Stained Glass Window Biscuits

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What to Make:

(Designers might call this the Design Brief and/or the Specification)

Design and make a traditional German Christmas tree ornaments based on a Stained Glass window design


What to Use:
  • Gingerbread Dough
  • Boiled Sweets to add colour
  • Baking Tray lined with Baking Parchment (or Greaseproof Paper)

Things to think about:

It is believed that Christmas tree tradition was started by a monk in Germany in the 7th or 8th centuries. The trend to bring them indoors and decorate them began in 1605 in Strasbourg when trees were adorned with paper roses, candles, painted eggshells, nuts, biscuits and sweets. The practice became more and more popular in German homes and, from the start of the 18th century, foods like gingerbread or other hard biscuits were baked in various shapes such as fruit, bells, hearts, stars and angels.

Some ideas:

Note: For those wishing to explore how basic geometry with pencil compasses and ruler can create tracery designs see The power of form applied to geometric tracery - one hundred designs and their foundations resulting from one diagram (1851) by the English painter and architect Robert William Billings (1813 – 1874).

Ways of Making:
  • Choose a suitable Gingerbread Dough recipe (e.g. most recipes are based on Creaming together 100g soft butter and 50g brown sugar to which is added 250g sieved plain flour, half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, two teaspoons of ginger and sometimes a pinch of salt. The mixture is beaten into a smooth paste, adding five tablespoons of Golden Syrup as required - and optionally an egg yolk).
  • Leave the dough in the fridge to cool, then roll out into the thinnest 'sausages' you can on a lightly floured surface.

  1. Either freehand or using CAD software, simplify your chosen design then print-out or draw on to Baking Parchment.
  2. Lay the thinly rolled dough 'sausage' round the outlines, pinching them together where they join. Alternatively, shapes could be cut through a flat sheet of dough using a knife.
  3. Fill the spaces with crushed boiled sweets.
  4. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180C/350F/Gas 4 for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and the boiled sweets have all melted.
  • Use a skewer to make a small hole in the top of each biscuit so it can be suspended from the tree (this might be done part way through the baking process)
  • Leave on the tray for 10 minutes and then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Note: Filling the shapes with crushed boiled sweets, which are melted to flow into the space, is a good model of Plique-à-jour enamelling as used in Art Metalwork. Plique-à-jour is derived from Middle French for "braid letting in daylight" and produces a 'sparkly' effect as "the daylight shines through". Alternatively, dough tracery could be laid out over a rolled pastry base and the shapes created filled with crushed sweets. This models the technique of Cloisonné enamelling.

Testing Final Design:
  • Are there limitations on the complexity of shapes which can be used?
  • Did light shining through the filled spaces give a stained glass effect or does the thickness of the filling need adjustment?
  • Does the shape used affect the way it hangs on the tree?
  • Did the biscuit bake without sticking to the parchment?
  • Were they enjoyable to eat!
  • How would you make snowflake based designs?

Further work:
  • Find out how the word 'biscuit' originated
  • Investigate a range of recipes for a variety of dough. Explore the effect of varying ingredients and mixing methods on the physical characteristics of the dough with the aim of developing a dough elastic enough to create tree ornaments based on the intricate stone tracery seen in the stained glass windows of medieval buildings.
  • Learn about the science and technology involved: i.e.-
    • Dough is made simply by mixing flour with a liquid such as water or milk. Other ingredients are added to change or control characteristics such as Elasticity of the dough mixture or texture, colour and taste of the finished product.
    • During mixing, individual Gluten proteins in the flour unravel and bond together to create a network of interconnected gluten strings which hold the dough together and give it its structure. Most recipes will use Plain or All-Purpose Flour, but some flours contain more gluten than others.
    • Adding a little salt will neutralise electrically charged parts of the gluten allowing them to slide along one another to make a more elastic and stretchable dough. Salt Dough includes lots of salt which produces almost a modelling clay type material which is good for making painted tree ornaments but not really good to eat.
    • Adding oil or butter can suppress the formation of gluten by coating the protein with fat - especially if oil or softened butter is added directly to the flour before the dough is formed. Such recipes are used for traditional flatbreads and pizza bases for example.
    • Eggs add richness and colour to the mix. They add water which helps glutens develop but yolks contain a high percentage of fat, which like oil weakens gluten development. They also add their own proteins which are softer and less chewy than gluten proteins.
    • Baking Soda, Baking Powder, and Yeast are added to create gas bubbles which are trapped within the elastic dough and which set when cooked to give the product its texture.
    • A small amount of sugar or other sweetening ingredient may help activate and feed any yeast present in the recipe. Adding more sugar or syrup will make the product sweeter, of course, but may also add colour and flavour depending on the type used.
    • Additionally, various flavourings and spices can be added as required.

DT Online Buyers' Guide
Baking Parchment Muscovado - Dark Sugar Plain Flour Bicarbonate of Soda Ginger Powder Golden Syrup Vanilla Extract Baking Powder Dry Bakers Yeast
Baking Parchment Muscovado - Dark Sugar Plain Flour Bicarbonate of Soda Ginger Powder Golden Syrup Vanilla Extract Baking Powder Dry Bakers Yeast