Gingerbread houses are fun, magical and yummy! They’re a great crossover project between crafts and baking if you want a special edible ‘work of art’. Even if your piping’s a bit dodgy like mine you’ll get a wonderfully rustic house that looks homemade as Donal Skehan kindly points out. I’ve been really pleased to discover this chef selected for our lovely Cooking the Chef group’s December challenge. He’s the Irish equivalent of Jaime Oliver – friendly, exuberant and ready to present you with simple no-fuss no-panic recipes. So he’s the perfect choice for trying to make a gingerbread house… again! Over the years I’ve left a sad trail of gingerbread ruins, strange unbaked dough and unmade assembly kits, too traumatised to open the packet and read the instructions. Gingerbread houses were my nemesis and I still remember holding up a soft gingerbread house with my 10-year-old nephew one Christmas then watching it collapse in a heap just as my brother’s dinner guests arrived. Not our finest hour. Donal Skehan’s simple recipe has changed all that. Yay! A cute gingerbread house that stays standing (phew).
Mine’s sweetened with honey, golden syrup, light muscovado sugar and golden unrefined caster sugar. You can adapt. For the spices instead of ground ginger and cinnamon I use a gingerbread spice mix with a subtle flavour and no fiery ginger kick. The gingerbread tastes similar to Lotus biscoff biscuits. One friend says he (and probably children) prefers this. In fact on Christmas Day a friend’s 2-year-old girl happily munched away on gingerbread men made with this dough. Yes, you can make loads of cute gingerbread cookies with the extra dough and icing! And building the house goes so smoothly! The printed templates (links below) make cutting pieces easy plus they bake quickly with melted boiled sweets creating beautiful glazed windows. The delicious thin crisp gingerbread doesn’t bend, break or crack easily. The royal icing sticks everything together and hardens so nothing collapses and the colourful sweeties and chocolate buttons stay on. It’s a dream come true! Thank you Donal Skehan, and Mary Berry who also helped! 🙂
We’ve loved having this house as a decorative centrepiece on the table – even after a week or more it looks okay. Yes Christmas has gone but it makes January cheery.
You can build one too! Lots of fun and no hair-pulling. 🙂
This house is based on Donal Skehan’s video recipe but using Mary Berry’s template from the Christmas Bake Off book (also available here online as a download). As with Mary’s house, the icing has lemon juice and the boiled sweets are crushed before placing in the windows. The ingredients are adapted to include mild spices and more natural unrefined sugars.
DAY 1 – make gingerbread dough (15-20 mins), rest overnight. DAY 2 – shape and bake gingerbread pieces (40 mins including baking). Cool 1-2 hours. Make royal icing (5 mins). Optional: decorate walls and chimney before assembling (15 mins +). Assemble walls and chimney. Decorate roof pieces (15 mins +). Wait 2-4 hours. Stick on roof (hold in place 10-20 mins). Wait 2 hours or so then stick on chimney. Or be relaxed like me and assemble over a few days.
You can adapt with different proportions and types of sugar, producing variations in colour and flavour.
- 700g/5 and 1/2 cups less 4 and 1/2 tsp plain all-purpose flour (or 00 flour – 5 and 1/2 cups)
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- 100g/1/3 cup less 1 and 1/2 teaspoon golden syrup (or honey)
- 100g/1/3 cup less 1 and 3/4 tsp honey
- 100g/1/3 cup + 1 tbsp + 2 tsp caster/superfine sugar (or granulated)
- 100g/1/2 cup light muscovado sugar (or light brown sugar)
- 200g/7oz/1 and 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, French-style like le Président
- 150ml/g whipping or single cream (35% fat) – apparently cream is optional
- 2-5 teaspoons gingerbread spices mix, to taste (this blend is nice and not too sweet: 1 tsp each of ground ginger, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom plus 1/4 tsp allspice)
- For the windows: 20-22 boiled (hard) sweets like Foxes Fruit Glacier sweets – yellow, red, green, etc…
Icing and decoration
- 375g/3 cups icing/powdered confectioner’s sugar
- 1 and 1/2 egg whites (about 54g)
- 1 and 1/2 to 2 tsp lemon juice, add a little at a time until you get a thick but fluid consistency
- Good selection of sweets like chocolate buttons, jelly tots (small round fruit jellies), etc
For lots of decorative icing: 500g/4 cups icing sugar, 2 egg whites (71-72g) and 2-3 tsp lemon juice.
DAY 1 – dough
Wrap in plastic film or a tea towel (or just cover) and rest in a cool place overnight.
DAY 2 – Baking
- Print Mary Berry’s templates on thin cardboard (or paper) and cut the shapes, cutting out the windows, door and star. Write the number needed (x2) on each template.
- Pre-heat oven to 160°C/320°F fan/convection or 180°C/360°F static oven.
- Have 3 large baking trays ready (or 2 trays and wash between bakes).
- Crush about 3 sweets of one colour per window plus 3 yellow sweets for the two stars (place each colour in separate plastic bags, tea towels or baking paper and hit with a rolling pin).
- Divide pastry into 4 or 5 pieces.
- Roll out one piece between two large sheets of baking paper to 2 or 3 mm thick.
- Cut around roof template to make 2 gingerbread roof pieces (on baking paper) using a small sharp knife and ruler – preferably metal but plastic works. Cut out chimney pieces (and other shapes) around the sides. Roll out leftover pastry and cut trees, gingerbread men, etc. with pastry cutters.
- Slide paper with pieces onto baking tray.
- Bake 8-10 minutes in middle of oven until golden or deeper brown and darkening around the sides (apparently you can trim as soon as pieces are out of the oven while still soft but mine didn’t really need it plus were pretty crispy).
- While the first tray is baking roll out more dough (see step 2). Cut out the side walls and more small shapes then place on baking tray (steps 3 to 4).
- Bake 5 minutes then take out of oven and fill windows well with crushed sweets – about 2 tbsp each. Bake a further 3 to 5 minutes until baked and sweets melt (check sweets are melting evenly – fill holes with a little more crushed sweet and bake a few more minutes to melt).
- Repeat process (steps 6 to 7) to make front and back walls. Cut out the stars with a pastry cutter. Bake the cut out doors too.
- Keep pieces 10 minutes on tray then transfer to wire rack to cool completely (1-2 hours).
Freeze leftover dough tightly wrapped in plastic film or beeswax paper to bake another day.
Make royal icing: whisk egg whites lightly until frothy. With a spoon gradually stir in icing sugar and gradually add lemon juice until you have a smooth thick fluid icing that’s not too runny.
- Fit piping bag with small/medium plain nozzle (3-4 mm diametre) and fill with icing.
- Pipe lines along the ends of walls to stick together and assemble (next time I’ll try piping around the windows, doors and stars before assembling).
- Pipe lines along base to fix house to the plate or board.
- Allow to dry 3-4 hours.
- Meanwhile for thinner decorative lines fit another piping bag with smaller 1-2mm plain nozzle and fill with icing. Decorate roof sticking sweets/chocolates on and assemble chimney. Decorate trees, gingerbread men and other cookies with icing – test (eat). Allow to dry.
- After 3 hours decorate walls if not already done.
- After 3 to 4 hours pipe icing along top of walls and stick roof on. Pipe icing along top middle joint to seal. Hold 10 to 20 minutes until it doesn’t slide down. If it slides a little push back up and keep holding (pipe a little extra icing in seams) – it eventually stays there. Let dry 1 hour.
- Carefully place chimney on top. Optionally pipe icing around chimney base.
- Stick the doors on, closed or slightly open.
- Stick on extra sweets with blobs of icing as doornobs or make a path. Tada!
You can open a door to place a tealight inside a maximum 15 minutes or things may soften…!!!
Storing and eating (or not)
This house is hardy and can be left out to admire then eat within a week. It gradually softens a little. After a week it’s just decoration (good for the diet, lol). We haven’t had the heart to eat ours! It’s kept in a big plastic box at night and out on the table during the day. It’s not perfect but quite cute. I love it.
If not eating your house just pass around the gingerbread cookies and other treats to nibble on while admiring it. 😉
Many thanks again to Abril and Ana for this challenge and making me overcome my fear of gingerbread houses. Do look at other group members’ recipes here at the December Donal Skehan cooking the chef post. Nice.
Here’s the gingerbread house again. Hope you’ll give it a try one day with your own personal touches. The recipe makes building this stable house fun and low-stress! Magic.
Bye for now dear reader! Wishing you a wonderful new year with fun yummy challenges in the kitchen. Happy baking, cooking and eating in 2019! 🙂 Lili x