Health Advisory

Nothing within this blog should be considered as medical advice and you should always consult your preferred medical professional.

Search This Blog

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A real live gingerbread house

Since I was a little girl I have dreamt of making a gingerbread house, given the undertaking that it is I really didn’t get a proper chance to do one until now at the ripe age of 30. My mum helped me make one when I was nine, but due to a mortar malfunction it collapsed overnight leaving me heartbroken.

This Christmas I was determined to make a gingerbread house despite having a 3 month old and a toddler which as any mum knows is a bit of a challenge on the time management front.
Gingerbread architecture and it’s decoration is neither specifically parenting related nor is it particularly cheap or natural but I am including it in this blog because  it’s a wonderful project to do with your children and in the spirit of Christmas it’s a lovely family tradition to begin that doesn’t involve jumping on the consumer train heading off to debtsville.

Before starting I did some research, some friends of mine had made some beautiful models (a little bit of competition was the only impetus I needed to get going.) There are thousands of amazing houses if you look online which can be a bit intimidating, but also a source for inspiration!

The first thing to do is find a decent Gingerbread recipe. Your bog standard gingerbread man recipe simply won’t work as it bakes too soft and puffs up in the oven distorting the shapes, for a house you need a structural gingerbread recipe. I looked around for one that seemed cheap and easy and found a Pepparkarkor recipe which I adjusted somewhat to suit my purposes.

Here is the recipe I used:

9 cups of high grade flour
3 cups of soft brown sugar (I ran out so I used a combo of brown and white)
1 cup of rice bran oil
½ cup powdered ginger
1 heaped teaspoon of allspice
Cinnamon to taste – I used lots because I like a dark house and I wanted that smell to evoke Christmas
Enough golden syrup to bring the dough together – about 2 cups, some recipes use molasses or treacle which is pretty much the same thing but darker but I went with something a little more kiwi.

You’ll notice I didn’t use any egg or leavening, you can if you want, the baked result will be less of a jaw breaker but I valued strength over taste. The idea is to mix in just enough syrup to get the dough to clump and no more, I ended up adding a bit of water too but not too much otherwise there can be shrinkage.  After t he dough had clumped I wrapped it tightly in gladwrap and refrigerated it overnight. Well actually it was 3 days while the madness of Christmas took over – but overnight will do.

The next thing to do was make up my template, using my baking tray as a size guide I measured out a roof, 4 walls, a door and the chimney pieces. If basic geometry isn’t your strong point then there are plenty of templates online that you can use.

For the rolling and baking step non stick baking paper will be your friend. I rolled out my dough to about 4mm thick in between two pieces of baking parchment on top of the baking tray. This meant that no additional flour had to be added and I could get a very consistent surface with no tears. If you don't have a rolling pin a long bottle with straight sides is fine. If you are having trouble getting a consistent thickness you can use thin strips of wood on either end of the board as a guide for your rolling pin, sort of like train tracks for you to roll with. I had no such strips so I did it by eye. Just be aware that thick bits may not bake and thin bits will come out dark and brittle.

Before cutting I put my trays in the deep freeze for a few minutes to make the dough firmer and more easy to work, then using the template I carefully cut around my shapes that I had precut onto A4 paper and then lifted out the excess. You can also cut out your window shapes at this point. A star or circle cookie cutter does a good consistent size/shape but you could also do squares with a steady hand and a knife. One day when I’m big I am going to try making stained glass window biscuits.

The next step is baking which took about 10-15 minutes in an oven preheated to 180⁰, it pays to watch this step like a HAWK because a few minutes can be the different between perfect and char – especially when using a dough with such a high sugar content. I planned to do a tiled roof so I also did a couple of trays where I simply cut a large area of dough into shingles. I didn’t bother separating them much and yes they stuck together a bit when I baked them but when they were cooled I broke them apart like a block of chocolate and it worked surprisingly well. After baking everything I let them cool completely overnight before starting the icing phase.
Before icing it pays to trim or kerf  the pieces so the house will fit together flush, icing will cover a multitude of sins but a well fitting gingerbread house is a easier to put together and less prone to collapse.

For the icing I used a royal icing recipe which is basically egg white and icing sugar. Here is the recipe.

1 egg white
½  a squeezed lemon or a 1.2 tsp cream of tartar
Enough icing sugar to combine – about a cup and a half.

I beat the egg white and the lemon juice until frothy and then add enough icing sugar while beating until it becomes a good piping texture. The ideal texture is when the icing falls like a ribbon off of the beaters and stays on the surface for a few seconds before sinking back in. I then transferred it immediately to the piping bag. There are a wide range of piping bags and accessories you can get but I find the easiest is a disposable plastic one (cringe) or a home made paper one – which is less airtight but great for quick little jobs on the fly. If you have neither of these then a ziplock bag with the corner snipped is better than nothing and perfectly adequate. I don’t bother with tips I just cut the tip to the size I need and work with that. I also make the icing up in small batches to avoid drying. It’s so quick and easy it’s not a drama to do.

All the pieces

Some people will construct the house and then decorate but I find it is much easier to decorate before assembling. That way you don’t get any dripping and you don’t have to get into awkward angles to decorate the nooks and crannies.  Decorating is of course the best bit, I went a bit mental at the supermarket buying candy. My tip is to pick a simple colour scheme or theme and stick with that. I went with a traditional red and white which worked really well. Sorting red pebbles out of 3 family bags was fun though!  If you are involving the kids this is going to be their favourite bit. I selfishly kept the house to myself but made up a small one for him to have fun with while I concentrated on my masterpiece. 

Some great gingerbread decorating mainstays are candy canes, pretzel sticks, wafer tubes, jubes, pebbles, chocolate chips, 100’s and 1000’s, (you can get natural colour ones from the supermarket) icecream waffle cones (upsidedown they make great alpine trees)  and silver cachous. For my house I ended up using red and white tic tacs, pebbles, pink wafer biscuits, red jubes, white chocolate chips, whole almonds, cremosa lolllipops and chocolate sticks.

Half way there

Once the icing dried rock hard (overnight is best) I started the build. Before starting this stage it is important to have plenty of stabilisers on hand. I used tinned food cans, DVD cases, a wheat bag and a couple of folded cloths. I put together the four walls and got all my stabilisers in place before icing. It’s important to get icing all along the join and to do an extra thick layer on the inside corners and then it’s simply a matter of holding it together while it dries or propping it carefully. The roof was a challenge because of the angle and also because of the heavy tiles but once I had it propped correctly I simply iced it on and reinforced it from within. The last piece couldn't be reinforced from within but it went on really easily because the rest of the house was so stable. Some recipes use caramelised sugar for the mortar but this is what I used for my childhood house and overnight the caramel absorbed too much moisture and melted. It was also very messy with strings of hot scalding hot caramelised sugar everywhere

After the house dried I did the ridge piece and some finishing touches on the house including the door and gateposts. I found the best base to rest the house on was actually a pizza stone borrowed from my mum in law. No faffing around with boards and tinfoil that way

My sons masterpiece
It was still missing something so I ended up making snow out of 50/50 icing sugar and crystal sugar, I also found some great little candy chocolates that looked exactly like snowballs to complete the look. If I had cinnamon sticks I wood have used those for a log pile and star anise would have been a lovely naturalistic looking decoration but I only had one star and that was missing one point anyway.

I was reasonably proud of the finished masterpiece, it turned out better than anticipated. Mister 3.5 was amazingly restrained while he watched me work too and only stole 2 or 3 lollies.

I added a tree that I made with a star cookie cutter set and some snow, very proud of the finished article!

The only question I have is what do you do with a gingerbread house once it’s been built?

A sly finger sampled the snow so I made it a feature...


  1. WOW that is fantastic! I love it!

  2. Thanks Beth - I am really pleased with it - it has turned out much better than I anticipated and was easier than I thought. You should give it a go!