gingerbread holiday fun

When Xmas holidays come round and it's time for gingerbread, I often use pastry-cook Natalie Paull’s recipe from Stephanie Alexander's The Cooks Companion. It's a terrific gingerbread every time and I adore turning it into houses, men, stars, trees and all manner of shapes. Especially at this time of year and with the enthusiastic help of my daughters, niece and nephew.  Best done in 3 simple steps over 2 days, including resting the dough overnight in the fridge.

We've been making a house for each branch of the family for a few years now and the kids love getting really involved. This one pictured is my nephew's work - a great job for Master 12 years old don't you think... Also enjoying the paper xmas trees the kids made at school from unwanted magazines sprayed with glitter.

You'll find this recipe and the assembly of the house and lolly placement so much fun. Much cheaper and tastier than store bought too.  It's hilarious watching the kids go wild with their decorations. I pop my favourite gingerbread house pics away and leave OCD perfectionist tendencies behind. It's a special time to enjoy watching the kids use their creativity and favourite sweeties to construct the little cottage of their gingerbread dreams.

Ingredients Gingerbread  - 170 grams softened unsalted butter ❤ 90 grams dark brown sugar ❤ ½ cup golden syrup ❤ 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten ❤ 470 grams plain flour ❤ ½ teaspoon salt ❤ 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda ❤ 2 teaspoons ground ginger ❤ 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon ❤   ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg ❤ ½ teaspoon ground cloves  ½ teaspoon white pepper ❤ ½ teaspoon ground allspice

Glaze - 1 tablespoon caster sugar ❤ 2 tablespoons water ❤ ½ teaspoon powdered gelatine  

Royal icing - 2 egg whites ❤ 500 grams pure icing sugar sifted ❤ ½ teaspoon lemon juice 

Extras - 1 sheet of cardboard 28cm x 33cm ❤ covered board ❤  assorted lollies of your choice ❤ Summer Roll (or similar) for chimney, cut on an angle ❤ pure icing sugar for dusting

Method - Step 1 (Day 1) Dough - beat butter, sugar and golden syrup on medium speed until creamed, using the dough paddle attachment on your mixer. Mix in egg. Sift flour, bicarb, salt and spices together. Add dry ingredients, mixing in well on low speed. Once dough has come together, divide into two portions, flatten into a rectangle and wrap each in plastic wrap to chill overnight in the fridge.  

Step 2 (Day 2 morning) - Dough Pieces - remove dough from fridge and sit for 30min to 1 hour (depending on weather) to soften up. Lightly flour plastic wrap and roll dough out to a thickness of less than 5mm.  Rest again in the fridge while cutting cardboard/baking paper pattern.

Cut cardboard and baking paper into a 20cm square and 20cm equilateral triangle. Preheat oven to moderately slow 160°C (325°F). Grease and line two large flat baking trays with baking paper. 

Cut shapes from dough using cardboard/paper patterns. Slide onto the oven trays, still resting on baking paper. Use a sharp knife to cut out a small door and window from one triangle piece and bake these with the other shapes (approx 15mins for door and about 20 minutes for the larger pieces) or until firm to touch. Cool a little then glaze using your pastry brush.

For glaze - combine sugar, water and gelatine in a microwave proof bowl and zap for about 30 seconds on medium heat.  Stir well to dissolve and brush all over warm gingerbread with a pastry brush.

Step 3 (Day 2 afternoon or evening) - Icing & Construction. For royal icing - sift pure icing sugar ready to go.  Beat egg whites with a hand held beater until only just frothy. Add sifted icing sugar gradually to the egg whites, continuing to beat until glossy and stiff peaks form.  Add a small drop of lemon juice and stir through. Place icing directly into your piping bag or otherwise cover over bowl with plastic wrap or damp cloth to prevent icing from drying out. It normally sets to rock hard within one hour.

Spread a thin layer of icing on the board where the house edges will go to make the house pieces secure. Assemble house pieces on the board, trim them first if necessary to make neat and more even edges. Pipe icing along all the house joins and edges to secure.  Pipe around the door and/or any extra decorations you like. Place cut summer roll on the roof for chimney, attach with icing and pipe around to secure. Decorate with assorted lollies/sweets, using a drop of icing to attach each one. Dust all over with icing sugar to complete. Store in a closed box if not displaying or eating soon. Gingerbread pieces can be frozen for later assembly. You can make approximately six large or a dozen smaller gingerbread men with the leftover dough. Just put a large hole in the top edge if you’d like to hang them from your tree with raffia. Bake little men for approx 10-12 minutes depending on their size or until firm to touch. 

If you do get a say on design or are making one for yourself or a friend, you might like to try a red and white themed house like this cute one from Taste  If it’s the minimalistic approach (ie. low fat/lolly free) you are looking for, check out Australian Country Style's 1st ever Christmas issue .  I’ve never seen a plain gingerbread house look soooo stylish. Can't wait for my 2013 subscription. Thank you Santa.

Australian Country Style Mag - 1st ever Christmas edition. Lots of inspiration inside.

For MFK friends in Queensland, perhaps best to wait for a cooler and less humid day (like today!) for construction. Rest assured this quick royal icing will set well in all climates. Would someone please remove the leftover lollies from my grasp... I have no willpower whatsoever at this time of year.  Cheers and happy gingerbread memories to you all x