"Making a gingerbread house is a wonderful way to bring the kids into the kitchen and one of the most enjoyable Christmas activities."
Makes 1 gingerbread house and 6-12 biscuits
Preheat the oven to 160C (140 Fan) and set a shelf in the middle of the oven. Line 3 trays with baking paper. Put the sugar, treacle and all the spices in a medium saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly, until it reaches boiling point. Take care not to burn!
Take off the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda. Stir it in and watch as the mixture foams up! Add the butter and stir it in until melted. Add the egg and mix it in.
Gradually add the flour, mixing it with each addition. Once all the flour is added tip the dough onto a floured worktop and knead briefly until it comes together. Let it rest for 5 minutes.
Cut a section and wrap the rest in cling film. Dust your worktop and rolling pin and roll out to about 6mm thickness.
Place your template over the dough and carefully trim the shapes using a sharp knife. Use biscuit cutters to cut our pretty windows (I used a heart-shaped cutter) but don’t cut out big shapes or you will compromise the foundations!
Carefully transfer to your prepared trays (use a pastry scraper to lift) and bake each batch for 12-15 minutes or until the edges start to brown.The gingerbread will be a little soft out of the oven. Cool for 5 minutes on the trays and then transfer to a drying rack to cool completely.
For the icing, you will need:
3 egg whites (90g)
675g icing sugar, shifted
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer). Start whisking at slow speed until the egg whites are foamy.
Add the icing sugar, a little at a time, whisking all the while. Keep the speed low when adding the icing sugar to prevent a snowstorm but then increase to highest speed. Keep whisking until all the icing sugar is added and the icing forms firm peaks. It needs to be fairly stiff to act as your ‘mortar’ for building the gingerbread house.
Transfer to a large piping bag or a ziplock bag and keep sealed until you are ready to use – it will dry out if exposed to air.
This is where the fun starts. You will need some props to keep the walls up while the icing is drying – tin cans, bottles or cereal boxes. You will also need plenty of patience while constructing your house. Take it slow and allow the icing to dry completely before decorating. This can take up to 8 hours so it’s best to make the house, let it dry overnight and decorate the following day. It helps to construct the house using the cardboard templates first so you see how it all comes together.
Place your gingerbread pieces on top of each other – they will have expanded during baking and will need to be trimmed so that they are same size and have neat edges. Use a serrated knife to trim the edges and check the walls at right angles before sticking together. Use a sawing action with your knife – you don’t want to chip the walls!
Cut a small hole at the end of your piping bag and pipe a generous line of icing along the side wall. Stick the front end piece and prop upright with a tin can. Let the icing dry.
Stick the other side wall on and once it feels steady gently turn the house over so you can stick the other front panel.
Turn the house over and use a generous amount of icing to stick on the roof panels one at a time (use a prop to keep the panels from sliding off while icing dries). Repeat the process with second roof panel. Leave the house to dry overnight, propped up as needed, and put any remaining royal icing in the fridge, well sealed.
You can now go wild decorating your house with a selection of candies or keep it simple using just royal icing to decorate. Children will delight in decorating it just keep an eye on them otherwise they will eat most of the decorations!
You will need:
Royal icing (thin with a little water if too stiff – can also be coloured)
candy, biscuits, jelly beans, candy canes – anything goes!
shreddies or frosted shreddies make fantastic roof tiles
gelatine sheets make good windows – stick behind the window
icing sugar and/or glitter for snow dusted effect
Use plenty of royal icing to stick the candies on – it dries quickly so only pipe enough to cover small areas or pipe directly on the candy or biscuits before sticking on.
Your gingerbread house will be edible for about a week – moisture will cause the walls to soften over time. My advice is have a party to decorate it and use a large gathering to help demolish it soon after!