzipan bottom sticking out.
For the Viking helmets, roll out white icing into long strands (you can see I’ve used some to make this Viking a belt. wrap it first over the top of the puff, flatten with your finger, then around the sides, flattening too. make a little triangle-shaped lump for the top. Press some chocolate chips into the icing on the top (don’t do the sides just yet!).
Marzipan Viking heads: roll the marzipan into a ball (save a little for the hands and nose). Then, flatten on one edge, so it looks like a lopsided blob thing. Shape a triangular nose and stick it on. Shape two little ears and press them on. Now, press the head on the top of the body, so the larger, bulbous end with the nose faces forward. roll two little round balls from the white icing and press these on as eyes. Put a little chocolate chip inside.
Viking arms: I broke candy canes into arm-shaped pieces, pressed a lump of marzipan on the end, and shaped them into hands. I then wrapped the arm in more of the rolled-out brown icing, and press it onto the side of the viking. You can then give the viking accessories – I’ve got vikings with axes and plates of pizza (white chocolate buttons and gummi pizza).
Viking hair and beards: I used food coloring to make red-orange and yellow icing. I rolled the icing into short sausages, tapered them at one end, and pressed the tapered end onto the top of the head or the front of the face. I also added little eyebrows.
Once you’re satisfied with the beard, press the helmet on top and voila! An adorable, chubby, edible icing and marzipan viking!
Of course, if you need more than one Viking, you can make a little Viking assembaly line. I made five of these Vikings all up, and a sleeping Viking. press each into a circle of white icing and stick them to the sides of the helmet. Then, finish putting on the chocolate chips. Snip off the ends of the white strand, and keep this in the fridge till you need it.
You will need:
- 2 mallopuffs
- 1 golf-ball sized glob of white icing
- Food coloring
- 2 bananas
- 2 raspberry jubes
- Chocolate chips
First, make a helmet as described above. Put this in the fridge to prevent melting while you make the rest of the Viking.
Wrap the second mallowpuff in a thin layer of white icing. Roll out two stubby legs and attach these. Press on the raspberry jube feet.
Roll out a bit of white icing and cut into a square blanket big enough to cover the viking’s body (but leave his shoes sticking out) Flip it over so you have a nice smooth side.
Make a small ball of icing and add a few drops of red. Knead until icing is red.
Roll flat and cut into squares. Flip each piece over and press lightly onto the blanket. Use the toothpick to create “stitching” around each patch.
Carefully pick up blanket and drape over the Viking. Don’t press too much.
Get out your helmet and add it to where the viking’s head should be. When you press this on it kinda joins the whole thing together.
Store uncovered in fridge until you need it.
I made the cute sleeping Viking because I’d run out of marzipan for the skin.
Gingerbread Viking Ship Sail and Dragon’s Head
With a sheet of gingerbread, cut out a rectangle. make a parcel from folded-up tinfoil with a slight curve in it. The parcel must be the same size as the sail. Lay the gingerbread over this and bake for 10-20 minutes. Leave to cool completely.
With the remaining icing, cut out a dragon’s head shape and bake this for 10 minutes. Make an eye from yellow icing and a little sliver of black licorice.
Royal icing, according to my gingerbread book, dries to a hard crust quite quickly, so it’s the best glue for gingerbread. Ours didn’t, because it is summer here and Auckland’s humidity is at a gazillion percent.
You don’t want to use a butter-based icing as it will soak into the gingerbread and make it soggy.
You will need:
- 5 1/4 cups icing sugar
- 1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup egg whites
Sift the sugar into a bowl. Add egg whites and cream and whiz ingredients on low speed till combined, then turn that beater to high and whiz for 5 minutes till super light and fluffy. When not using, keep icing bowl covered with a damp towel.
Assembling the Gingerbread Viking Ship:
You will need:
- Giant polystyrene square (we used part of one of CDH’s train layout blocks).
- Icing gun (not necessary, but fun)
- Blue icing
- White icing
- Royal icing – (blue or white)
- Chocolate mint sticks
- Raspberry jubes
- Giant candy stick (or giant candy cane with the hook broken off.
- Sea monsters, shell lollies, sherbet shields, and any other decorations
To start, cover the polystyrene in tinfoil and stick it down with sellotape. Fill your icing gun with royal icing.
Next, take some of your blue icing and spread it all around (I used blue royal icing but you might like a buttercream icing so it tastes better. Then, take your two hull halves and lay them in position on the board. We propped ours up with little cups while we attacked the join with the icing gun. You can use a knife too, or an old-fashioned piping bag, but we like the icing gun.
Now, get your hull standing up of its own accord. We used lumps of white icing, candy shells, leftover bits of gingerbread … anything that would keep that ship from toppling over sideways.
Use the rest of your blue icing to decorate the sea. Add some sea monsters and fishies and more shells.
Use your royal icing to glue the raspberry jubes to the chocolate mint sticks, and set these out on the side of the boat as oars.
To stand up your mast, get your giant candy cane, add a big blob of white incing on the bottom and stick it in the boat. “Cement” it in place with royal icing and cover it up with sherbet shields and your leftover swords and axes. You may want to do this immediately before you present the ship to the awed party guests, as the candy canes and sherbets can go a bit blah when exposed to the wet icing. (And also, the mast will probably fall down).
We didn’t put our shields on the side of the boat as they were too heavy, and we didn’t want to risk crushing the gingerbread trying to stick them on. And anyway, it’s not historically-accurate (I know, I know – there are horns on the helmets. Sue me).
Lean your gingerbread sail across the width of the boat and up against the mast. Use toothpicks and a big lump of white icing to stick on the dragon’s head. Cover this in blue icing if you’ve stuck it in the sea.
Now, place your Vikings. We couldn’t get all of mine in the ship, so we stood a couple (and the spare helmets) in the sea. Add any leftover shields.
Pick up your ship and present it to your metal friends, who will pretty much think you are the most awesomest metal bakers ever.
If you ever, EVER decide to make this gingerbread viking ship, or some other kind of epic metal baking concoction, email me with your pictures, because I’d love to see.
And now, to close, here’s some viking metal: