When it comes to decorating our homes for Christmas it seems ‘less’ is definitely not ‘more’. Not long now until the big day and little by little we are getting ready. We have decorated the tree, hung the icicle lights, the stockings and the advent calendars, made the cake, sent the cards, and planned the menu. But we’re not done yet!
A few years ago I had the novel idea of making a gingerbread house for the children – there was room for one, if I shoved the cake along to the end of the table and decided to display my cards somewhere else. Well the little house was a huge hit and sometimes even when you have the best of intentions things can turn around to bite you because now my children insist Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without the spicy smelling house filled with lollies. Aaarghh, the things we do!
My recipe is from The Australian Women’s Weekly Christmas Cooking cookbook. They say this will take just two hours to make but that is like Jamie Oliver telling us we can make his meals in 30 minutes so just triple that two-hour time frame and you’ll be more on track.
The great thing about these houses is that the gingerbread has a wonderful aroma and wherever the house is displayed, the surrounding area will be scented with ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
A gingerbread house can look challenging to make but they really aren’t that difficult. You just need to be careful to roll the bread to the right thickness and cook until just firm and then your walls and roof should be able to stand firm without collapsing.
Degree of Difficulty: 4/5 because of the time involved and fiddling about etc
Feeds: 1-20 depending on how many lollies you can comfortably digest
Cost: Cost will vary depending on what sort of lollies and how many lollies you stuff into the house
You need thin cardboard or thick paper to make patterns for the house. The house can be assembled three days ahead.
4 1/2 cups (675g) self-raising flour
3 tspns ground ginger
2 tspns ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tspns ground cloves
1 tspn ground nutmeg
185g butter, chopped
1 cup (220g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (180g) treacle
2 eggs, lightly beaten
35cm square cake board
2 egg whites
3 cups (480g) pure icing sugar
Beat egg whites in a small bowl with electric mixer until frothy; gradually beat in sifted icing sugar. Cover icing with a damp cloth while not using.
Process flour, spices and butter until mixture is crumbly (you may have to process in two batches). Add sugar, treacle and enough egg for mixture to just combine. Turn dough onto floured surface; knead until smooth. Cover; refrigerate 1 hour.
Meanwhile, cut paper patterns for gingerbread house: cut two 12cm x 19cm rectangles for roof; two 10.5cm and 16cm rectangles for side walls of house; and two 16cm x 18cm rectangles for front and back walls of house. Trim front and back walls to forms two 11cm-high gables.
Preheat oven to moderate. Roll dough between sheets of baking paper until 5mm thick. Peel away top layer of paper; use patterns to cut shapes from dough. Pull away excess dough; slide baking paper with shapes onto oven tray; back, uncovered, in moderate oven about 12 minutes or until shapes are just firm (they become crisp after they cool). Re-roll dough scraps into one 5mm-thick piece; cut out trees and chimney.
While shapes are still warm and soft, use tip of sharp knife to cut out small windows from side walls of house, then cut out door from front wall; reserve cut-out door piece. Trim shapes to straighten sides; transfer all shapes to wire racks to cool. (I also cut out a hole in one of the roof pieces where the chimney will be so you can pour lollies in through the roof when the house is complete).
Make royal icing. Cover board with foil or silver paper.
Secure two crossed skewers to back of each roof piece with icing. Allow to dry before assembling house.
Assemble house, securing roof and walls together with icing. If possible, stand house several hours or overnight, supporting sides with four can, so that it is thoroughly dry before decorating. Decorate board around house with remaining icing to resemble fallen snow.
Secure door to house with icing; decorate house with lollies securing with icing. Secure trees to board and chimney to roof with icing. Dust house with a little sifted icing sugar, if desired.