Everyone loves Christmas, the trees, the decorations, the events, and the lights but personally, the best part of Christmas is the FOOD. I’m not just talking turkey and sprouts though; it’s the desserts for Christmas tea that are my favourite.
Gingerbread houses always seemed a bit out of my league with me not being very artistic or patient but nonetheless the last two years I’ve tried. I’ve made two successful gingerbread houses, and two…prototypes… Here’s the recipe I use, including my tips on how to avoid some of the catastrophes I’ve encountered.
There are loads of templates on the web, I use the one on the BBC’s Good Food website: www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/4900/simple gingerbreadhouse
250g unsalted butter
7 tablespoons golden syrup
200g dark muscovado sugar
600g plain flour
2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
4 teaspoons of ground ginger
200g flaked almonds
500g icing sugar
2 eggs – separate yolks and whites – keep whites
2 boxes of chocolate fingers
1 chocolate mini roll
Sweets of your choice for decoration
Preheat your oven to gas mark 6 or 200 degrees C. Melt the butter, syrup and muscovado sugar in a pan on the hob. Mix the plain flour, bicarbonate of soda, and the all important ingredient: ground ginger in a large mixing bowl, add the warm butter mixture and stir it all into a stiff dough – if it doesn’t seem to stick together add a splash of water.
Put a sheet of baking paper on a work surface and roll a quarter of the dough into the thickness of two pound coins. Cut a section of the template (see weblink left) out of the dough and place it with its baking paper onto another piece of baking paper. Repeat with the remaining dough and template pieces. Make sure you have two roof panels, two sidewalls and a front and a back. Use any leftover dough to make Christmas trees, reindeer or gingerbread men and women.
Use the flaked almonds and poke the most intact almonds gently into the roof panels to represent tiles – they look really cool once done but be careful, its quite fiddly and they snap really easily.
Bake all the sections on a flat baking tray with their baking paper for 12 minutes or until firm and slightly darker around the edges. Trim around the templates again and then leave to cool completely.
Making the mortar of your gingerbread house: sift the icing sugar (leave a small amount for dusting) and mix with the egg whites. Spoon into a piping bag with a nozzle, and pipe generously along the wall edges and join them together. Put a small bowl in the middle of the house-in-progress to stop it from caving inwards.
Do not try and put the roof panels on before the walls have set completely, every year I try and every year it’s the reason for the (fairly traumatic) collapse. I’ve taken to leaving it overnight to distract myself from poking it so it really has a chance to set. Once it is dry, remove the supports and fix the roof panels – hold them in place for a few minutes to allow the ‘glue’ to set.
If you have a gap in your roof, line each side with the icing glue and stick marshmallows in the gap – gap all gone! Use the chocolate fingers to make panels on the sides of the house, a door and a window if you wish.
To make icicles squeeze a little icing and then pull it down leaving a little pony tail, to make it more distinct you can use a cocktail stick to pull the icing down while its still wet. Cut a chocolate mini roll at an angle and stick to the roof for a chimney – add some icicles to this too. Decorate any trees, reindeers you’ve made too.
Now the best bit, use any sweets you want to make it a Hansel and Gretel’s paradise, surround the house with some desiccated coconut to add
some more snow, sprinkle with icing sugar and don’t get too attached, people think it looks amazing, but it’s soon discovered that it tastes just as good as it looks!