Great British Bake Off: Vancouver Special Cookie House

Episode 2: Biscuits

Recipe (Showstopper Technical Challenge): 3-D Vancouver Special Cookie House

Ahhhh the Showstopper Challenge! To be honest, I have been looking forward to doing the Showstopper challenge since the beginning. The challenge was to create a 3-D cookie, a la gingerbread house and most of the bakers on the show did some sort of ‘scene’. After making this cookie house, and realizing that although the bakers on the show had time to practice – 3 hours (their time limit) is a serious constraint. It took me FIVE days to make this house! And that didn’t include the scouting beforehand! I also did not do the recommended “two kinds of cookie” – it was just one sugar cookie recipe (which is pretty darn tasty anyway).

So here we go.

The cookie creations I saw on TV, to be honest, were kind of lackluster. That being said, 3 hours is not a lot of time at all, so I understood why the bakers went for more simpler designs. But I had the luxury of time – so why not really push the boat out? Recently, a local artist unveiled his latest public art installation – a scaled down version of a house called the ‘Vancouver Special’. The name refers to the uh “architectural” style of the house. It’s very simplistic but doesn’t get a lot of love because the houses are in predominantly lower middle-class neighborhoods and at the time, these houses were popping up everywhere because they were so easy to build and replicate. That being said, a lot of these neighborhoods these days are not at all lower middle-class – the housing prices are skyrocketing and it’s almost ironic that these houses that were once built for affordability are SO unaffordable now. They are certainly unique houses, but very dated and I have seen some really interesting and contemporary renovations of Vancouver Specials, so perhaps not all is lost. Anyway, I wanted honor the spirit of these houses, Ken Lum (the artist) and those who also who have riffed on this house (beta5 chocolates did a CHOCOLATE VANCOUVER SPECIAL). I went to the installation to do some pre-baking homework:

Ken Lum Vancouver SpecialKen Lum Vancouver Special

It was to my advantage that these houses were pretty basic in design, a solid rectangular shape with a split level and the garage in the back. It was also really great to walk around the house and get a really good sense of the dimensions. I let the images of the house sit with me for a few days while I thought out design and blueprints. My gameplan was to create the house in a paper pattern and use them as templates to cut out the dough. I would bake them, trim as needed, paint as needed and “glue” them together.

Cookie Vancouver Special Pattern

Cookie Vancouver Special CutoutsCookie “pieces” chilled in the fridge before baking.  

Easier said than done.

I found out quickly that I was going to be short on dough (by just a bit – oops!) but it didn’t hamper me too much in the end. I had my pieces cut out and baked, but I should have done more major trimming when they were warm out of the oven. And then began the onerous task of trimming and shaving. I used a very sharp paring knife to create deep scores and then break off larger pieces. Any smaller adjustments I would use my microplane to shave down the cookie (thank for the tip French Pastry School!).

 Cookie Vancouver Special FoundationThe interior supports (hot glued to a foil wrapped sheet pan) – you can also see the cookie carnage and microplane standing by. 

I then painted the cookie parts. Ugh. I should have done a basic glaze or coat of icing. A plain sugar cookie does not take food coloring paint very well. Anyway, after they dried…onto assembly! I did create some infrastructure inside the house – just some simple cardboard supports to help the sides stay up while I “glued” everything in place. I did everything BUT the roof. I wanted to make sure the icing was set so that the house could properly support the roof.

Cookie Vancouver Special In ProgressAerial shot of the house, facing the back. The front has yet to be iced on. 

The next day, I prepared the banisters (white candy coating, piped) and carefully lowered the roof onto the house… and ta da! My Vancouver Special was done! It was way messier than expected. Obviously if I could trial run it, I could have made a damn good second version of this house, but overall, I’m pleased with my effort. I was actually really satisfied with my approach and was glad that I did take time to plan out the blueprint of the house before going buck wild and cutting out dough (my usual instinct). I was actually kind of methodical!

Cookie Vancouver Special

Cookie Vancouver Special

Cookie Vancouver Special



Here are my tips to you if you would like to build your own house:

  • Put together the house in paper, like actually in 3-D with tape and stuff (I did not do this – thus I am suggesting this to you :P)
  • Trim cookies when they are warm out of the oven.
  • Label cookie “parts” well – I accidentally thought the front door part was suppose to be the garage and cut it to fit…and then I didn’t have a proper sized front! (Had to glue in an extra piece)
  • Glaze cookies and then paint
  • Make spare parts
  • Give yourself more time than you think
  • Don’t make it so freaking big – I mean, make it manageable (mine BARELY fit on the sheet pan)

 Overall: 10/10 (just cause it took me so long, haha – I think I earned it!)

Now, I’ve put the biscuits episode to bed. On to Bread!

Tags: , , ,

Categories: cookie, Great British Bake Off


Communications specialist by day, baker/cook/triathlete/dog-owner by night. I blog about my adventures inside and outside my kitchen. Come take a look - no big whoop!


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One Comment on “Great British Bake Off: Vancouver Special Cookie House”

  1. Diane
    April 16, 2015 at 4:45 pm #

    You certainly DO earn a 10 on this project!!!

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