When made according to the traditional recipe from Panama, yiyimbre is a moist molasses cake that pairs perfectly with a cup of fine Panamanian coffee.
Simple and sweet, yiyimbre needs no tinkering… regardless, I have something of a penchant for playing around with standard dessert recipes (successes include grape-rosemary pie, lemon sherbert cookies and mango-chile brownies) – and I had a hunch that, with a few tweaks to the ingredient ratios, this easy gingerbread recipe could fulfill a more structural purpose.
So, in honor of the recipe’s origins, I decided to make a uniquely Panamanian gingerbread house, modeled off one of The Resort at Isla Palenque’s vacation home types: the oceanfront casita.
I’m not the first person to pay gingerbread homage to a distinctive architectural work; check out this sweet replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater as seen on Garden Melodies and Inhabitat. In fact, it was this structure that inspired me to ditch the boring A-frame pattern in favor of a fun tropical update.
The gingerbread house remains a vibrant holiday tradition, and for good reason – they’re an edible outlet for creativity and an excellent excuse to visit a candy store (arguably the best part of the whole operation). For my little jungle-hidden casita, I picked up gummy gems in the shape of butterflies, fruits, flowers, and berries, in addition to tiny chocolate seashells and some basic nougat bricks. Necco wafers for floor tiles, green licorice laces for jungle vines, and sour peach belts for awnings — a little imagination goes a long way in a confectionery. Once you get these goodies home, I recommend fixing yourself a snack pronto. Otherwise, you could end up with seriously depleted decorative reserves by the time your gingerbread house is ready for embellishment.
Aside from all the fun intrinsic to the process, you’ll come out of the kitchen with a multifunctional work of art! A gingerbread house is a great gift for anyone with a sweet tooth, a beautiful centerpiece for your holiday dinner table, or a simple reward for you and your baking partner to enjoy over a cup of coffee.
Eager to begin? I’ll take you through the process step-by-step. The basic rundown is as follows:
- Choose a pattern
- Make the yiyimbre dough
- Make & bake your yiyimbre cutouts
- Mix your mortar
- Construct & decorate your gingerbread house
1. Choose a Pattern
Your first order of business is to choose (or design) a gingerbread house pattern. For my Panamanian gingerbread house, I studied the layout of Isla Palenque’s casitas and cut patterns from a piece of sturdy canvas paper (a manila folder or lightweight cardboard works fine as well). If you’d also like to fashion one of these masterpieces in molasses, contact us for a floor plan. 🙂 For basic gingerbread house patterns (as well as interesting alternative ideas), there are a number of blogs, articles, and sites providing great guidance to holiday treat architects.
2. Make the Yiyimbre Dough – Recipe for Gingerbread House Yiyimbre
8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ sticks butter
3/4 pound fresh ginger root, minced (free aromatherapy session for whoever does the ginger-mincing)
2 cups dark molasses
4 egg yolks (save some whites for your icing mortar)
- Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.
- In a separate bowl, combine butter, ginger, and molasses until smooth. Add egg yolks and blend into molasses mixture.
- Stir dry ingredients into molasses mixture until smooth. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. You should be able to lightly knead the dough without it sticking to your fingers terribly, but a little sticking is okay.
- Put your dough into a tupperware container, cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least 4 hours).
Your dough is DONE! Wasn’t that simple? Now things get a little more elaborate…
3. Make & Bake Your Yiyimbre Cutouts
- Preheat oven to 350 °F.
- Take out your refrigerated dough and roll onto a floured piece of wax or parchment paper. You want it about 1/4-inch thick; any thinner and it might break during the building process. Dust with flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the paper or rolling pin.
- Dust your rolled-out dough with a little flour and lay your pattern pieces over it.
- Dip a butter knife in flour and cut along the edges of the pattern pieces, then pick up the cutouts with a large metal spatula and transfer to a greased baking sheet. If your cutouts stretch a bit in the transfer process, push them back into place on the baking sheet. Leave an inch between cutouts on the sheet.
- Bake 11-15 minutes on middle rack in preheated oven.
- Once fully baked and lightly browned, remove sheets from oven and place on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes; then remove gingerbread cutouts from sheets to cool directly on wire racks for 20 minutes.
4. Mix Your Mortar – How To Make Gingerbread House Icing
This is the sweet glue that holds your gingerbread house together and sticks on all your lovely candies. It’s simple to make and almost sickeningly sweet, so use as little as you can get away with. I may have overdone it a bit on my yiyimbre casita…
2 egg whites (did you save from the eggs you cracked to get yolks for your yiyimbre?)
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- Drop egg whites into an electric mixer and pour in half the powdered sugar.
- Blend on medium about 30 seconds; add the remaining sugar and blend on high until stiff peaks form. If it’s still runny, add a little more sugar.
- Fill a pastry bag with your icing mortar and snip the end to 1/8-inch diameter hole for precise piping.
5. Construct & Decorate Your Gingerbread House
Tip: During this part of the process, it’s crucial to keep your gingerbread house safe from pets, kids, and nibblers. And if you’ve been flying solo thus far, now is a good time to enlist a friend to help construct your gingerbread house. That extra pair of steady hands will come in… handy… while holding the walls together long enough for your icing to dry.
- Using a baking sheet or flat dish as a foundation, simply pipe a line down adjoining edges of wall pieces and hold them in place for a couple of minutes; you can also use canned goods to prop up the sides of your gingerbread house while drying occurs.
- Once all your walls are in place, give it a good 2-4 hours before you put the roof on, using the same technique.
- Add drips of icing between the cracks in your house to give it extra stability.
- Allow the entire structure ample drying time (2 hours) before you begin decorating.
- Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for – time to decorate! This part is a creative free-for-all. “Less is more” does not hold up in gingerbread-house-decorating scenarios — go nuts.
It seems I forgot the most important step in my rundown: have dessert! Those slight alterations to the traditional recipe for Panamanian yiyimbre did the trick — my casita held up admirably, without a trace of the caky crumblies and with no loss of luscious moistness. And from the friends I’ve treated to a taste, the verdict on yiyimbre is a resounding “yum”.
If this post inspired you to try your hand at a custom gingerbread house this holiday season, leave me a comment! I’d love to hear how it went!
Happy Holidays, Amblers!