Last year I made a Christmas pudding using Delia Smith’s recipe, and this year I have been having a lot of fun learning how to make gingerbread houses from my American friend. (I think gingerbread house making wins over Christmas pudding making any day, if only because you have the opportunity to consume ridiculous amounts of sweets and icing in the process.) She shared her family recipe with me, which made rock solid gingerbread which held together well and was easy to work with. We made the gingerbread pieces a few days before sticking them together and decorating them, so that the gingerbread would be 100% solid and ready for construction.
6 oz lard
6 oz treacle
6 oz sugar
30 oz plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 tsp ginger
First of all, you’ll need to cut out your paper pattern for your house: this consists of two walls (rectangles, whatever size you choose), two end walls (squares with triangles/pointy bits at the top) – make sure these fit with the walls you cut, before the point starts – and two rectangles that form the roof (make these slightly wider than the walls, because they need a bit of overhang for the eves).
Melt the lard in large saucepan. Stir in the treacle and the sugar. Remove from heat. Stir dry ingredients into wet, mixing completely, using hands to work in. The dough will be stiff and crumbly, so use it as soon as possible.
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Slightly grease the cookie sheets/baking parchment. Roll out half of the dough (cover the other half with a damp cloth) on cookie sheet to 1/8″ thickness. Lay out you paper pattern pieces on the dough for the front, back and sides, arranging them as close together as possible. Cut through the dough around all patterns, but do not remove excess dough – almost as if you’ve traced the outline of the house but not properly cut it out yet. Bake for around 12 mins, and remove from the oven. Using the pattern pieces again, recut the lines with a good knife and pull away the excess dough. Work quickly, as the dough hardens as it cools. Leave these house pieces aside, preferably for a few days, to harden. It is best to put it all in an airtight container and keep it in the fridge.
2 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tarter
2 tsp water
3 cups powdered sugar
In large bowl, beat the first three ingredients until frothy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until mixture is of spreading consistency. You may need more sugar. The icing should be firm enough to hold soft peaks.
Now glue the gingerbread house pieces together with the icing. You might need to hold the pieces together for a few minutes as the icing sets. (We propped some of it up with mugs.) Let it dry for a few hours before you decorate. This is the fun part… you can really go crazy, with as many different types of sweets as you can imagine. My friend was responsible for the left hand house, below, and her motto was: ‘You shouldn’t be able to see any gingerbread!’ My approach was a little more conservative, but my favourite touch was the marshmallow snowdrifts around the house. This is the ultimate Christmas baking project. Fact.
Haribo, smarties, matchmakers, chocolate buttons, and marshmallows were some of our favourite decorating sweets.