Saturday, 24 December 2011

In which we make a gingerbread house

It's hard work, making all these magical memories, isn't it? It's Christmas Eve and the children broke up from school a week ago. I tried to get as much of the shopping, wrapping and general preparation done ahead of time in order to be able to gaze in hushed wonder at the twinkling Christmas lights, take long walks through frosty fields and generally drink in the awe and majesty of this special time of year.

Let's have two minutes' silence to mourn the death of another lofty ideal.

The reality is that the children are simultaneously exhausted from a busy school term, hopped up on all the sugar they've come to expect as an inalienable right, excited at the prospect of a visit from you-know-who and bored/frustrated with all the endless WAITING. It's the perfect storm, and it has resulted in plenty of shouting, crying and sulking. The kids have also been pretty badly behaved.

One accomplishment I am proud of, though, is our lovely gingerbread house. Do you like it? OK, OK, I know, I know, a nano-second spent Googling 'gingerbread house' will yield some amazing specimens (like this one) to which ours does not begin to compare. BUT as my Dad always says, "if a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly" and I can honestly say that the children and I got a lot of pleasure out of completing this project together. I'd like to think it will become an annual ritual.

I'm not going to write out the recipe we used - I'm going to redirect you here for that instead, but I am going to add some observations that might help you if you decide to make one for yourself. You see, this gingerbread house comes with its own backstory that means I have considerable experience of this recipe. I volunteer in my children's school, helping out with the infants' Friday afternoon cookery sessions, and way back in the autumn, the teacher I work with suggested that for a Christmas project we should bake and decorate gingerbread, with each class making a house between them. This is what we came up with, aren't they lovely?

It should be acknowledged that the credit for assembling and decorating these ones rests entirely with the tireless teacher and her family, but each child in the infant department got to join in with making the actual gingerbread, cutting out some festive shapes, and decorating their own cookie with silver balls, writing icing and sweeties. It really was a very lovely activity, and it inspired me to create one with my children the moment term finished. The project itself took place over several days, and I would like to share some tips that I gleaned along the way...

  • The recipe I've linked to yields a large quantity of dough, plenty for a house and LOTS of cookies to decorate.
  • The recipe calls for seven tablespoons of golden syrup, which I find incredibly irritating. It's sticky stuff, hard to measure by the spoonful. Warming the spoon will make it easier, but if you have one of those electronic scales you can set to zero after you put your pan on top, it's best just to remember that 1 tablespoon of golden syrup = 25g, so measure out 175g. I don't know why they didn't just say that.
  • It's best to use this dough as soon as it is made. If you make it ahead of time and refrigerate it, it goes really stiff and hard to roll
  • because it is still warm when you're rolling it, it's also quite stretchy, which means the parts of the house can become distorted in shape as you transfer them to your baking sheets. I suggest rolling it directly on to nonstick foil placed on your baking sheets and cutting out the pieces in situ. 
  • I urge you to trim the pieces when they come out of the oven and the dough is still warm (though admittedly this is hard to accomplish without giving yourself third-degree burns. It's worth it! Stop crying! The blisters will heal but precious childhood memories are FOREVER!) For evidence in support of this suggestion, see the house on the right of the picture with its wonky roof, which was made using pieces that we didn't trim...
  • You'll need to really slather on the royal icing on both the inside and the outside joins, and you'll need to prop it up while it dries properly. Do leave the walls to thoroughly set before you attempt to put on the roof, and on no account attempt to do this bit after you come back from a night in the pub, ahem.
So there you have it. If anybody reading this is remotely inspired to give it a go themselves, I'd love to hear about the results! In the meantime have a fantastic midwinter celebration and a happy and peaceful new year. 


  1. Wow I love this one!! My kids would love it!

    1. Thanks! It was really fun, give it a try!