Sunday, 16 December 2012

Building a Gingerbread House

Gingerbread is one of my favourite Christmas treats, and I've spent the last half an hour using the power of Google to try and find out exactly why it is so closely associated with the festive season. Answers range from gingerbread shapes originally being used as Christmas tree decorations in Germany to 'Jesus was born in a gingerbread manger' (thanks Yahoo! Answers, very helpful...) so I'm not really any the wiser. But no matter what the origin, there's no denying that ginger biscuits baking in the oven makes the house smell like Christmas.

A couple of months ago I picked up a set of Gingerbread House Cutters from Lakeland, thinking that it would be a good project to make nearer to Christmas. Turns out that was a good decision as the set is now no longer available on their website, but plenty of other companies make them (You can also find templates online to print out and cut around like this one from Delicious magazine). It's a bit of an undertaking but if you've got the time it's a really fun way to spend a rainy December afternoon.

I baked the biscuit shapes one evening using the Simple Gingerbread House recipe on BBC Good Food, which pretty much consists of melted butter, golden syrup and brown sugar mixed with flour and ground ginger. A good tip for cutting out the shapes is to roll the dough out on a sheet of greaseproof or baking paper so that you can transfer it straight to a baking sheet, as the larger pieces can stretch and break if you try to pick them up and move them. My only tweak to the shapes was to cut out some heart shaped windows on each side of the house. They were baked for around 10 minutes until the gingerbread was firm but not too browned, then cooled for 10 minutes on the tray until they're firm enough to move to a cooling rack. I always use Lakeland My Kitchen Baking Sheets for biscuits and cookies - even without the baking paper nothing ever sticks to them and they bake really nice and evenly.

Once all of the pieces are baked and cooled the real fun begins - constructing the house! Royal icing makes the best 'cement' as it dries hard enough to hold the structure together, but the raw egg whites in the traditional recipe freak me out a bit so I used some Royal Icing Sugar I found in Sainsbury's. It has dried egg whites already included so all you have to do is add water and beat for a while with an electric mixer - easy peasy! I stuck the four sides to the cake board first and left them propped up with glasses for about half an hour and while they were drying 'tiled' the roof pieces with white chocolate buttons. I really wanted to use those chocolate buttons that are covered in hundreds and thousands (Are they called Jazzies? Or have I made that up?) but I couldn't find them at the supermarket. The trickiest bit was sticking the roof pieces on, they were sliding around all over the place and I ended up sitting holding them in place until the icing started to dry a bit.

When it comes to decorating a gingerbread house less is NEVER more. I used 3 bags of white chocolate buttons, 4 tubes of Smarties, 1 large bag of midget gems and 2 packets of Jelly Tots... well it is Christmas after all. And this is the finished product after a light dusting of icing sugar snow:

One of the things I love about gingerbread houses is that no two will ever look the same, and you can completely let your imagination run wild. I'm pretty pleased with my creation but Mini candy canes would be a great addition to the garden, and maybe even some Lindt chocolate reindeer on the roof! If I'm being totally honest this gingerbread recipe isn't the best I've tried, it could do with a lot more ginger and maybe some other spices, but it is very crisp when baked which is useful for building houses. Now we just need to decide if we're going to eat it or keep it as a decoration!

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