Thursday, 5 December 2013

Christmas Gingerbread House

It’s only in the last few of years I’ve taken on building a gingerbread house from scratch, but now it’s something I look forward to making every Christmas. This recipe is slightly adapted from this Tesco one. The mixture needs to be a little dry, so when it cools after baking, it goes hard. If the gingerbread is too soft it won’t hold it’s weight when put together. I used the template from Tesco also, but feel free to make your own. Please note, this is a 2 or 3 day bake, and you will need a little patience when it comes to the assembly! There are also a few tips and tricks at the bottom of the recipes :)

250g (8oz) unsalted butter
200g (7oz) light muscovado sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp treacle
600g (1¼lb) plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp mixed spice
Clear, boiled sweets, for the windows
500g royal icing sugar
Chocolate buttons for the roof (optional)
Chocolate wafer tubes (optional)

Preheat your oven to 180°C and measure out a few sheets of baking paper ready to fit the trays and dust with a little flour (you’ll probably have to cook all the pieces in a couple of batches).

Cut out your template ready.

In a pan, melt the butter, sugar, golden syrup and treacle together, stirring until its smooth. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and mixed spice. Pour the melted butter to the flour mix and mix well, first with a spoon, then with your hands, until it forms a stiff dough. You can add a little more flour if it’s still sticky, or a little splash of milk if it’s too dry and crumbly. Knead for a couple of minutes until its smooth.

Remember, your gingerbread needs to be a little dry so it goes hard once cooled after baking. You’ll have to use your own judgement here, but this dough will make a little more than needed for the average house, so feel free to roll, cut and bake a small test piece and see. 

Once you’re happy with the consistency of the dough, break the dough into about 4 equal pieces.
Take the first piece and roll it out onto one of your sheets of dusted baking paper, to the thickness of a £1 coin. Use your template to cut out the first few pieces of the house and remove any excess dough from the baking paper.
Repeat this until you have all your pieces cut out on baking paper sheets.
Re-roll any left-overs and use it to cut out snowmen or trees to decorate the garden, or you could make a little chimney to go on top.

Place a boiled sweet or two in each of the windows – these will melt in the oven and fill the hole.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes or until just turning golden and the sweets have melted. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a couple of minutes on the tray before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
Once it’s cooled completely, stack all the pieces in an airtight tin and leave over night to firm up.

The following day, you can decorate and assemble the pieces. Obviously, you have free reign over decorations, but here’s what I did…
Make up the royal icing according to the instructions on the packet.
Pipe frames around the windows and on the door piece. While that’s setting, spread the roof pieces with a thick layer of icing and cover them in chocolate buttons.

While the roof sets, you can assemble the walls. Stick the first wall onto your cake board with a little icing, using bowls/cups/tins to hold it upright. Stick the second wall to this and the board with more icing, again using what ever you can find to prop it up. Attach the two remaining walls in this way and leave to set for about 10-15 minutes.
Cut 4 wafer tubes to the height of the walls, and stick one on each corner join.
Once the walls are set, stick on the roof pieces, again using cups to hold them in place until the icing sets. Join the two roof pieces at the top with a thick line of icing, and more wafer tubes along the length.
Use any left over icing to decorate your snowmen/trees or cover the rest of the cake board with ‘snow’.
Leave everything overnight to set properly before eating/displaying.

We’ve eaten these houses up to two weeks after they’ve been baked, so they can be made well ahead.

Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve discovered over the last couple of years:

- As I’ve mentioned already, the dough needs to be firm and a little dry.

- Make sure you do leave the gingerbread over night before assembling – you don’t want a pile of crumbs!

- Make the roof slightly thinner than the walls – once it’s covered in a layer of icing and chocolate buttons, it can get quite weighty and will take longer to stick on to the walls.

- If you are having serious issues with getting your roof to stay on try this: ice a row of sweets, like dolly mixtures, onto the underside of the roof that can act as a buffer, holding the roof in place while the rest of the icing sets.

- Try different coloured boiled sweets in the windows. If you’re using a template that has big windows, try using a gradient from yellow, through orange to red – it looks brilliant with a little led light inside.

- Most importantly, be patient and be prepared. Get your template and baking paper ready before you start making the dough, and don’t go into it hoping to bosh it out in an afternoon – it takes time!

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