For those of you who were following my blog last Christmas you might recall I made a gingerbread house that imploded. I had just come home from being away on an eight-day business trip and it was now but a few days away from Christmas Day and I was trying to fit four weeks of preparation into three days. Not a good idea.
Gingerbread houses don’t like to be rushed. You shouldn’t roll the gingerbread out to thickly or rush the pieces out of the oven, (I did both), as this will give you a soft gingerbread that won’t be able to support the weight of a roof. Once you have erected the walls you need to wait until the icing has hardened (about an hour) before attempting to put up the roof. After watching my newly finished house fold like a deck of cards, I think I screamed as my head spun around three times.
But, 12 months later I’m back in the saddle, remembering where I went wrong and believing, you only make those mistakes once.
In order not to re-visit the past too much, I’ve gone with a new design and a new recipe. This gingerbread house turned out really well. I’m pleased to announce there were no dramas. It wasn’t even a stressful process. One great tip I learned from the December 2011 issue of Gourmet Traveller is to ice and decorate the pieces before you assemble the house. It’s much easier to decorate gingerbread pieces when they’re lying flat rather than standing vertically and when the pieces have icing on them, this adds to their strength for when you come to assembling the house.
This is a spicy gingerbread and so the aroma as the pieces are cooking is fantastic. And now that my house is assembled and standing I can smell it every time I walk past. It’s so lovely and festive.
A Gingerbread House
Serves: Many, many, many
Degree of Difficulty: 3/5
Cost: Very inexpensive for the volume of what you end up with.
- 4 2/3 cups plain flour
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 cup dark muscovado sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 2 tspns cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tspns ground cloves
- 1 tspn ground nutmeg
- 220gm (7.76 ozs) cold butter, cubed
- 3/4 cup golden syrup
- 2 eggs
- 4 egg whites
- 900gm (32 ozs) icing sugar, sieved
Using a food processor, process half of the flour, sugars, baking powder and spices to combine well. Add half the butter, process to combine, then add half the golden syrup and 1 egg and process until mixture comes together (3-4 minutes). Turn out onto a work surface, knead until mixture comes together, wrap in plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least an hour. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Preheat oven to 180C (375F).
Using sturdy paper, cut out templates, 2 of each:
Roof pieces: 10.5cm x 27cm
Side walls: 14cm x 24cm long
End walls: 13cm x 14cm high with a 6cm-high pitch for the roof
Roll out gingerbread on a lightly floured surface to 3-4mm thick then use templates to cut out pieces. You will have to roll and re-roll the gingerbread several times. Place pieces on baking paper and then on baking trays. Cut out a front door from one of the end walls – don’t throw it away. Bake door with other pieces. Cut out windows in side walls.
Use left over gingerbread to make extra shapes like Christmas trees for the front yard.
Bake pieces for 8-12 minutes depending on the size of the pieces. You want the edges to be going darker. Gingerbread will harden as it cools. Allow to cool on trays then transfer to a wire rack.
For the Royal Icing:
Lightly whisk egg whites in a large bowl, gradually add icing sugar and mix until smooth and holds a soft peak. Spoon royal icing into piping bags fitted with desired nozzles and decorate as desired. Allow to dry – about 60 minutes. Royal icing will set rock hard.
To Assemble the House:
Get a large and sturdy cake board. Spread some of the icing along the base and sides of one of the wall pieces with a palette knife. Place on board and use tumblers to stabilise the piece into position. Join more pieces to complete the walls then pipe around the base to give further support to the structure. Affix the front door. Allow to set. I allowed an hour.
Fill house with lollies. I used lollies that are light in weight like soft jellies and I only half-filled the house – the more weight, the more pressure on the structure!
Now that all the walls are built and have set, spread icing over top edges of house then carefully secure roof sections. Help the structure by piping icing anywhere there is a gap to increase stability and strength. I decorated the top of the roof with silver cachous.
Add icicles. Pipe onto the edge of the roof and allow to slip down.
Spread icing around the house to look like snow.
Stand decorated trees in the snow and pile some icing behind them to help the trees stand up.
Allow to harden then dust with icing sugar to give a look of newly fallen snow.
This recipe has been adapted from Gourmet Traveller, December 2011 issue.
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