Monday, 30 December 2013

How to make a gingerbread house


My most exciting achievement this Christmas was making my very first gingerbread house.  Every time Sylvia suggested another present for the family and I was low on energy I mentioned the gingerbread house.  It wasn't easy nor quick but it was so satisfying to look at the finished version on the sideboard at my parents' house on Christmas day and think, I made that!

I did a lot of research before starting.  Because I was nervous.  I toyed with the idea of a vegan gingerbread house.  Then I saw Charlie's elegant gingerbread house on Hotly Spiced.  It looked great and the instructions were clear.  This was my house.  With colour!  Here is what I did and what I learnt.  

Some of my mistakes were so obvious I can't believe I didn't see them coming.  First hurdle was making the dough.  This should have been the easiest part.  I make gingerbread quite often.  Foolishly I threw all the ingredients into the food processor together.  After all my regular recipe just mixes everything together.  However this dough was so crumbly it felt wrong.  I checked the recipe.  Oops.  I tried the second half of ingredients as instructed.  That means I mixed the dry ingredients, added the wet and processed for a few minutes.  Then I left the dough in the fridge for a few days before moving on.

My next stressful moment was cutting out the pieces of the house.  I read that I should make templates with firm paper so I used some cardboard.  Actually I enlisted E to cut out the pieces I had outlined.  The cardboard was great for creating a prototype of the house. However when I rolled it out, I found the mixture stuck to it.  Once bitten, twice shy.

I then enlisted E's help to recut my templates using baking paper (you know the non-stick paper you buy).  This worked far better.  Yet I was too focused to make dinner.  I handed that task to E that night.  It was a simple matter of yum cha leftovers and fudge that night.

I also used lots of baking paper because I rolled out dough between baking paper and rather than remove large pieces to baking tray, I removed excess dough to leave the piece on the paper and baked it that way.


The gingerbread had baking powder so it was slightly more puffed than the pieces I had cut out.  I saw someone suggest that you trim the pieces of gingerbread using the original templates.  I didn't do this with all of them except the doorway that suddenly seemed so much smaller than the doorway.

It was while baking that I found myself discombolbulated.  I was really paranoid about getting the texture crisp enough to hold up the house.  My main paranoia was that the house would collapse.  Some of the pieces looked smooth and perfect.  Others looked slightly mottled and I thought perhaps they were underbaked because they were from the half of the dough I made without following instructions.  I baked them more and then worried (with good cause) that they were too well done.

Next was the challenge of making the royal icing.  I am not keen on raw eggs and considered some vegan recipes.  I also found recipes which used caramel or chocolate to join the house together.  In the end I used a traditional recipe of egg whites and icing sugar.  It was easy to make and easy to pipe.  Now that I know how it works, I might try other recipes and see how they compare.  If I ever do this again.

I liked that the recipe directed to ice decoration over the walls and roof before putting up.  I find piping icing challenging but have been practising this Christmas.  After trying many sorts of devices, I have come back to the plain old icing bag.  I have a silicone icing bag that works well but it does give me a sore hand to keep the pressure up and the icing nozzles threatened to fall out, even the ones that come in the pack.

I started to pipe very small roof tiles and then I thought I would be doing it for the rest of my life.  I rubbed it off.  I figured it was on the bad burnt side of the room and I would sprinkle with icing sugar to cover it up.  It was a good decision to make the tiles bigger as we ended up sticking on lollies in the tiles.  I used a thin writing nozzle for most of the decoration and a thick one for the window frames and door frame.

To assemble the house I decided to invest in a cake board ($8 from House).  Fortunately I got the last one in the shop that was about 36 x 36cm.  Hopefully I will be able to reuse it for other cakes.

My paranoia about the house collapsing was in full flight when I assembled the house.  My expectations were low.  I didn't even have straight sided glasses so I used water bottles and coffee mugs.  E helped hold things together.  It was not perfect.  There were gaps.  The roof sagged slightly.  Enough to put fear into my heart.  The next morning I arose fearing the house would be in pieces but it held.  That was a great feeling.

When I assembled the house, I added some liquorice strip along the sides and some horrid twisty marshmallow along the roof.  It looked cute but tasted of cardboard.  I also found that the roof didn't quite overlap as much at each end as I thought it should.  I suspect I should have had the long walls on the outside corners rather than the ends.  Who knew such thing could make a difference!

Our next challenge was assembling the lollies (aka candy or sweeties) for further decoration.  Sylvia was set on candy canes.  When we went to the lolly shop to buy them, they had been sold out that day.  A few other places didn't have them.  We finally found them in the lolly shop.  I thought we bought heaps of jubes but even so, once we finished putting them on the roof there weren't many left.

I was wary of loading the house with too many lollies that would drag it down.  Yet I knew that was just what sylvia wanted.  Lots of lollies.  So did I.  At first I piped icing onto each piece to go on the house.  Then it got too slow and I found dabbing a bit of royal icing with spoon or knife worked just as well.  We didn't have a pattern and I wasn't quite sure how to put the lollies on the walls but we used up all we had.  If I had bought more I might have used them.  After all, jubes are very light.

It was looking pretty good after Sylvia and I had been working on it during the day on Christmas Eve.  I knew it needed the icicles hanging off the roof to cover up the dodgy joins between the roof and house.  It looked hard but was one of the easier jobs.  Some time late on Christmas Eve it was finished.  All that was needed was a light sprinkle of icing sugar to look like fresh snow.  (I had lost the energy to add gingerbread trees around the house - a little path would have been cute.)

The only challenge left was to transport the cake to my parents' house in Geelong.  It was too late in they day when I thought that it would be good to wrap it in clear cellophane.  Instead I made a clumsy attempt to wrap it in clingwrap and placed it in the boot of the car with very little around it.  It arrived in one piece and took pride of place on the side board.

The rascally 4 year olds Sylvia and Dash were aching to eat the cake.  They asked when we would eat it frequently.  Often they would be found with their fingers mischievously close to the lollies.  Finally on Boxing Day, I took my aunt Jacqui's advice and smashed the roof with a spoon.  It was so soft I was amazed it had not caved in.  Everyone was most impressed with the taste of the gingerbread and it went rather quickly.  (Well most of it did.  The well cooked pieces were less tasty.)

A week of the gingerbread house.  (Some people do it quicker!):
  • Friday - make dough (before night market)
  • Sunday - bake walls and roof (after yum cha)
  • Monday - assemble house (before and after seeing Christmas lights)
  • Tuesday - finish off the lolly decorations and in evening create the overhanging icicles on roof (while Carols by Candlelight on during Christmas Eve)
  • Thursday - eat gingerbread house (on Boxing Day with family)

There are quite a few things I would do next time, if I am recovered enough to try it again.  I have discovered a gingerbread house recipe in my Annie Bell book of kids cakes.  I like how it has a door on the long wall rather than the short wall.  I would like to try some different decorations of lollies on the walls and a little decoration around the house.  Perhaps a pathway or the gingerbread trees.  As it is, I am still very pleased to have made a gingerbread house. 

I am sending it to Simply Sensational's event Let's Cook Christmas Party Food.

And since this is my last post of the year, I wish you a very happy and healthy new year.  I'll be back in 2014 with a reflection on the year.

Gingerbread house
Adapted from Gourmet Traveller via Hotly Spiced

Two batches of the following gingerbread dough (I have written x2 after each measurement because I tend to glance once at a recipe for how much of each ingredient I need to have on hand, and one while I am baking it - this is my way to minimise mistakes in either glance!)

2 1/3 cups (x2) plain flour
1 cup (x2) light brown sugar
1/2 tbsp (x2) baking powder
1/2 tbsp (x2) ground ginger
1 tsp (x2) ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp (x2) freshly grated nutmeg
110g (x2) cold butter, cubed
1/4 cup (x2) golden syrup
2 tbsp (x2) treacle
1 (x2) egg

Royal icing:
4 egg whites
900g icing sugar (powdered sugar)

Lollies to decoration (jubes, freckles, smarties, candy canes, liquorice strips, marshmallows etc)

Make the gingerbread:
Place dry ingredients of the first batch in the food processor and mix lightly.  Add butter, golden syrup, treacle and egg.  Blend until the mixture comes together into a soft dough.  This could take a few minutes.  Remove from food processor, wrap in clingwrap.  Repeat with second batch of dough.  Place wrapped discs of dough into fridge for at least an hour.  Mine was left a couple of days.

Bake the walls and roof:
Preheat oven to 180 C.

Cut out template pieces of the house  (I used baking paper):
  • Side wall: 24cm wide x 14cm high
  • End wall: a 13cm wide x 14cm high rectangle with a 6cm high pitch for the roof (ie the wall is 20cm high in total)
  • Roof pieces: 10.5cm high x 27cm wide
Roll out dough to about 3mm thick.  (I did this between two pieces of baking paper and baked each piece on this paper but you can do it on a floured board and transfer to a lined baking tray.)  Use each template to cut out two walls / roof pieces.  You should have 6 pieces now.  Use a knife to cut out a door on a side wall  which you will also bake.  Using a scone cutter or serviette ring, cut a circle window out of the other side wall.  Cut two windows out of each long wall - I used match boxes to trace around.  You can make biscuits out of the remaining dough or make trees to put around the gingerbread house.

Now bake the dough for about 10-12 minutes until darkening on the edges and smelling cooked.  Cool on tray for 5 to 10 minutes and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.  I let mine cool overnight.

Make the royal icing:Lightly whisk the egg whites in a medium bowl.  Gradually add icing sugar until all used up and you have a stiff white paste.  It will be hard to stir and set fairly quickly.  I kept mine covered with clingwrap while I worked and then left in a tub with a lid in the fridge overnight.

Decorate the walls and roof:
While the walls and roof piece are flat, pipe as much royal icing decoration as you wish.  I did some edges of windows and the door, roof tiles and a few curly bits.  I also stuck a few lollies around window panes at the point.

Assemble the house:
Using a thick nozzle, pipe a generous among of icing along the base of one long wall and place on your cake board.  Let set a little with a tall glass or water bottle beside it (I had some helping hands at this point to keep the pieces up).  Now pipe icing down the side and base of an end piece and attach to the side wall with the corner of the long side wall on the outside.  Place glass or water bottle inside (and outside if needed) to keep it up while it dries.  Repeat assembling the remaining sides.  Also take the door and pile down the side and on it's base and arrange by doorway slightly open.  Leave for a few hours.

Pipe along the edges of each wall on the outside to strengthen it before removing glass or water bottles (at this point you could add lollies or liquorice strips).  Remove all supports such as glasses and water bottles.  Pipe along the top edges of the walls and place the roof pieces on top.  Pipe along the top of the roof (you can add lollies at this point) to join it together.

Decorate the house:
Add lollies for decoration, dabbing a little royal icing on the back of each.  Use them for the door knob, between the roof tiles, around the door and make little hearts with candy canes.  I wanted to make some flowers on the walls but it just didn't happen.

When lollies in place, pipe short strips of royal icing close together to hang down from around the roof like icicles.  (I used my fingers when done to push together at the edges of the house.  Don't worry if a few strips fall off - that is the way with icicles!)

Use the remaining royal icing to spread a snowy edge on the board around the house.  If you want to put Christmas trees or snowman, press them into some royal icing to stand  them up.  Now sift a light shower of icing sugar over the roof and it is finished.

On the Stereo:
Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Novelty Records of All Time, Volume VI: Christmas

35 comments:

  1. WOW- that's the most darling gingerbread house EVER! Go you! Some day years from now I might attempt one of these with my daughter. Or I might take the easy way house and make it with graham crackers.

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    1. Thanks Nupur - a graham crackers house sounds cute and good for your sanity :-)

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  2. It's beautiful Johanna! it looks like something out of a magazine!
    A serious achievement :D

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  3. It is a beautiful house Johanna. Only the maker would see the flaws! Happy New Year!

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    1. Thanks Cakelaw - I saw plenty of flaws but still was pleased

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  4. wow this looks awesome .Thankyou for sending it to Lets cook party food for christmas.Please can you add the event link to your post as this is a mandatory requirement for entry.
    http://www.simplysensationalfood.com/2013/12/announcing-event-lets-cook-christmas.html

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    1. Thanks Nayna - yes have included link - have left you comment on your blog so hopefully you have seen it - pleased to be part of your party - so much good food there! Will just add the badge to this post

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  5. Totally impressed- looks incredible!!! I'm sure I would be reduced to a quivering mess should I attempt such a thing :)

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    1. Thanks Kate - I WAS reduced to a quivering mess a few times - hence I was pleased I got through - once I made the dough I just had to keep going and luckily had enough else on to distract me from worrying too much :-)

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  6. What a fantastic write up and house too. I am such a klutz with such things but I'm going to make one in autumn, just 'cos we like making gingerbread when autumn is here. My friend's daughter had a Christmas themed birthday party and the birthday cake was inside a big gingerbread house, and all the kids got to smash the house which was heaps of fun. Who needs pinatas?

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    1. Thanks Veganopoulous - a gingerbread pinata sounds like such fun - sylvia is full of plans for her birthday cake (ages away) and this week decided it would be a gingerbread house - good luck with making your autumnal one - I've seen some cool halloween gingerbread houses

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  7. I think it came out GREAT! It looks beautiful, and having it be tasty is just a bonus. :) Sounds like Sylvia really enjoyed the process (and eating it!) too.

    And since it's already the 31st there, I wish you all a happy, healthy new year! I hope it's a magical and fulfilling year for you. And thanks for the good wishes on my blog as well. Rest--YES. :) xoxo

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    1. Thanks Ricki - I hope you do get some rest and yes Sylvia was so excited about the house - probably extended the excitment that we made it in installments

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  8. This is amazing! You are a star! No matter how I make my gingerbread (same recipe everytime!) it always needs more liquid. Weeeird. Hope you and the family had a very merry Christmas. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

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    1. Thanks Cass - that is weird - I have a favourite gingerbread recipe I wanted to use but I just wasn't sure if it would hold up ok so I used one that was for a gingerbread house

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  9. Thanks for the tutorial Johanna! I've always been intimidated by gingerbread houses but they are very effective when they come out. I know I'd love decorating them too ;)

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    1. Thanks Kari - I made copious notes in case I ever try this again so remind myself of the problems I might face and some of the solutions. Decorating was the best fun but I can't believe how many jubes we bought and we still could have used more

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  10. I am SO impressed by your gingerbread house!!

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  11. Looks really lovely and might become a christmas tradition in your house. Youve gotten over the first really big hurdle and I suspect that it would get easier each year as you develop your own technique. That would definitely make the board purchase worthwhile. It would be a nice addition to your blog posting to document the process and it sounds like Sylvie would be more than willing to take over the reins when she got older.

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    1. Thanks objects of whimsy - I am sure Sylvia would take over next year if I let her :-) I agree making my first house is a huge hurdle and it would be easier the next time but I think that it is a hard one because they don't get made often - which is where blog notes help

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  12. Having attempted a version of this for our Halloween one year, I can truly say yours is superb!!! Well done and I could never do this! Have a very lovely 2014!!

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    1. thanks ms ihua - I think I have seen your halloween one and been amazed so thank you

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  13. Maybe next year Johanna, maybe next year. They definitely look impressive, and you can tell there is a huuuuge amount of work in there ( a whole weeks worth!)

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    1. Thanks Brydie - yep lots of work and lots of pleasure too - well worth it - am sure you would have a ball doing this with your kids

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  14. What a project! More than I'd be willing to take on. The end result looks stunning.

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  15. Very cute gingerbread house and Charlie's original was stunning too! I find trimming the house once baked really useful to make sure that the house stands sturdily as the cookie does spread a little. You did a splendid job! Happy New Year :D

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    1. Thanks Lorraine - I think trimming the house sounds like a great idea - I was just a bit flustered by the time I baked it to do much more and I think trimming it when warm is easier

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  16. Wow! I tried to do a gingerbread house a few years ago, but could not keep the roof on - I wound up making more of a gingerbread lean-to (also known as the Sugar Shack). This looks far more impressive!

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    1. Thanks Catherine - I was really worried about the roof esp as it has a slight droop to it but it held together by some miracle - though I like the sound of the sugar shack :-)

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  17. Wow, i've always wanted to make one of these, they look so yummy and cool, and the kids would love it....Thanks for sharing the recipe...

    Simon

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