I have actually no idea why gingerbread houses appear at Christmas – after all, the story of Hänsel and Gretel is not really a Christmas tale! But whatever the reasons be hind it, come Christmas we have to have one, or two, or even more gingerbread houses under our tree, in increasing states of disrepair.
Aunt Juju took me down memory lane yesterday with her selection of gingerbread houses which she and her family have been making for ages. From her first self-build age 16, over the years children and grandchildren have become involved, resulting in a formidable gingerbread city. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Judi!
When we were little, my Dad’s friend the baker made ours: on Christmas Eve we would go into the workshop, be allowed to operate the Brezel-rolling machine for a split second, to then pick up our house: assembled on a wooden board, the windows were filled with red gelatine sheets and would glow when you switched on the lightbulb inside. Magic.
The gingerbread house remained a staple of our Christmas until we got too big for it. Apparently. But as my birthday is always so close to Christmas, my parents made it their mission to bake enough little gingerbread houses to have all my friends decorate them, making for the most amazing party bags.
This tradition we have kept up too: first by making just one gingerbread house, then by making eight one year, to provide the entertainment for my son’s birthday, which is even closer to Christmas than my own.
This tradition came to an end when the boys switched from decorating the outside to simply stuffing as many of the sweets inside their houses before anybody else could get hold of them (‘interior design’ they called it). Thanks to Peter Jackson bringing out a new ‘Hobbit’ film every year in time for the birthday party, we don’t need to make quite so many houses anymore. Let’s hope there are still a few instalments of the movie left 😉
I use a variation of the dough I use for my smaller gingerbread decorations:
As the parts are much bigger and heavier I like to keep it fairly airy; rye flour and dried fruit are added to give it a more bread-like texture and taste. The quantities described here are sufficient for one big house or two small ones, like the one on the pictures: the second house got sent to the cousins as a flat pack, ready for self assembly.
- 500g honey
- 125g unsalted butter
- 500g plain flour
- 250g rye flour
- 15g ground cinnamon
- 15g ground spices: cardamom, cloves, allspice, nutmeg
- 15g bicarbonate of soda
- 100g mixed peel, finely chopped
- a pinch of salt
- 1 egg
Heat the butter, and honey in a cooking pot, stirring continuously. Once it starts bubbling switch off the hob and leave the mix to cool.
Mix the flours and the bicarbonate of soda and add it, together with the rest of the ingredients, to the honey mix. Stir with a wooden spoon, then knead it on your work surface until it is well mixed. You want a relatively soft dough – add plain flour or water if necessary as your flour might react slightly differently to mine. Wrap the dough in tinfoil and cover it with a bowl. Leave it to rest for 48 hours at room temperature.
Roll out a portion of the dough to a centimetre or 1/2 inch and cut out the shapes. Try and group them in similar sizes as the bigger plates take longer than doors, chimneys or the sides with windows. Once you have filled a baking sheet (you don’t need a lot of space between the individual biscuits) bake it for 15-20 minutes while filling the next. The pices should ideally seem a bit undercooked rather than dark brown. Leave them to cool on a wire rack, ideally overnight.
For the icing, you will need the following:
- 2 egg whites
- 300g icing sugar
- a dash of lemon juice
Beat the egg whites till stiff, then slowly add the icing sugar, using a sieve. Fill the mix into a small freezer bag, close it with a knoow of a tight food clip, and cut off a tiny bit from a corner to create an decorating bag. Assemble your house on a large board or similar and leave the sides to dry before mounting the roof.
Don’t leave this house unattended,regardless of the age of the inhabitants!