A note before we begin: I discuss design, and construction at reasonable length in this post so if you just want the recipe I won’t be offended if you scroll on down to the bottom. I promise it’s useful info though!
It’s still November at the moment and so people are probably going to get annoyed at me for using the C word already… But Christmas is looming! The malls are all filling up with gifts, decorations, and Christmas-y baking and confections. I know that this fills some people with rage, but for me it is great news as I love the jolly season.
A big positive for me is that at this time of year I get to do a lot of over the top baking for no real purpose without people finding me weird. The perfect example of this is the good ol’ gingerbread house. I’ve been making at least one gingerbread house every Christmas since I was about 14 and so they have become a greatly anticipated part of my baking calendar.
Gingerbread houses are so much fun to make, but they can also be infuriating and soul crushing when they don’t go to plan. That is where this recipe comes into play. It is VERY important to have a gingerbread recipe that will stand up (quite literally) to the tests of construction. Soft biscuits will not do. The recipe I am posting today is not only strong but it is also really, really easy to make and most importantly, delicious to eat.
This recipe is also perfect for making gingerbread people or creating any other kind of cut-out as the dough holds shape really well through the baking process. A really fun thing you can do is cut the dough into a variety of shapes, poke holes through them at the top, bake, decorate, and string them up through the holes to hang on your Christmas tree.
I haven’t included any particular cut out designs in this post as I usually make my own new ones up each year (and also because I’m not really sure how I’d go about creating one to put online) but a quick google should bring up a lot of different designs for you to choose from if you don’t want to make your own.
Coming up with your own design:
If you do want to come up with your own design but aren’t quite sure how to go about it then I highly recommend finding some reasonably stiff cardboard, and creating a template out of cardboard first. (I find sourcing the cardboard pretty easy as my flatmates always have a few beer or pizza boxes lying around 😉 ). You can then cut out templates for all of the required pieces and roughly assemble them to ensure that your design is actually going to work. This avoids the very disappointing situation in which you go to all the effort of making and baking the gingerbread only to realise that your pieces don’t fit together or you’re missing half of the building.
Once you’ve created your cardboard templates you can trace them onto clean pieces of paper or another appropriate material to make disposable templates for cutting the gingerbread out. Don’t forget to hold onto the cardboard cut outs if you want to be able to remake your design in the future.
I really, really recommend coming up with your own design. There is something so satisfying about thinking of a fun idea, and then making it come to life. You don’t have to stick with a house either! You could make a castle or a train or a boat or an igloo. The possibilities are as vast as your imagination.
Constructing your house:
Okay, so you’ve come up with the perfect design and you’ve baked some beautiful and sturdy gingerbread shapes. Now comes the tricky part. Construction. The most important thing here is to have a good glue. Royal icing and hot, caramelised sugar are the two options I would suggest considering. I always use royal icing as I think I’d burn myself to death if I attempted to use caramel, but I’ve seen other people have great success with the latter and it does set up very quickly which is a big advantage. If you choose to use royal icing, make sure to make it really thick. It should be pipe-able, not runny and wet.
Once you’ve sorted your glue the next step is to plan the order in which you are going to build your design. It is usually pretty apparent which order is going to make the most sense for your particular structure. For example, if you’re making a house you probably shouldn’t try and start with the roof.
Once your plan has been created you should find some items to use to support your structure as you glue it together. I usually use a range of mugs, glasses and kitchen utensils. As you glue each piece you can sandwich it between your selected supports so that it stays in the correct position. Once you’ve got the base of your structure successfully glued, allow it to dry with supports in place before attempting to start adding the next layer of gingerbread.
Sometimes if my design is quite large or complicated I will actually bake some supporting biscuits which are usually shaped like wedges and long rods. You can then use these to help hold your large walls up from the inside. However, this may not always be necessary, or even possible depending on your design.
Sticking things like roofs, chimneys, and towers to your gingerbread structure can be a real pain. They often require being stuck onto a slope which means gravity can be working against you, and because they aren’t in direct contact with the ground they are really hard to support as they dry. If you can support these items then definitely do, but if it’s not possible you’re probably going to have to spend a little bit of time holding them in place until your glue has set enough for them to stay on their own.
My final and most important tip is don’t panic and don’t give up. Practically every gingerbread structure I have ever made has completely fallen apart at least once during the construction process. In fact it has literally happened to me on National television. If this happens to you, laugh it off and start again. Even if a piece of gingerbread breaks you can just glue it back together and keep going. (This has also happened to me on the telly.) Remember, this is meant to be fun!
Okay, so we have established that this recipe is perfect for construction, gingerbread people, general cookies, and Christmas Tree decorations. Plus, we have also considered some important information about gingerbread house design and successful construction. So with all of that sorted, we can finally get onto the recipe. Hurrah!
Gingerbread Recipe: (Enough for a medium sized house)
- Butter – 250 grams
- Dark brown sugar – 200 grams
- Golden syrup – 175 grams
- Plain Flour – 600 grams
- Baking Soda – 2 tsp
- Ground ginger – 4 to 5 tsps (adjust to your preference)
Heat oven to 190 degrees C or 170 degrees C on fan bake.
Melt the butter, brown sugar and syrup in a saucepan.
Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger into a large bowl and mix to combine.
Once fully melted, stir the butter mixture into the dry ingredients to make the dough. It will be quite soft while the butter is still hot so allow it may be necessary to allow it to cool for a while until your dough is stiff.
Lay a piece of baking paper down on your bench and place a portion of your dough onto it. Cover with a second equally sized piece of paper and roll the dough to the thickness you desire. I prefer thinner biscuits but these are more likely to break during construction so roll to a thickness you are comfortable with.
Cut out the pieces that you require and then place on a baking paper lined tray for baking.
Bake the biscuits pieces until the edges start to brown. The time required for baking will depend on the thickness, size and shape of your biscuits but should be around 10 – 14 minutes.
Allow to cool fully before attempting to ice.
Note: It is very important not to under bake your biscuits if you are using them for construction. Make sure that they have turned a medium brown and are just starting to darken around the outer edges before you take them out of the oven. However, if you are making individual biscuits such as gingerbread people then this is less important and you may even prefer to bake them for less time to achieve a softer biscuit.