How to make a gingerbread house

Gingerbread House
Gingerbread House 

I’ve always wanted to say “here’s one I prepared earlier”. This Gingerbread house was put together last Christmas so it might be familiar to some of you, especially if you helped me destroy the house HULK-SMASH style on Boxing Day. You know who you are.

Gingerbread Houses might seem like daunting fiddly things to put together. Combine baking, architecture, construction and craft, and you get a marvellous Gingerbread House. Or if it doesn’t quite go to plan, let’s just call it a festive homage to Installation Art instead.

If it’s your first Gingerbread House, the key is to keep it simple, plan ahead and make sure you gather all your equipment. You will need to allow plenty of time to choose a design, cut out a template, bake the gingerbread, glue it all together and decorate. Sounds like a fair bit of work, but it’s fun to make and really rewarding once you see the finished product.

The equipment you will need includes:

Very large mixing bowl
Wooden Spoon or large spatula for mixing
1 Baking Tray
Big Rolling Pin
Approximately 1sq metre of stiff cardboard to cut-out templates
Large strong cake board or a serving tray to build the gingerbread house on.
Electric mixer
Plastic Wrap
Aluminium Foil
Piping Bag with fine tip (or a ziplock bag with a small hole in the corner)

And in your shopping basket you will need:

500g Dark Brown Sugar
360ml Whipping Cream
425g Molasses or Golden Syrup
1.6kg Plain Flour
Baking Soda
Nutmeg
Cinnamon
Ground Cloves
1 Egg white
330g Icing sugar
White Vinegar
Almond Extract or essence

STEP ONE: CHOOSE A GINGERBREAD HOUSE DESIGN AND MAKE A TEMPLATE

Choose a simple cottage template to begin. Grab some stiff cardboard and cut out the shape of the walls, roof and front of the house: if you freestyle your house it might look a little wonky and Dada-eqsue once assembled, or worse, it will collapse. There are some handy templates available on the web to help you.

Some basic printable templates here

And a great basic cottage design to download and print here

STEP TWO: BAKE UP YOUR GINGERBREAD

When making a gingerbread house, the recipe is not quite the same as one that would be used for gingerbread cookies. It needs to be a stronger dough to stop your walls from crumbling down.

500g Dark Brown Sugar
360ml Whipping Cream
425g Molasses (can use Golden Syrup instead)
1660g Plain Flour
2 tablespoons Baking Soda
1 tablespoon Ground Ginger
1 tablespoon Nutmeg
1 tablespoon Cinnamon
2 teaspoons Ground Cloves

(Recipe adapted from Good Housekeeping)

Beat the brown sugar, cream and molasses/syrup until the mixture is smooth and any lumps are dissolved. Transfer to a very large mixing bowl. Stir in the baking soda and spices. Add the flour in three stages, stirring as long as you can, then transfer the dough to a clean workbench and knead until all the flour is incorporated. Do not over-knead the dough, otherwise the gluten will overdevelop and you risk a crumbly dough.

Divide the dough into four equal discs, wrap well with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight if possible. The dough will become firm in the fridge.

Grease and flour a large baking tray. Remove dough from fridge and roll out to 5mm thick on the baking tray. Chill in the fridge for another 10 minutes, or until the dough is firm enough again to cut shapes from. Preheat oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Place a template over the dough and use a sharp paring knife to cut out the shape. Wrap the trimmings and keep in the fridge. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the piece is firm to the touch. Do not overbake, otherwise they will be too crispy to trim. Remove the shape from the oven. While it is still warm, reposition the template and trim any extra spread from the cookie. Repeat for all the shapes (2 walls, 2 front, 2 roof pieces). Allow the pieces to cool completely.

STEP 3: MAKE ROYAL ICING

Royal Icing is the glue that will hold your ginger fortress together. It can also be piped to add roof thatch designs, icicles and  intricate designs to your house. Royal Icing hardens as it is exposed to air, so be sure to keep it covered if not using immediately.

1 Egg white, large
330g Icing sugar
1 teaspoon White Vinegar
1 teaspoon Almond Extract (or essence)

Beat the vinegar, almond flavour and egg white, adding the icing sugar slowly into the mix until all incorporated. If you draw a line in the icing with a butter knife, it should take around 10 seconds for the line to disappear. If it disappears too quickly, add more icing sugar and mix until you get the right consistency.

STEP 4: ASSEMBLE THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE

Prepare the cake board or serving tray by covering it with foil. Glue the walls together by piping royal icing along the joins. This site has great step-by-step illustrations on how to glue your house together. Leave the walls to dry completely before attempting to add the roof. Candy canes make excellent support columns if the roof needs a little extra help.

STEP 5: DECORATE THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE

Let your creativity run wild with decorations. Search for Gingerbread Houses on Google Images and Flickr for some inspiration if you’re stuck. This site lists different types of candy and what they can be used for when decorating your Gingerbread House.

For my house I used:

Roof: Freckles and red & blue Smarties
Top of roof: Silver cachous
Window shutters: pink wafers
Log paneling and door: ‘TV Snacks’ Malt sticks
Garden shrubs: Mint Leaves
Flower bed: chopped orange and pink candies from Liquorice Allsorts
Footpath: cracked Lindt dark chocolate
Christmas Tree: cardboard cut-out with green tinted coconut glued on with royal icing, with Smartie baubles.
Red roof trim: chopped Raspberries
Stained glass decoration: Jubes

STEP 6: EAT

I think the hardest part is actually tearing down the Gingerbread House once it’s ready to be eaten. It’s best tackled with the same technique as ripping off a bandaid: fast and with force. Although it is sad to tear down what you spent a long time creating, all is soon forgotten once you have a mouthful of gingerbread and lollies.

See more at thecakemistress.com.