The children are almost off school for the Christmas holidays, Christmas shopping is (hopefully) almost complete, and you’re looking for a fun and festive way to spend an afternoon. There’s nothing quite like the smell of fresh gingerbread baking, filling the air with aromas of warming spice. Blast the Christmas tunes and while away a festive afternoon getting creative with your little ones, friends or even your other half and create a show stopping gingerbread house!
Gingerbread houses originated in Germany in the 1800s, and became popular when the Brothers Grimm wrote Hansel and Gretel, although it is unclear whether gingerbread houses came before or after the fairy-tale! Nuremberg, Germany was recognised as the ‘Gingerbread Capital of the World’, and in the 17th century only professional gingerbread bakers were permitted to bake it, though exceptions were made at Christmas and Easter, and they would have been decorated with gold leaf and foil. Nowadays, crafting a gingerbread house and decorating with sweets and chocolate has become a Christmas tradition for families all over Europe.
Spices we commonly use today were once incredibly expensive, and serving generously spiced food was a way to show off your wealth to your guests. So back then, gingerbread was a popular option for dessert as it traditionally incorporated multiple spices. In Elizabethan times, gingerbread was described as a “cake or paste to comfort the stomach”, and is well known as a digestive aid, or to settle the stomach (which might help with any overindulging this festive season!)
If you’re inspired by the history of the gingerbread house, why not build your own by following our recipe below?
For the gingerbread:
- 250g unsalted butter
- 200g dark muscovado sugar
- 7tbsp golden syrup
- 600g plain flour
- 2tsp bicarb of soda
- 4tsp ground ginger
- 2 egg whites
- 500g icing sugar (plus a little extra for dusting)
- Selection of small sweets of your choice (jelly beans & smarties work well – you could also used flaked almonds or nuts to decorate)
- Sprinkles of your choice
- A small Flake to create a chimney
- Mini chocolate fingers to create a door (alternatively you could use coloured icing to decorate doors and windows)
- Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan
- Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan
- Mix the flour, bicarb of soda and ground ginger into a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture to make a stiff dough – add a splash of water if necessary to help it come together
- Cut out the template (download here)
- Place a sheet of baking paper on a work surface and roll out 1/4 of the dough to the depth of two £1 coins.
- Put a section of the template on top and cut around it, then move the baking paper (with the gingerbread on top) onto a baking tray
- Repeat with the remaining dough until you have two side walls, a front, back and two roof panels. Use any leftover dough to cut out Christmas trees or other festive decorations
- Put the egg whites in a large bowl and gently sift in the icing sugar. Stir together until you have a thick, smooth icing. Spoon into a piping bag with a medium nozzle
- Pipe generous ribbons of icing along the wall edges and join the walls together one by one. You can attach the whole house to a display board or plate using icing too. Place a small bowl in the middle to support the walls from the inside and allow the icing to dry for a few hours
- Once dry, remove the support and attach the roof panels in the same way. You may need to hold these firmly in place for a few minutes until the icing starts to dry, then leave to dry completely, ideally overnight
- To decorate, pipe a blob of icing onto each sweet and stick to the house wherever you see fit. Position three mini chocolate fingers vertically for the door
- To make icicles, squeeze a small blob of icing at a 90 degree angle – keep applying pressure then gently pull the nozzle down and away to leave a pointed trail. Repeat around the front of the house
- Cut the chocolate mini roll or dipped Flake on an angle, then fix with icing to make a chimney. Pipe some icing around the top to add snow
- Dust the roof with icing sugar for a snowy effect
- Lay a winding path of sweets, and add your gingerbread trees or decorations (if you’ve made any) around the “garden” using blobs of icing
Your gingerbread house will be edible for about a week, if you can make it last that long!