Market ingredient: Not applicable this week
Difficulty: Can be fairly difficult, depending on the degree to which you decorate
Deliciousness: So sweet
Did The Beard like it? He didn’t even get to try it. Unlucky.
A gingerbread house is really a labour of love. And man do I love making them. A bit of a family tradition in the Brown household, they were always the most hotly anticipated aspect of Christmas when we were kids. My Aunt & Uncle would bring one along every year and we would wait patiently all day, only to destroy it as we all scrambled to claim the lolly-filled chimney for ourselves. Whilst I could never take replace T&S’s role of gingerbread creators for family Christmases, I’ve taken it upon myself to be come the bearer of all things gingerbread at the Christmas party my friends & I have every year. Generally about a month out from Christmas, we get together to eat, drink and open ridiculous Secret Santa presents. Each person brings something and my role is always the house.
After the disastrous Christmas of 2011, I decided to go back to basics. Yes the garage is back, as is the ski rack and jelly baby dj spinning records by the jacuzzi. However I decided that creating windows baked into the bread is great, but also a hell of a lot of effort. When I discovered this year that when you cut a jube in half, it kind of looks like stained glass, I was overjoyed! So I lost the stained glass windows for jube replicas and replaced the attic conversion with jelly babies playing a game of bocce in the front year by some nicely edible trees.
The list of ingredients below is enough of a house, but I always make 1.5 times the amount. Just in case. You never know, and if you don’t need it, you can always freeze the dough and make biscuits later on. How far you go with the decoration is completely up to you, so I haven’t stipulated all the lollies I bought for decoration, nor am I going to go into detail as to how I created the individual elements in the garden. If you want to know, give me a yell.
Equipment for a gingerbread house
- large base to sit the house on, such as plywood, a heavy platter or chopping board (I the perfect-sized piece of pastry marble, which I always use, but is INCREDIBLY heavy to carry anywhere).
- Cutouts (20.5cm x 15cm rectangle for the side wall, 22cm x 13cm rectangle for the roof, 16cm x 23.5cm with an 8cm gable for the front / back walls)
- Piping bag, if you have one. Otherwise a strong plastic bag with the tip cut out will work just fine!
Ingredients for gingerbread house
- 3.5 cups of self-raising flour, sifted
- 1 cup plain flour, sifted
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tspn nutmeg
- 1/2 tspn cocoa
- 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 185g butter, chopped
- 1/2 cup golden syrup
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup pure icing sugar, sifted
For the royal icing
- 2 eggwhites
- 3 cups pure icing sugar
- Combine flours, spices, sugars and butter in a food process and mix until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Whisk together the golden syrup and eggs. With the motor running on the food processor, add the egg mixture and process until dough just comes together. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Cut the dough in half, wrap in glad wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or until well chilled (I speed up the process by putting it in the freezer for 1 hr).
- Remove the dough from the fridge and roll the dough, 1 portion at a time between 2 sheets of baking paper until about 5mm thick. Remove the top layer of baking paper. Using your cutouts as a guide, cut shapes from the dough that are just slightly larger than your cut outs. This will give you room to trim the edges and make them neat. Remember that you need 2 pieces of each size. Place the gingerbead on trays and freeze for 15 minutes or until firm.
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Bake the gingerbread for 15 min or until firm. Remember, the bread will crisp up as it cools, so don’t worry if it still feels a little soft when you take it from the oven. Let the pieces cool. Once the pieces are cool, trim the edges so they are the same size as the cutouts, if required and cut a small rectangle from the base of the front wall to create a door.
- To make the royal icing, beat the eggwhites with an electric beater until soft peaks form. Gradually add the icing sugar, beating constantly until thick.
- Using a piping bag, draw a line the length of your house in icing on the board. Place the side wall on this icing line. Using icing, start joining the edges together and sticking each wall to the base. Use books, food tins, or anything you can, to support the walls until the icing dries. Using icing, attach the roof to the walls, again using books to support the roof so it doesn’t slip down off the gables. If you have any left over pieces of gingerbead, you can fashion a chimney out of this.
- Let the house set or dry before beginning to decorate. When it is dry and no longer requires the supporting books, use the piping bag to pipe on windows and any other features. Spread icing all over the roof and decorate with lollies. Finish by sprinkling sifted icing sugar over the top.
Seems pretty simple, right? It definitely takes practice and you’ll find it’s all in the decorating. Don’t stress too much if your house looks a little wonky or messy before you’ve decorated. Once it’s covered in lollies, you honestly won’t notice the difference.
A few tips that I’ve learnt along the way in building gingerbread houses.
- Supporting structures. This year, I created a third front wall with gables that I actually put inside the house to support the roof from within. What I found, particularly last year, that the roof can sway under the weight of the lollies and if the weather is humid.
- Thick icing. In previous years, I was too impatient with my icing and didn’t ensure that it was thick enough. Runny icing is less stable and makes for really pathetic icicles. If you think the icing is too runny, add more sugar.
- Making extra dough. You never know when a piece might break or you realise that you’d really like to make a gingerbread outdoor setting. If you have a little extra dough, so you can alway whip something up.
- It’s all in the decorating. I personally take a lot of pride in the decorating. I love going to lengths to create lots of little details, however a nicely decorated roof will do just fine. One year I created a tiled roof completely out of sliced licorice allsorts, or you could try nuts, like pecans, or even square little breakfast cereals to create a thatched look. I personally love the vibrant colours of lollies, so prefer to use those.
- Allow plenty of time. A gingerbread house is not a fast piece of work. The above house could literally take an entire day to make. If you’re short on time like myself, I break the process up over a series of days. Bake the slabs on 1 night after work, construct the next, decorate the day / night afterwards. The house this year took me 3.5 hrs to decorate, but I will say that most of the time was in the tiny details. Decorating the roof itself is pretty quick. However, if you are seriously strapped for time, you could buy one of those pre-baked ones where all you need to do is construct it. I just don’t think the gingerbread tastes anywhere as good and people will love you for the effort you’ve put in.
As I said, if anyone wants specific details on how particular elements were made, just give me a yell!