I won’t lie. Gingerbread houses were my baking nemesis for a while.
But I’m pleased to say that I’ve finally cracked it.
I’ve come to the conclusion that keeping the basic structure as plain and simple as possible, and then going crazy with the decoration (and blaming the ensuing 'creative mess' on any small children who happen to be around) is the way forward...
So here it is, my easy-as-possible gingerbread cube house – essentially just 6 squares of gingerbread stuck together.
Now when it comes to the sticking, please don’t waste your time with royal icing….that will always end in tears (and swearing). The only fail-safe way to stick heavy sheets of gingerbread together it is to go in with the sugar caramel.
Don’t be scared of caramel. Its just melted sugar (that gets really hot and burns easily….but it dissolves in water, so however badly wrong it goes, you just rinse out the pan and start again with a bit more sugar).
Then for the decorating part, you just make a really thick glace icing (icing sugar and water) and that will be plenty strong enough to stick little sweeties in place and pipe lines of white over the functional caramel corners!
My kids are too small and too unpredictable to be trusted with either the baking or the construction part of gingerbread houses. And if you’ve got under 5’s I’d definitely recommend preparing your gingerbread house without them (maybe the night before), and just letting them decorate it... that’s the fun part, right?!
And if, like me, you’re a control freak who likes the idea of doing this fun festive activity with your kids, but then gets annoyed when they don’t alternate the jelly bean colours properly, I’d highly recommend baking a few extra pieces of gingerbread, and letting them make a horrible mess with icing and sweets, while you get on with decorating your house!
The recipe below makes a delicious crunchy biscuit (A major disadvantage of gingerbread houses is that after all that work you usually don’t want to eat it - and they only stay good to eat for 2-3 days anyway). So do make sure you bake the off-cuts of the biscuit dough to enjoy. I usually roll any leftover dough into a fat sausage, wrap it tightly in clingfilm and keep it in the fridge, ready to be cut into thin slices and baked whenever I fancy some fresh ginger biscuits! (the dough is fine in the fridge for up to a week).
This recipe is also ideal for gingerbread men or Christmassy cut-out biscuits as it doesn’t shrink or crack when you bake it.
Gingerbread House Recipe
(This recipe gives enough biscuit dough to generously make one gingerbread house with a base measuring approx 15cm x 15cm and a peaked roof. Alternatively use it to make 20-25 gingerbread people)
Gingerbread dough Ingredients
- 250g unsalted butter
- 200g light or dark brown muscovado sugar
- 150grams golden syrup
- 600g plain flour
- 2 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 15 grams ground ginger
Caramel, icing and decorating Ingredients
150 grams caster sugar
250 g icing sugar
Lots of chocolate buttons, smarties, jelly tots, dolly mixture and other small sweets to decorate.
You will also need a cake board or flat tray to ‘build’ your house on, and a piping bag with a very small nozzle (or ideally a disposable one)
In advance: Prepare a square piece of cardboard 15cmx15cm to use as a template. Use a ruler because it’s much easier to put your house together if the edges are straight….or a use an old christmas card!
- To make the biscuit dough simply measure the butter, sugar and syrup into a microwave proof bowl, or a small saucepan and gently heat it, stirring occasionally until everything is melted and the sugar has dissolved (do not let it boil!).
- In a large mixing bowl measure the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ginger, and mix it together well.
- Pour the hot syrup mixture into the dry ingredients and use a wooden spoon to combine everything. You’ll get a soft dough which can be briefly kneaded with your hands to make sure everything is well mixed.
- As this is quite a large quantity of dough, just work with 1/3 of it at a time, and leave the rest aside covered with clingfilm. Note: as the dough cools down it gets firmer and a bit trickier to roll out, so you need to work fairly fast!
- You need to cut 6 squares of gingerbread dough, and remember that 4 of them will form the sides of the house, so make sure you cut doors and windows into them. 2 squares will form the roof so should be left plain.
- I find that the easiest way to roll out this kind of dough without having to add extra flour (which will make it crumble and look streaky) is to cut 2 large sheets of non-stick baking paper, and roll out the dough out between them. Then when the dough is evenly rolled out (to the thickness of a £1 coin), remove the top sheet of paper, lay your template on the dough and use a sharp knife to cut around it. Then remove the trimmings of dough from the edges, and lift the bottom sheet of paper with the cut out piece of dough onto a baking tray (this avoids the need to try and lift large, fragile pieces of uncooked dough off a work surface, and will help keep the edges straight).
- Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C for about 10-14 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to get darker. Err on the side of over-cooking as you want them to be strong enough to stand up!
- Let the sheets cool slightly on the tray before removing them to a wire cooling rack, because they will still be a bit soft when they come out of the oven.
- When all the 6 pieces are baked and cooled you can start to assemble and decorate your house.
- Sugar caramel is the best thing to use to stick the house together, as its sets hard pretty much instantly. It’s NOT the ideal thing to make with small children around though, so I generally put the house together and then let them help decorate afterwards.
- To make the sugar caramel put the sugar (and nothing else!) in a heavy-based frying pan, and heat it gently, shaking the pan occasionally but never stirring, until the sugar is all melted. Watch it carefully as it burns easily. And be careful as melted sugar is incredibly hot! You can always pop the pan back on the heat to re-melt the caramel if it starts to set too fast.
- To assemble the gingerbread house: Get your cake plate/tray, and take the first wall of the house. Dip the base and one side in caramel and hold it in place for a couple of seconds while you dip the base and one side of the next piece until all four walls are stuck to each other and the plate. (You may want to rope in another person to help hold walls at this stage!).
- I generally stick the two roof pieces together at the peak and leave them to set, propped between 2 tin cans, before attempting to stick them on top of the house. You’ll need to use a spoon to spread some caramel on top of 2 walls to attach the roof.
- Now comes the fun part! Mix the icing sugar with just enough water to make a very thick paste. Spoon the icing into a disposable piping bag and snip a very small hole to allow you to pipe pretty icing patterns.
- Let your imagination go wild! Decorate the house however you fancy – have fun! More is definitely more in this instance. No one likes a minimalist gingerbread house!