Gingerbread House

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.

 

 

Gingerbread House

Prep time: 30 minutes              Cook time: 25 minutes

Decoration time: Anything from 20 minutes upwards

 

Gingerbread:

900g flour

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

 

Royal Icing

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.

Gingerbread house template

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.

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Put the butter, syrup and sugar into a heavy based saucepan and melt it together.

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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.

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Make sure to leave a centimetre or so around the edge of the house to prevent it from burning.

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.

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The gingerbread has spread however the lines for the windows and edges are still 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.

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Remember to hold back the pieces that made the doors as you want to put them back on the house once it is decorated.

 

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.

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The bowl on the right has been beaten for an extra minute which makes all the difference.

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

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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)!

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Don’t worry if it looks a little scruffy, a good layer of icing will cover a multitude of sins!

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.

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You can even use an electric light to illuminate it from the inside to make the house glow.

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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!

H

Millionaire’s Shortbread

Success in the kitchen. One of the things that you learn very quickly when you have a blog or Instagram is the importance of aesthetics. There are many things I bake which are never mentioned outside my house as they look terrible, didn’t look right or even just tasted plain disgusting. You don’t get anywhere without a decent amount of trial and error.

Of course, over time you learn different food combinations and what works or what doesn’t, but this often comes from making a dish that you regret ever thinking of the moment the first bite touches your lips. While this becomes less common, I do still occasionally make food, get halfway through it and decide it just isn’t palatable. Things like this are never mentioned again and kept secret for fear of people realising that like them, you are just another mere mortal in the kitchen. One thing that they do find out about is when food goes wrong. I have been reduced to tears over something I have made several times.

Once was because I managed to get boiling sugar on my hand which is not a pleasant experience and should be avoided at all costs. Another was because a cake I made stuck in its tin. The cake had multiple layers which needed to set which would have been fine if they hadn’t then stuck to the tin and flowed into the lip at the base rendering the cake almost impossible to remove. In the end, two of my friends managed to help me get the cake out using four knives and fish slice. I learnt a valuable lesson that day. Anything can be covered by a good layer of icing. The battle armour on the cake made it almost impossible to know of the horror that was the outside of the cake where all the layers has mixed into a mess – the cake still tasted fine in the end.

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A decent layer of decorations covers a multitude of sins on this chestnut and chocolate cake

The first time I made millionaire’s shortbread, I messed up. I had no idea what I was doing and tried to boil a tin of condensed milk poured into a pan. Unsurprisingly, it did not set. It was a long time before I tried again and in that interim, I learnt how to make caramel properly which very much helped. My other main kitchen disaster was my first attempt at Macarons. They flowed over the tin in the over and set rock solid through the baking parchment onto the metal below. To this day, I have no idea what happened to them or where I went wrong but it took two days of soaking to remove them and make the tray useable again. Things go wrong and you learn. Many recipes you find have been tried and tweaked and tried and tweaked until the person making it is fully happy with the result. Even then, you will still plan as you get to know how the food cooks and will make minor changes to suite the oven or the temperature outside or even a new tin!

Success in the kitchen comes with time but following written recipes always helps to reduce how long it takes to understand what is going on. I hope that this recipe will stop anyone having the issues I had with making millionaire’s shortbread and will serve you well!

 

 

Millionaire’s Shortbread

This recipe makes about 15-20 shortbreads if you cut them relatively large or over 30 if you cut them small.

Prep time: 45 minutes – Cook time: 15 minutes

 

Shortbread:

250g plain flour

175g butter

75g caster sugar

 

Caramel (this gives a very thick layer of caramel. You can half this for a thinner layer):

300g brown sugar

300g butter

2 tins condensed milk

 

300g chocolate (I used 200g dark and 100g milk)

Optional – White chocolate to decorate

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (1800C)

Line an 11-inch x 11-inch tin with baking parchment – or a tin/tins of equivalent size. If you have a one-piece tin, make sure to line the base and the sides. If your tin has removable sides you only need to line the base.

Rub the butter into the flour – once it looks like breadcrumbs, keep rubbing it in and the mix will start to come together.

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The mix has started to come together but you have to keep going!

Once the butter and flour mix start coming together, add the sugar and stir through with a fork to make sure it is evenly distributed.

Pour the mixture into the tin and spread it out evenly. Compact it down and bake for 15-17 minutes turning the shortbread halfway through the cooking

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Try to compact it down with a square object to avoid the ridge in this photo. The ridge can catch and burn in the oven which is not what you want

Remove from the oven and let cool in the tin.

 

 

To make the caramel, melt the sugar and butter in a large heavy based pan.

Once the sugar has dissolved or the mixture has started to bubble, add the condensed milk.

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Stir together over a high heat and bring the mixture to the boil stirring constantly.

Cook for a couple of minutes until the caramel has started to thicken.

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You can see the caramel sticking to the sides of the pan and when you let a small amount drop back into the mix, it sits on top before sinking back in

Remove from the heat and pour onto the shortbread.

Leave to set in the fridge for an hour

 

Melt the chocolate and pour over the shortbread.

Lightly tap the tin on a table to smooth out the chocolate.

If you want to decorate this, use a fork to scatter lines of white chocolate on top of the dark and then use the tip of a knife or a skewer and swirl it through the chocolate to get a professional finish.

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Leave in the fridge to semi set (so the chocolate isn’t hard but also will hold its shape when cut)

Remove the shortbread from the tin. Mine has removable sides so I didn’t line them along with the base. If you do this, use a hot knife to release the caramel and chocolate from the sides of the tin.

Cut the shortbread into pieces and place into the fridge to fully set – if the chocolate is a bit hard and the caramel is oozing out when you cut it, fill a tin with boiling water and heat the knife in it before each cut. Make sure to not push down too hard and just let the knife melt through the chocolate!

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Arrange the shortbread on a plate before serving to hide the stress of making them

 

I hope you enjoy making it. Let me know how it turns out for you and give me a tag on Instagram @thatcookingthing if you have a go yourself! If you liked this, why not check out my last baking recipe which also has a decent chocolate layer – my boozy tiramisu or if you are in the mood for something a little more savoury, my beef lasagne is perfect to keep you warm as winter approaches.

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for some delicious risotto – including how to tweak it for different dietary requirements. It truly is versatile!

H