Ever since I was little, gingerbread houses have held a fascination for me. I saw them in movies and in books and was transfixed every time. Tall, icing covered gingerbread houses covered in all kinds of sweets… Once, on a holiday in Fiji, I saw a massive gingerbread house in the lobby of the resort we stayed in. It was as big as a small cubby house! I wanted to tear little bits off and eat it, but my Dad said “Cockroaches must be walking all over it at night!” Of course I think he was lying (as usual) but the idea of the gingerbread house stuck in my mind.
When I saw TV chef Rachel Allen on her show Rachel Allen Bake, showing how to create these towers of magic, I was surprised to see it look so easy. I decided to give it a try. (Her basic recipe is shown here). It turned out fantastic but just a bit disappointing, as you will see!
Making the dough and baking the walls and roof was easy. The gingerbread was delicious and smelled beautiful around the house, and I had to force my family not to devour it!
When it was cool, we got to the fun part: decorating. I followed the instructions and added my own twist and it all worked out beautifully.
The walls were up and it was time to attach the roof. I raised the two inclines gently and got mum to hold them in place while I piped the icing mixture (the ‘cement’). It stayed in place and I smoothened it all out. The chimney went on and it was complete.
My house looked good enough to eat, lol!
Then we did the ‘landscaping’. We used desiccated coconut for snow, cocoa powder for the path leading to the door, green sprinkles for some grass and blue for the pool. I also used edible icing flowers which looked great! Then the house was ‘open for inspection’ and everybody ooohed and ahhhed! Mum put it in the formal dining room. Then she made a serious mistake. She didn’t photograph it! I was too tired to do it myself – my back and shoulders were sore after all the chocolate-tiles gluing…
The next morning, disaster! The roof had caved in. We tried to resurrect it but the weight of the M and Ms and all the glue was too much for the gingerbread slabs. Ultimately, the roof collapsed into pieces. It was like the three piggys’ fairytale.
Anyway, two days later, on Christmas, we ate the remains of the house.
It was dee-licious!
~125g caster sugar
~125g soft dark brown sugar
~225g golden syrup or treacle
~725g plain flour
~2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
~3 tsp ground ginger
~1 tsp ground cinnamon
For the ‘glue’ and icing for the house:
~2 egg whites
~500g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
For decorating the house:
~Hundreds and thousands
~Chocolate buttons (milk and sugared chocolate)
~M and Ms
~Chocolate sprinkles (in different colours)
~Flake bar for the chimney
~Or any other sweets you wish
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter together with the sugars and golden syrup or treacle. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add the melted butter and sugar and mix together.
Knead the mixture for a few seconds until it comes together, adding a teaspoon or so of water if necessary, but without allowing it to get too wet. Flatten the dough slightly into a round about 2cm thick, wrap with cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
To make the gingerbread house, first make templates with paper to the following dimensions.
Front and back panels 12.7 x 17.7cm.
Two side panels 12.7 x 15.2cm.
Two roof panels 10.7 x 17.7cm.
Place a sheet of baking paper on the work surface, dust with flour and roll out about one-quarter of the dough to 5mm thick. Place one of the paper templates on the dough and cut round with a sharp knife, then slide the dough, still on its baking paper, onto a baking tray. Repeat with remaining dough, re-rolling the trimmings, until you have a front and back wall, two side walls and two roof panels. Re-roll any leftover dough to make into Christmas trees or boys and girls. Carefully trim excess paper from around each piece on the baking trays.
Bake all the sections in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until slightly firmed and just a little darker at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes on the baking trays to firm up. One by one, lift the pieces, still on the paper, and trim around the template to give clean, sharp edges. To make an open door for the house, cut one out of the front wall and cut out windows, if you wish. Place on a wire rack for a few minutes, then turn over and peel off the trimmed paper. Leave all the pieces to cool completely.
Meanwhile, prepare a board for the house to sit on.
To make the icing ‘glue’ for the house, place the egg whites in a large bowl, sift in the icing sugar, then stir to make a thick, smooth icing. Spoon into a piping bag with a small, star-shaped nozzle.
To assemble the house, pipe generous lengths of icing along the vertical wall edges, one by one, to join the walls together. Using a bowl or some other object or objects to support the walls from the inside, hold the walls gently in place with your hands until the icing is dry. Leave the roofless house to dry for at least 30 minutes until the icing is firmly set.
Once dry, remove the supports and pipe a thick line of icing along one long side of a roof piece and along the top edge of all the walls. Stick the two roof sections together at an angle and set the two pieces on top of the house. You can arrange the roof so that there is a slight overhang on either side of the house. Hold the roof gently in place for a few minutes until it dries, then leave it to dry for a further 30 minutes.
While the roof is drying, attach the door to the doorway – so that it looks slightly ajar – by running a line of icing glue down one side and along the base. Stick a small piece of a Flake bar onto the roof as a chimney.
Using the icing, pipe around the windows, and stick sweets around the door and on the front of the house.
Using the icing, stick milk chocolate and sugared buttons onto the roof for tiles. Glue the gingerbread trees or boys and girls around the house, then scatter the board with sugar strands.
Modified from: www.rachelallen.co.uk