Ginger bread houses have always been a fascination of mine, from fairy tales of Hansel and Gretel to the sheer skills needed for it simply to work.
As a child I would watch my grandmother bake cakes, buns and tarts. She would often let me make ginger bread men with an old red cookie cutter and the left-over pastry from her apple tarts. So, after years of curiosity and built up childhood dreams, I decided to embark on my own journey of baking and decorating a ginger bread house, with one exception.
This cakey house was not going to be the normal cabin-like ginger bread house but instead based upon my grandparents’ 160-year-old farm house.
Making a ginger bread house is the perfect project for the entire family. Between the skills of baking, constructing and decorating, everyone can take part in the process.
It can be eaten straight away and is edible for a whole week after it has been baked.
If you do not want to eat the house, it can be kept as a decorative piece for over four weeks.
Ginger bread recipe
8oz/ 225g of dark brown sugar
12oz/ 340g of Golden Syrup for golden ginger bread or treacle can be used for a darker biscuit
2 lb 5 oz/ 1,050g plain flour
3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 tsp ground ginger
28cm x 17cm
Front and back of house
28cm x 22cm
Sides of house
3cm x 22cm
Guide for ginger bread house
I suggest making the ginger bread in the evening. If you leave the ginger bread overnight before constructing the house, the pieces will be nice and sturdy and less likely to break.
This dough recipe is quite large but it will allow you extra dough for making ginger bread men and other pieces.
Making the gingerbread dough
1. Measure the butter, sugar and golden syrup or treacle and melt in a large saucepan at a low heat. Once the sugar and syrup are dissolved, remove from the heat. It is important not to continue cooking the syrup mixture after it has fully dissolved as it will turn into a hard toffee.
2. In a large mixing bowl, sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger.
3. Add the melted syrup mixture, combine and knead the dough until it comes together.
4. The amount of dough is quite large, so divide the dough in two and flatten onto a plate in a round and flat ginger biscuit shape, cover in cling film and place into the fridge for 30 minutes to one hour to allow to rest.
Making templates for the roof and walls
1. While the ginger bread dough is resting, make templates for the walls and roof.
2. Using the dimensions given, map out the three shapes on paper. If you want to change the shape of the house or make it smaller, follow the basic structure given and make sure that all the walls and the roof are a suitable size for each other.
3. Be adventurous with your design, you can base it on your own home, add a porch or even make a little tower or chimney.
4. After making the templates, cut out rectangle pieces of grease-proof paper that are large enough to accommodate the templates.
Rolling out the dough
1. Preheat the oven at 180oC (350oF).
2. Place a light dusting of flour on a piece of grease-proof paper and the rolling pin, take a large piece of dough and begin rolling in smooth sweeps, lengthways and sideways.
3. The reason for rolling the dough on the greaseproof paper is so it is transportable to the oven tray. Make sure to do this, otherwise it will be almost impossible to transport the dough.
4. At first, the dough may seem crumbly but don’t worry, after rolling it will quickly combine in a smooth golden sheet of ginger bread.
5. Roll until the dough is even and 1cm thick.
6. Place the template over the piece of dough and trim with a sharp knife to the correct size and shape.
7. Using two sets of hands, take the grease-proof paper from each corner and transport to an oven tray.
8. Repeat this process for each part of the house.
9. Use any extra dough to cut out some ginger bread people, Christmas trees and any other accessories.
10. If your pieces are large like mine, you will have to bake the ginger bread in two lots.
11. Place the ginger bread in the oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
12. Allow a few minutes to rest before using the grease-proof paper to transport the ginger bread to a wire cooling rack.
13. Leave until the ginger bread if fully cooled before icing. For best results, leave overnight to rest, this will hugely minimise any chances of the gingerbread breaking during handling.
1. Sieve the 9oz/ 250g icing sugar into a large bowl and combine the three egg whites.
2. This will form a thick white paste. Make sure that the paste is not too wet, it will still glue the pieces together, but it will dry in a clear white rather than a thick snowy icing.
3. Place a damp cloth over the icing bowl while not in use, otherwise it will begin to dry out.
4. This icing can be placed into an icing bag, or simply use a palette knife to spread the thick icing.
Constructing the house is the only slightly difficult step to making a ginger bread house, but if anything does go wrong, it can easily be mended or replaced. Before beginning to construct the house, have cans and jars on stand-by to place beside the walls for support as it dries.
1. Begin by placing a line of icing underneath where the first piece will go.
2. Ice the vertical sides of the wall. At this point, don’t ice where the roof is going to attach as you won’t place the roof until much later.
3. With a thick layer of icing, glue all four walls together and surround by cans and jars to keep them standing upright as they dry.
4. Wait for 30 minutes or until the glue is fully dry before adding the roof.
5. If any of the pieces crack or snap during this process, simply glue them back together. Decoration will hide any mistakes made during this stage. Don’t let any breakage upset the project, everything can be fixed or even replaced with a bricked wall of ginger bread biscuits.
6. While placing the roof on my ginger bread house, I began to worry that it would not be supported fully in the centre. To solve this, I placed wooden skewers like rafters across to the two triangle shaped sides of the home.
7. This involved very little effort, I simply used the sharp end of the skewer to poke off the tiny piece of ginger bread for the skewer to sit on the roof. This is only necessary if you are making a large roof or are worried that you may have rolled the roof too thin.
8. Add plenty of glue to the sides of the house supporting the roof. Place both pieces on top and again, place cans and jars underneath the overhang of the roof to stop it from sliding down.
9. Again, allow the glue to fully dry before attempting to decorate the house.
During this time, ginger bread people and Christmas trees can be decorated. Little tubes of coloured icing can be purchased or the gluing ice from the ginger bread house can be used to attach Jelly Tots, Smarties, liquorice and any other sweet imaginable. A little bit of food colouring can be added to a small amount of the glue icing for decorating. Be creative, maybe attach two lollipops to the ginger bread man’s feet and two chocolate fingers to his hands so your little ginger bread person can be skiing. I chose to make a little Hansel and Gretel to stand outside my house using icing from a tube.
Once the ginger bread house glue has fully set, it is time to decorate.
1. The best place to begin decorating is the roof. If you are layering the roof in buttons or biscuits, it is good to do it in sections; otherwise the weight of the sweets will cause everything to begin to slip down the roof.
2. If you are using buttons or biscuits, place a layer of glue across the bottom of either sides of the roof and place a line of buttons or biscuits. Decorate another piece of the house until this has dried and then add another layer. Continue this process until the roof is fully covered.
3. Anything can be used to cover the roof, including simply placing a layer of gluing icing to look like snow or place a layer ofcoconut over the icing to make fluffy snow. If you wish to continue the theme I chose of old Irish houses, a thatched cottage can be made by using noodles, pasta or even just using the real thing by using some straw or reed.
4. To make a chimney, glue four biscuits together or use half a flake bar and simply glue to the roof.
5. For decorating the rest of the house, use a combination of colourful sweets, biscuits, candy canes and lollipops.
6. I used Smarties for the windows to create a stainless glass effect. Alternatively windows can be drawn with icing sugar or glue one single large jelly sweet.
7. Use extra glue icing to make a garden of snow. Place the ginger bread men, Christmas trees, and lollipops into the snowy icing before it begins to dry. You can also make a little garden wall out of brick layered biscuits and icing.
The smell of this sweet ginger bread centre piece will fill your home and you can eat it or keep it. The ginger bread house can be kept for a week before going stale, but that is if you want to eat it. Otherwise, it can be kept for four weeks as a decorative piece. Once you are finished with the decorative piece, remove all the sweets and put outdoors for the birds to eat, or if you are like me, feed it all to the pigs.