Last week I promised I would return with a Christmassy treat. I hope that with this recipe I will have delivered!
Gingerbread has been eaten for centuries and has wormed its way into the traditions of many countries. In England we have gingerbread men and houses, in Germany, they eat Lebkuchen and in Sweden gingerbread has been used to help with indigestion since the 1400s.
Gingerbread is thought to have originated just before 1000CE however it wasn’t recorded in trade until some time in the 17th century as production had been controlled by the Gingerbread Guild for the previous 200 years. The biscuits would be served in monasteries and sold in apothecaries and were popular owing to the belief that the ginger had health giving properties. Since then, it has been proven that ginger is good at soothing the stomach and reducing nausea as well as having anti-inflammatory properties.
The first documented case of gingerbread men was from Tudor England when Elizabeth I would present her guests with a likeness of themselves made out of gingerbread. About 250 years later, gingerbread houses started appearing in Germany after the publication of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. These were made out of something closer to a ginger biscuit or gingernut than the traditional Lebkuchen as it was too soft to hold the weight – though the decorated gingerbreads are still called Lebkuchen to this day. The gingerbread houses are sometimes made with pepper instead of ginger to create Pfefferkuchenhaus.
Gingerbread houses can take any form from a traditional cottage to a castle. They are normally stuck together with royal icing or caramel though in some cases you can use chocolate. However this is risky as chocolate is very temperature limited and will soften and melt if it gets too hot. Royal icing is very similar to a meringue as it is primarily made from egg whites and sugar however instead of being baked in the oven, it dries in the open air to form a hard surface that can then be decorated upon. Combined with the hard biscuit forming the walls and ceiling, gingerbread houses can be very, very sturdy constructions.
My recipe for a gingerbread house gives enough dough so that the offcuts can be kneaded together and rolled out into other shapes. I had a go at making myself some gingerbread Christmas trees and also iced the cut-outs from the windows so none of it would go to waste. If you are using royal icing, I recommend decorating the sides of the house before you stick it together and let them dry for an hour so you can touch them without smudging the decoration. This is simply because if you decorate them when flat, you don’t have to fight against gravity!
Decorating the house can be a great thing to do with friends and family and the outcome is delicious! You can even use chocolate and sweeties on the outside for added effect. The house makes a stunning centre piece to a table and is a complete showstopper.
Prep time: 30 minutes Cook time: 25 minutes
Decoration time: Anything from 20 minutes upwards
3 tbsp ground ginger – this is quite a fiery recipe, for a slightly less intense hit, use 2 tbsp
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
300g dark brown sugar (muscovado)
325g Unsalted butter
¾ cup golden syrup
3 egg whites
450g icing sugar (sifted)
1 tsp lemon juice
¼ tsp glycerine
Make your templates. The ones I used for this were: 8×5 inches for the sides, 8×4 inches for the roof and the front and back were a 5×6 rectangle with a triangle on top 5 inches long and 2 inches tall. You can either make your own or cut out the ones from my template below.
Preheat your oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).
Mix the flour, ginger and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl – make sure the bowl is big enough to hold the other ingredients too as they will be added later.
Put the butter, syrup and sugar into a heavy based saucepan and melt it together.
Once the butter mixture has all come together (the sugar doesn’t need to have completely dissolved), pour it into a well in the centre of the flour mix and stir until it starts coming together.
Once the dough has mostly come together in the bowl, use your hands to knead it into a ball and mix in the last bits of flour round the outside.
Divide the mix into thirds and roll out to about 6/7mm thick.
Cut out two shapes of each template but do not remove the outside gingerbread. This means that the edges of the biscuit will burn but this is then removed leaving the gingerbread for the house perfectly cooked! You can remove any dough which is more than a centimetre from the edge of the house.
Cut out windows and doors as you see fit – again, leave them in, just cut the shape into the house.
Bake each one for 11-12 minutes until golden (its fine if the edges start to catch as these will be removed)! I would offset the baking of each tray by six minutes. As explained in the next step.
Once the gingerbread is removed from the oven, it will be very soft. Remove the baking sheet from the tray it is on and lie it on a table. The gingerbread will have spread a little in the oven and filled in all the cuts however they will still be visible.
Working quickly before the gingerbread hardens, cut along the lines with a sharp knife and separate the different pieces. Recut out the windows and door and remove these pieces.
Once it has hardened a little more on the sheet, transfer the gingerbread to a cooling tray to completely harden and cool down – this will take about an hour to make sure it is ready to be used in the house.
For the icing, place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk with electric beaters for around 8 minutes until the icing is thick and glossy and holds its shape when the beaters are removed – it can sag a little bit but shouldn’t return to a flat layer, you should still be able to see detail.
Use your pieces of gingerbread to make sure your house will fit together properly and work out which pieces overlap with each other.
Once you know where everything is going, pip a thick line of royal icing down the edges of one of the walls. Use this to stick it together with the two pieces it touches. Hold them in place for 30 seconds of so and if you can, place something up against the wall to keep it in place. Wipe off the excess icing on the outside
Pipe lines of icing down the remaining wall and stick it to the rest of the house. Wipe of the excess and add another line on the inside the strengthen the connections
Let the house sit for five minutes to give the icing a chance to dry a little before you add the roof.
Use a thick line of icing around the top of the house and add one of the roof pieces.
Pipe along the last exposed edge before you add the final piece of gingerbread (its ok if they overlap a little, we can cover this with icing)!
Pipe designs on the sides and the roof and let set for at least an hour if not more before serving. I left mine overnight as it lets the icing harden and the gingerbread soften just a little.
You can even use an electric light to illuminate it from the inside to make the house glow.
I hope you enjoyed this recipe! If you fancy some more Christmassy flavours, check out my Chocolate and Orange Bread and Butter Pudding or for a lovely main course, have a go at making some Sticky Salmon!
Have a great week and I will be back next Monday with a simple take on a beef wellington!