The ultimate Christmas decoration to me isn’t a Christmas tree but a gingerbread house. I remember listening outside the kitchen as a child while my mother swore and burned herself on the caramel used to put the house together. As soon as she was finished, the caramel hardened and her hands wrapped in towels and ice, it was my turn. My turn to make the gingerbread house mine with sticky icing and colourful sweets.
I’ve only made one gingerbread house since I came to Scotland but that was a corker of a house. Ever so pretty, it was. This year, rather missing the practice, I invited friends to join me. Here are our creations and a recipe so you can make your own.
Gingerbread houses are decorative and great fun to make for children and adults. They don’t have to be beautiful or complicated but they should be fun to make. This recipe makes a good dough that can be used for ginger snaps if not all of the dough is used for the house. It’s got good gingerbread colour, good flavour and gives a fairly hard cookie – just right for houses. I doubled the recipe and made one large house and two smaller ones for me and my friends to play with. Sorry, I mean decorate.
Gingerbread House Recipe
I use the dough recipe in Vår Kokbok, a traditional and frequently re-released Swedish classic. The gingerbread house page is marked by a thick string of dried icing so it’s easy to find. Note that the measurements are metric – it’s a Swedish recipe – and 1 dl = 1/10 liter = 10 cl = 100 mml = 0.18 pt
- 1.5 dl sugar
- 1 dl golden syrup
- 50 gr butter
- 0.5 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 0.5 tbsp ground ginger
- 0.5 tbsp ground cloves
- 1.5 dl milk
- 0.5 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
- 8-9 dl (about 525 gr) plain white flour
- Mix sugar, syrup and butter in a pot.
- Warm until the butter has melted and everything is nicely mixed.
- Add spices and milk.
- Let cool.
If you don’t want to wait for the liquid to cool on its own, put the pot in a tub of cold water and stir until the butter-sugar-spice mixture has cooled down to room temperature or lower.
- Add the bicarbonate of soda and some of the flour to the liquid (enough to give it a texture between a batter and a dough).
- Pour the mixture onto a floured surface and add the rest of the flour until you have a firm and shiny dough.
- Cover in plastic film and let rest in the fridge for 24 hours.
- Turn on the oven: 175C.
- Knead the dough soft on a floured surface.
- Roll out a small amount of dough to a thickness of 2-3 mm to make a test biscuit.
- Bake the test biscuit for 5-7 minutes to check that it keeps its shape. If if doesn’t, add more flour.
- Roll out the dough into large sheets, directly onto greaseproof paper.
- Cut out the template pieces, trying to make sure that pieces of a similar size are on the same sheet.
- Remove the extraneous dough and move the greaseproof paper to a baking sheet.
(Cutting the pieces on a floured surface and moving it using a spatula gives wonky pieces. Wonk is to be avoided.)
- Cut windows if you like but it is easier to paint them with icing afterwards*.
- Bake large pieces for 10-15 minutes, small ones for 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown and not too soft.
- Move the baked pieces to a flat surface to cool.
- If the pieces are distorted, cut the edges straight while the biscuit is still soft.
- Carefully peel off the greaseproof paper once the pieces have cooled.
You are ready to put your house together.
* I like cutting square or round windows and putting chopped-up hard-boiled sweets in the holes to make colourful windows. The greaseproof paper tends to stick to these but they still look nice.
Putting your house in order
Once the pieces have cooled, you are ready to put the house together and then to decorate it. Some sources recommends decorating first and putting the house together after. I’ve always done it the other way around.
- 1/2 pint sugar for caramel
- 1 egg white
- 400 ml icing sugar
- 1/4 malt vinegar
- colourful sweets: Smarties, dolly mixture, chocolate buttons, pick and mix of different kinds, cake decorations, for example.
I’ve always used caramel for construction. It sets hard as sugar and lasts a long time. In a damp environment it might stain the icing and go slightly soft. You can also use stiff icing to glue the house together but that makes for a more delicate structure. If you use icing, prepare the display area that the house will be on so that you don’t have to move it after you have put it together.
- Melt half a pint of sugar to caramel in a thick-bottomed pan over gentle heat.
- Dip the sides of the house caramel and use as glue when putting the pieces together.
- Take care not to drip caramel on yourself. It is very hot and sticky.
- Work quickly as the caramel hardens and once it is set it is difficult to move the pieces (melting the caramel off over a candle or a gas flame is invariable messy and occasionally fiery).
- Use a spoon or a knife to put caramel on the back of the roof sections before putting them on.
- Drip caramel into gaps to fill them and make the structure stronger.
- Make icing by whisking together the vinegar, egg white and icing sugar untill smooth and shiny
- Fill in piping bag with a fine nozzle.
- Pipe in patterns all over the house.
If you want to plan ahead, sketch patterns on the template before you start piping and follow them.
- Stick sweets onto the icing for decoration.
- Have fun!