I’ve been plotting a gingerbread house for Christmas for many a month and, each time it has come up in conversation, I’ve been asked, “Who’s it for?” and been sheepish about my answer. The gingerbread house has lived at my Mum’s over Christmas and has therefore been seen by lots of people aged between 1 month and 80 years, but the truthful answer is that it isn’t for anyone, really. I wanted to make a gingerbread house because I’d never made a gingerbread house before. Is that wrong?
So, my self-indulgent project began with a search for the perfect gingerbread recipe, which consisted of leafing through dozens of magazines, extensive Googling and substantial traipsing through some genuinely astonishing Pinterest photographs. In the end, I decided to play it relatively safe for my first effort, with a view to upping the ante next year. I chose the gingerbread house recipe and template on the website of my favourite foodie magazine, delicious.
According to the recipe, stained glass windows can be simply achieved by breaking up some boiled sweets and popping them in the holes before baking the biscuits. I’m sure this is true. But… during my search for some appropriate boiled sweets, I stumbled upon some neon coloured sugar crystals, which seemed an even better solution. I tested their melting point by pouring a pile of crystals on a bit of foil and baking at the same temperature and for the same time as the house would be baked, and it melted well. The pink crystals burned but I was happy with the yellow. Imagine my frustration, therefore, when the crystals failed to melt at all during the actual baking! In hindsight, I conclude that this is because they were resting on baking paper, which didn’t conduct the heat in the same way as the foil. Should’ve seen that one coming,really.
Plan B involved a small saucepan and some Foxes Glacier Fruits, reminiscent of the bottom of my beloved late Grandma’s handbag. I only used the two flavours most red in colour, to achieve a festive rosy glow (next year I might try to use two colours to make a pattern).
A couple of tips, if you choose to do this yourself:
1. Melt gently on a medium heat. If you whack the heat right up – as I did initially – it’ll burn and will taste horrible.
2. You needn’t worry about it being so fluid that it runs to places you don’t want it – it melts to quite a thick syrup.
3. Work FAST as the syrup will solidify quickly. Pour into one hole at a time, then work quickly to spread the syrup out, making sure that it adheres well to the gingerbread on each side.
4. If you, like I, need to transport your house in an IKEA-style flatpack, make sure you interleave with greaseproof paper – the biscuit won’t stick, but the windows will.
Ok. Confession time. I wanted to create something truly magical with my gingerbread house. Something that, as a child, I would have approached in wide-eyed wonder, torn between the desire to keep it exactly as it was forever and ever, and the temptation to pluck off and munch the colourful sweets. It was this child-like wide-eyed wonder in which I was entirely caught up when I accidentally (on purpose) stumbled upon the Candy Store inside Harrods, so I spent a ridiculous sum on decorative sweets. I’m not even sorry.
I packed everything up in a big box and transported it to Mum’s for construction; this is where the real fun begins.
At this point, I whipped up a fairly large quantity of royal icing (3 large egg whites, 675g icing sugar, 3 tsp lemon juice, 1.5 tsp glycerine) to decorate and glue everything together. I’d advise you build in stages and allow each to set before proceeding with the next. The roof, for example, is surprisingly heavy and will collapse the entire structure if you’re too impatient.
This cheeky chap is made from sugarpaste and decorated with coloured dragees and a thin strip of strawberry confectionery, procured at great expense from the cinema pick ‘n’ mix.
I realise at this point that I was rather remiss in my photography, and neglected to take a shot of the roof tiles before they went on. The only thing to note here is that I decided to rotate them by 90 degrees to achieve a slightly more fantastical flavour. I rather like it. Here’s one, already attached:
I’m disproportionately proud of these little trees. I painted a thin line of water around two waffle ice cream cones to weaken them, then gently sawed away at them with a knife to get a straight edge. I then stuck each in turn on the end of a finger, and stabbed at it with a piping bag loaded with a star nozzle and green royal icing. Tweezers were required for the application of multi-coloured dragees.
A quick scattering of edible glitter, and hey presto: