On they walked and walked, till suddenly they came upon a strange cottage in the middle of a glade.
“This is chocolate!” gasped Hansel as he broke a lump of plaster from the wall.
“And this is icing!” exclaimed Gretel, putting another piece of wall in her mouth. Starving but delighted, the children began to eat pieces of candy broken off the cottage.
“Isn’t this delicious?” said Gretel, with her mouth full.
“We’ll stay here,” Hansel declared, munching a bit of nougat. They were just about to try a piece of the biscuit door when it quietly swung open.
“Well, well!” said an old woman, peering out with a crafty look. “And haven’t you children a sweet tooth?”
She eyed them greedily.
“Come in! Come in, you’ve nothing to fear!”
And we all know how that story ends. Not everybody makes it out alive.
But then sugar is famously bad for you. If you still want an edible house centerpiece for your festive board this year, you would be better off going one up on the witch, or even the Three Little Pigs – don’t build your house of sweets, or straws, or sticks, or bricks – why would you be looking to classic fairy tales for architectural materials inspiration, anyway?
You would be far better off making a savoury house of meats and cheeses, with some herbs and vegetables thrown in. This has apparently become quite vogue-ish in recent years, with various versions of “charcuterie chalets” and “fromages cottages” popping up on the internet, and one mad genius inventing the Fondoodler, a kind of hot glue gun, but for cheese.
While I’m quite pleased that this is a thing which exists in the world, I don’t own a melted cheese gun (I’m anti-gun actually) and think it probably counts as cheating anyway, and what do we have, and I mean REALLY have in our lives, if we don’t have our integrity?
That said, I don’t think we need to put ourselves under unnecessary pressure, given that it’s Christmas plus the world has apparently gone mad with the Covid-19 pandemic, so I would advise you to start out by making a little cardboard house which you can use as a support structure for your meats and cheeses.
The load bearing capacity of crispbread and hot dogs can vary according to a number of external factors such as temperature, age & quality of materials, and whether the hotdogs are German or American, so having something to build onto is helpful.
I’m creating an exoskeleton of hard flatbreads, glued together externally with Baking Glue which seems to be mostly sugar, but I don’t think anyone is going to be nibbling at the house itself – it’s more a vessel for tasty edible bits. It will be like a festive display bread – edible but not necessarily palatable.
As I know from my previous scientific studies of accidentally leaving flatbread out overnight, it goes completely hard quite fast, which makes it ideal for making a little house out of.
I hear of people using melted fondue cheese to hold their houses together, but I’m not sure those people are being quite honest, if they display a picture of an elaborate vegetarian villa or meat hotel. You can make a simple shack that way, but a bigger house needs a strong foundation.
Your first step needs to be to make the cardboard house according to the dimensions of your flatbreads, and cut the flatbreads to shape and leave them out to harden. If they start to curl at the edges, weigh them down with a chopping board. They will shrink a little as they dry out.
It’s a good idea to prep the base for your snowman in advance – I made two cheese balls for the head and body and put them in the freezer so they would be ready.
Amy Sedaris is a comedy goddess and a gifted hostess. This is her cheese ball recipe from her incredible book “I Like You”:
- 2 cups shredded smoked gouda cheese, room temperature
- 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 teaspoons steak sauce (Amy uses A-1)
- 1 cup toasted chopped walnuts or pecans
- crackers, for serving
Place everything together in an electric mixer if you have one. If not, chop everything finely and mix thoroughly by hand. When smooth, transfer to the fridge to chill overnight. When firm, roll the mixture into a ball, then roll in the chopped nuts to coat and serve with crackers.
This recipe is for a jumbo-sized party cheese ball. I made my little snowman balls without the nuts, then used the rest to make a respectable sized sharing ball to eat separately.
Once you have your cardboard base, you can firmly glue (with wood glue underneath, Baking Glue on the outside) flatbread and crackers to this until it is ready to have all the edible extras added. The hard slog of construction is behind you, and the rest is fun.
I found gluing breadstick uprights to the corners useful, as it made plastering the house with cream cheese much easier later.
The snowman had a cheese piece wrapped with parma ham for a hat, a salami slice for the hat brim and a carrot sliver for a nose. Of peppercorns were His Eyes. I added a festive wreath to the front of the house around a Screaming Skull made of a dry roasted broad bean. I think every house should have some haunted or supernatural aspect, don’t you?
If M. R. James made a charcuterie house, I’m sure he would have had a turkey ghost or a faceless pickle Thing lurking in the grounds. I did consider a Camembert disused well with a skeletal hand emerging from it…maybe next year.
Everything you add now should be edible – cream cheese makes a decent base for most things – tube cheese is softer, but good for holding salami roof tiles in place. Rosemary sprigs are good trees, and broccoli makes nice little bushes for landscaping.
When you are finished, you’ll have an inspirational centrepiece for your snack table which will absolutely make your guests gasp and stretch their eyes.
Of course, gathering an audience for your dazzling achievement is quite a challenge these days, but lockdown restrictions can’t last forever.
When social restrictions ease up, this would be the perfect option for the guest who likes to eat you out of house and home.