This impressive, playable and edible chess set made from a recipe in Ottawa-based pastry arts instructor Catherine Beddall’s The Magic of Gingerbread book is not difficult to make, but patients is needed to ensure proper measuring of the shapes.
This recipe makes more than enough dough to cut out all the necessary shapes in one go — no need to reroll and re-chill the dough. As a result, this project took just under four hours from start to finish.
Present the chess set on a foam board that’s at least 13-by-13 inches (33-by-33 cm). You can find these at baking supply stores, but any sturdy flat surface or large tray will work.
The board section requires two batches of the gingerbread dough: one as written below and another with 1/4 cup (60 mL) of unsweetened cocoa powder added to create the “black” component of the board. To make the latter, sift in the cocoa powder along with the dry ingredients. You may need to add an extra tablespoon or two of water to keep the dough moist.
Difficulty: 5 out of 5
Cookie tip: To create the shapes needed to make the chess pieces, you’ll need small gingerbread boy and girl cutters as well as two circle cutters: one one-inch and a half-inch in diameter. For the latter two I used the back of a large and a small piping tip. If this is too much work, scrap the chess and make checker pieces instead. Or slap an “LV” on a corner of the board and voila Louis Vuitton gingerbread!
For the gingerbread (make two)
3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour
4 tsp (20 mL) ground ginger
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) baking soda
(250 mL) vegetable shortening
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125 mL) fancy molasses
2 tbsp (30 mL) water
For the second darker batch only:
1/4 cup (60 mL) unsweetened cocoa powder
Water as necessary
1. In a bowl, sift together flour, ginger, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
2. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment set to medium speed or a large bowl with a mixer, beat shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy.
3. Mix in molasses and water until smooth. Turn mixer speed down to low and slowly add dry ingredients. Mix until there are no streaks and dough is crumbly.
4. Using hands, press dough together to make one big clump. Transfer to a clean work surface lined with parchment paper. Lay another piece of parchment on top and roll out dough until it is 1/8-inch (1/4 cm) thick. Slide dough and sheets of parchment to a large baking tray. Chill dough for at least 30 minutes in fridge.
5. Repeat adding cocoa powder to dry ingredients.
For the chessboard
1. Take chilled, rolled dough and cut out 32 squares measuring precisely 1-1/4 inches (3.2 cm) on each side. Make sure you have enough left over rolled dough to cut out chess pieces. Repeat with chocolate gingerbread.
2. Using a flat spatula, transfer squares to a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Create a square grid by alternating chocolate and regular gingerbread squares (8 squares on each side). Gently press squares together.
3. Bake at 350F (175C) for 20 to 25 minutes until grid of squares is set and edges are about to turn golden brown.
4. Let chessboard cool completely.
For the chess pieces
Cut out shapes from both regular and chocolate gingerbread dough to build have a set of each colour:
18 1-inch (2.5cm) circles
27 1/2-inch (1.3cm) circles
5 1/2-inch (1.3cm) circles, cut in half and separated
2 horse head shapes (2, one-inch circles cut into horse head shapes — see photo)
9 small balls. Roll cut 1/2-inch circles into ball shape for ideal size
3 miniature gingerbread boy shapes
1 miniature gingerbread girl shapes
Place cut-out shapes on a lined baking sheet and bake at 350F (175C) for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cookies are set and slightly browned on the edges.
Let cool completely.
For the royal icing
Gel food colouring can be found at baking supply stores and is generally preferred over the liquid drops as the gel has a more concentrated colour and is not as watery so it doesn’t alter the icing’s texture. Here, the icing is tinted to match the colour of the gingerbread so the “glue” is not as visible.
1 egg white
1 cup (250 mL) icing sugar
1/4 tsp (1 mL) almond extract
Brown gel food colouring, optional
In a bowl whisk together egg white, icing sugar and almond extract. Dip knife tip into food colouring, if using, and swirl into icing mixture. Mix to incorporate colour. Repeat till desired tint of brown is achieved. Transfer icing to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip.
Makes about 1/2 cup (125 mL) icing.
Assembling the chess pieces
Using icing as glue, assemble chess pieces for the white team (regular gingerbread) and the black team (chocolate gingerbread) by stacking the pieces in the following order. See photo for visual guide:
Pawn (8): 1-inch circle, 1/2-inch circle, ball
Rook (2): 1-inch circle, three 1/2-inch circles
Knight (2): 1-inch circle, two half circles placed on either side of horse head
Bishop (2): 1-inch circle, two half circles placed on either side of gingerbread boy, 1/2-inch circle
King (1): Two 1-inch circles, two half circles placed on either side of gingerbread boy, two 1/2-inch circles
Queen (1): Two 1-inch circles, two half circles placed on either side of gingerbread girl, two 1/2-inch circles, ball
Let dry overnight.