Christmas Bake Off Challenge – Gingerbread House
I have FINALLY finished the little (haha) project that I’ve been working on for over a week now, and as you’ve probably guessed, it’s a gingerbread house. I had the idea to make one when they had to do them on The Great British Bake Off and was going to do one for a bake off challenge, but decided to do it for Christmas instead. We’re not having a Christmas cake this year as no-one really eats much of it, so the gingerbread house is a replacement for it – just as well really, considering how much all the decorations and ingredients cost in the end! What started off a small project just escalated into something that took up all my spare time. Or maybe that’s because I really should be writing an essay instead?!
I started by making templates out of paper of the front and back, both sides and two roof pieces. I would give you the measurements, but there was a lot of trial and error involved so if you’re making one I’m sure you can get templates online somewhere. After that, I started with the gingerbread making. After doubling the recipe below, I only managed to make enough for the two side pieces which were then baked – doesn’t sound a lot, but that took up one afternoon by itself! I then ended up tripling the recipe and making a second batch the next day, which was just about enough for all the other parts.
Gingerbread Recipe (the pictures are using double the amounts below):
Sift together 6oz of flour, 1/4 of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of ground ginger (I added a bit extra for luck, too).
Rub 2 and a half oz of butter into the flour until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, or blend in a food processor.
Add 3 oz of caster sugar, 2 tbsp of maple or golden syrup and 1 beaten egg yolk and mix to a firm dough. The ‘mixing into a firm dough’ bit proved a little difficult as the mixture was SO crumbly, but if you stick at it it does, eventually, pull together after a bit of prodding and poking. I made mine into balls and then kneaded them as best as possible. It seems impossible, but does make a huge difference to the mixture once it stops being so reluctant to stick to itself!
This is before being kneaded:
The mixture was then popped in a little bag and chilled for 30 minutes in the fridge. After this, it was ready to be rolled, cut and baked. I rolled the mixture a little too thin on this first batch as there wasn’t that much dough to go around, but I would recommend about half a cm in thickness. A good tip for rolling out is to use a sheet of baking paper underneath AND on top of the dough, as it stops it catching on the rolling pin and breaking up. Bake for about 13 minutes, but keep an eye on it because it will vary with thickness.
We found it best to cut out the shape before AND after baking, but the you have to be quick with the ‘after’ cutting as it stiffens very quickly and is also VERY hot!
Leave to cool on the tray for a while so the gingerbread stiffens and then move onto a cooling rack but leaving it on the baking paper. After it’s stiffened even more, carefully peel away the paper. Moving it onto the cooling rack whilst it’s still on the paper prevents horrible greasy marks from appearing like in the pictures below, which we learnt with the second batch, but be sure to remove the paper after a while so it can cool properly.
Repeat the whole process until you’re left with what looks like the contents of a mini flat-pack IKEA parcel and then you’re nearly ready for the nerve-racking job of assembling.
To put off assembling for as long as possible, I decided to make some pretty looking windows by drawing templates of all the windows on the house (plus a few extras in case some broke) on baking paper, TURNING THE BAKING PAPER OVER (amazed I actually remembered this step!) and then piping a square slightly bigger than the template in melted chocolate before zig zagging across it. I left it to set overnight and they made the perfect little window decorations!
Plus, there are tons of fun things you can do with leftover melted chocolate! (It’s harder than it looks, piping with nearly solid chocolate so don’t judge my piping writing!)
It’s also crucial to remember to attach the window decorations before assembling the actual house, because otherwise all that hard piping work you just did would be for nothing. I made up royal icing (instead of the butter icing I tried it with a few years ago. That just ended up with some frustrated texts to my mum and lots of broken up gingerbread pieces…) and set to work attaching the windows.
After the icing had set, I couldn’t put it off any longer. The house had to be assembled. With help from my mum, I managed to pipe each side of the house and stick it all together without toooo much trouble. The walls kind of supported each other and once the icing sets, it goes rock hard so that’s good.
As you can see, when we attached the roof it started to bow quite dramatically, so my mum made some supports from a cereal box to help it stay upright.
I was so ready for it to fall down at any second that I kept taking photos at every opportunity, which means I have photos at every single possible angle. Thankfully it’s still standing, I’m just left with about a bajillion photos! Next, I added the chimney and the door in the same way.
And AT LAST it was ready to decorate. I’d been looking forward to this part for ages and had so many ideas I wanted to try! First, I wanted to make shutters made from biscuits. After a bit of experimentation, I found that sawing the biscuits with a bread knife was the best way to make them the right shape, and then they were glued on with icing.
I also outlined the windows in icing and stuck on some cut-to-size match makers before adding ‘snow’ icing (icing sprinkled with edible glitter).
The next idea took forever, but made the house look amazing – I ’tiled’ the roof with chocolate buttons, starting with big ones and getting smaller. I used four different types in total, including ones filled with caramel.
I then added more ‘snow’ to the roof and attached some chocolate fingers along the top.
With the addition of MORE ‘snow’, the roof was complete. This bit definitely took the longest, and had to be done in two afternoons – one side of the roof each time, but it was so worth it!
The last few things to be done included the addition of a chocolate-coated-pretzel fence, fairy lights using melted chocolate (I was running out of icing!) and edible gold balls, and smoke for the chimney.
The ‘smoke’ definitely caused the most trouble. Everything else went surprisingly smoothly, but I guess there has to be something that goes wrong! I wanted to make a 3D spiral by icing around the neck of a bottle, but when I tried to take it off each time it just snapped. In the end I piped some little smokey shapes onto baking paper, let them set and picked the best one to attach in the chimney. It started out well, glueing it with icing and holding it in place with cocktail sticks to dry:
At which point the house looked like this:
Until the ‘smoke’ snapped when we tried to remove the cocktail sticks. In the end, I stuck the broken bit back on to the part of it that had been stuck to the chimney with icing and slid a marshmallow cut out from a chocolate teacake underneath to prop it up. I use the term ‘slid’ very loosely here as it was so sticky, but it did eventually get it to hold and it looks ok despite being a little wonky.
A quick icing of ‘snow’ around the chimney top and it was finally FINISHEEEEDDDD!!!!
And to put some perspective on it all, here’s a photo of it next to a suitably Christmassy mug:
I’m SO glad it’s finished! I started it last Thursday, as in a week and a half ago, and just finished it tonight. I’m so pleased with it though – I don’t know how we’re going to eat it! If you decide to have a go at making a gingerbread house, I warn you – leave yourself plenty of time!
I hope to post tomorrow showing our finally decorated house, but if I don’t manage to get around to it (I still have all my presents to wrap!), I hope you all have a lovely Christmas.
And congratulations for making it all the way through the longest post I’ve ever written!