Elaborately decorated gingerbread houses are taking the internet by storm this Christmas. Like this one
Or this one…
If you want to get in on a little of that Christmas magic, here is the guide to your perfect gingerbread real estate!
The Perfect Panels
The first step is to bake your panels (walls and roof). To simplify assembly, it is advisable to have the straightest pieces that you can. This is achieved by having “gingerbread plywood”. Regular gingerbread-for-eating will puff up slightly causing your sides to be warped, but gingerbread plywood is low in fat (so your house will keep for a long time), firm enough to hold up the weight of all those lovely sweets and has no raising agent. (See the recipe below)
Cutters vs templates
You can either use a cutter (available from Treat Boutique – an awesome, online cookie cutter maker based in KZN) or a paper template to cut out the raw dough. Roll the pieces quite thick (6-10mm) and place the rolled dough onto your cookie tray before cutting so that you don’t have to pick it up after you have cut it out, which can cause stretching. To use a template, cut out the paper template and cut around it carefully with a sharp, non-serrated knife.
Bake in a moderate oven, and leave the panels to become firm in the oven. If they seem to be darkening, turn the oven temperature down and leave to firm up.
If this process sounds too…um…trying, consider purchasing a ready to decorate kit, such as these one
The key to decorating is to do all the decorations on the side panels before assembling your house while they are lying flat.
If you want your house to have a “painted wall” effect, use a 10-second consistency royal icing to flood the sides. (See recipe below). Ten second icing is a slightly runny icing that will form a flat surface 10 seconds after you pull a spoon through it. If the icing is too runny it will run right off the sides of the cookie and if it is too thick it won’t form a flat surface.
For raw cookie walls leave out this step.
For all your piped decorations, sticking on sweets and sprinkles, and sticking the house together use stiff peak royal icing. (See recipe below) Stiff peak means that it will keep it’s shape once piped.
Use a piping bag or squeezy bottle to make it easier to apply the stiff royal icing. Decorate the sides and roof of your house with piping, sweets and sprinkles.
Once the sides and roof have been decorated leave them overnight to harden. Then, begin construction by propping up one side against a full food can (eg baked beans). Apply stiff royal icing at all the joins and leave the walls to set before adding the roof. Make sure that the sides are placed in the correct position relative to the gable walls for the roof to fit (eg sides inside the gable, check this with the roof to see what fits best based on your cutter or template). Once the joins are starting to set (15-20 minutes) add the roof. You might need to prop it up on something to prevent the roof from sliding off. Leave to set for a further 15 minutes. Now decorate the house even more (more really is more when it comes to gingerbread houses!).
Top tip: don’t forget to remove the support can before you put the roof on!
The inside, windows and doors
Don’t forget to cut windows and doors while the dough is raw. Some people put a tea light candle inside the house to give it a rosy glow. The light will shine from the openings. DO NOT, however, leave these unattended as they may cause a fire.
You can also make mini “cup sitter” ones. Too adorable!
Once the house is decorated, display it as part of your Christmas décor, and encourage small children to each the yummy sweets off the house a la Hansl and Gretl. Don’t forget to decorate the garden around your house!
Gingerbread for eating
Perfect for Gingerbread Men
125g castor sugar
125g golden syrup
400g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
Preheat oven to 180°. Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the egg and the syrup and mix well. Sift in the flour and ginger and mix to form a stiff dough. Knead lightly, cover and leave to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
Lightly grease a baking sheet. Roll out the dough between two pieces of plastic to a thickness of about 8mm, and cut out shapes using a cookie cutter.
Bake at 180° for about 10 minutes until risen and golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Decorate with royal icing or melted chocolate
Gingerbread for construction (gingerbread plywood)
125g butter or margarine
250ml golden syrup
20ml ginger (or more)
125ml water plus a little extra if needed
Preheat oven to 180°. Cream the butter/margarine and sugar together, add the syrup. Add in the dry ingredients and water alternating a little at a time. Knead the dough adding a little more water or flour if needed to form a still dough that can be rolled out at room temperature. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the pieces. Bake until hard in the oven, reducing the oven temperature if the pieces are starting to darken. Be generous with your spices as these give the house a lovely smell.
1 egg white
Sift your icing sugar into a bowl with the egg white and beat with an electric mixer adding additional icing sugar until you reach the stiff peak stage for piping or 10-second icing for flooding (forms a flat surface in 10 seconds). Adjust the consistency with water and icing sugar to get the perfect icing for what you want to do.
Have you ever made gingerbread men or an actual gingerbread house before? We challenge you to try and if you take a photo, tag us on Instagram @Food24_sa. We’d love to see your creation!