One of my favourite things about Christmas – apart from friends and family – is getting to play with food.
Not in the way your Mum always told you off for but by being creative. I’m not a talented creative person like some of my friends are but I like to dabble in sewing and one day I will finish that scarf I started to knit… So yeah, an excuse to make something pretty with a deadline means I get to play but also will get it done. Win, win.
Gingerbread is one of my favourite things – combining ginger, golden syrup and biscuits = the best thing ever. Since I’ve been doing my best to cut down on sugary baked goods, I haven’t baked much over the last couple of months except when required to for an event but it’s Christmas so whatever – screw the diet for the next two weeks and I’ll deal with the aftermath later 🙂 We’re dog-sitting two extra dogs at the moment, so I’m going on my fair share of dog walks, anyway.
- Gingerbread recipes tend to use one or a combination of different syrups – golden syrup, maple syrup, treacle, molasses or even corn syrup (mostly from American websites that I’ve seen). Pure maple syrup is hard to find and quite expensive in Australia but treacle and golden syrup are easy to get – people tend to tolerate these quite differently, though, so I am listing them as possibilities and you can use whichever you know is safe for you.
- Gluten free flours are expensive, so if you are not cooking for a coeliac then I recommend making the recipe in halves – half GF and half normal flour. This will save you some money and, if you use the normal flour as the walls of the house, it will give the structure added strength.
- If you can’t tolerate wheat because of the fructans but you can still have gluten, I would recommend using gluten powder, rather than xanthan gum, to really add some strength – this is more important if you are making a house, rather than gingerbread biscuits. I would try 1/2 a cup of gluten powder to replace the same amount of flour and work from there. Possibly a combination of xanthan gum and gluten might be best but I haven’t tried this.
- If you have any cracks in the slabs of gingerbread that you cut, just use royal icing or melted chocolate to either stick them back together or as a reinforcement along the inside face of the slab.
- Royal icing involves uncooked egg whites, so if you are making this for a pregnant woman or an immuno-compromised person, I would stick to melting dark or milk chocolate for assembling the joins of a house. Other sources recommend using meringue powder in this situation but having never used it, I don’t know what the ingredients are and how fructose friendly they would be.
- If you malabsorb lactose, then I would stick to the royal icing, rather than the chocolate… unless a lactose free chocolate exists that can melt well – I honestly haven’t ever looked into it.
Adapted from Ruby M. Brown’s Cakes, Muffins and Loaves to suit my tastes and be a little more fructose friendly.
- 250 g unsalted butter/coconut butter, softened
- 175 g castor sugar (or 200 g dextrose)
- 2 whole eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup golden syrup
- 700 g GF plain flour
- 1-2 tsp. xanthan gum (add in 1, then the second if consistency isn’t correct) – alternatively, substitute 1/2 cup of GF flour for 1/2 cup of gluten powder
- 11/2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1 pinch salt
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add in the eggs, vanilla and syrup of your choice. Mix until well combined and smooth. Sift the dry ingredients into a separate bowl and then gradually add them in, alternating with mixing, until the batter is complete. This will be much stiffer than a cake batter, more like a cookie dough but not quite.
To make your life easier, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes before rolling it out.
To make biscuits
Preheat your oven to 190 C/375 F. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured bench until it is approx 1 cm thick and then cut with a knife or cookie cutters. Place them on a lined baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and firm yet soft on top – if you bake them until they are hard on top then they will be like rocks once they have cooled.
To make a house
Preheat your oven to 190 C/375 F and lay out baking paper on the bench (if your biscuit tray has raised edges like mine does) or if you have a completely flat baking sheet, just lay the baking paper on that. Spread a column of the batter along the length of the tray and place wax paper on top, then roll it out to make it as rectangular as possible. Believe me, the more accurate you are with this, the more of the end product you can work with to cut out the walls and roof pieces later on.
You can see from this picture that I didn’t do a particularly good job of it and I had to make another half batch to make the front and back walls.
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown and firm-ish in the middle – a little bit of softness is okay, as it will continue to harden while cooling – but you don’t want it to be completely hard while baking or it will be a crumbly rock once cooled. Have paper cut outs of your house pieces ready to go, because it is easier to cut without cracks forming when it is fresh from the oven and still retains some softness.
Let the pieces cool for a day to harden completely, otherwise they might crack while you are trying to assemble the house. Other shapes to try could be a Christmas tree or a bell shape, with four pieces.
The following gave me plenty of icing to construct and decorate my house, however the rule of thumb is 1 egg white to 1 cup of icing sugar.
- 2 egg whites
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract – optional
- 2 cups of icing sugar (or 3 3/4 cups icing sugar, 1/4 cup dextrose)
- Food colouring of choice – optional
Softly beat the egg whites and vanilla extract in the bowl of your stand mixer and then add in the icing sugar gradually until the mixture becomes smooth and shiny. Beat it on a high speed for at least 5 minutes, until the mixture is able to form stiff peaks. Transfer it to an icing bag (or a zip lock bag with the corner snipped off) to pipe the icing accurately. It stores well in an air tight container for 1-2 days, after which I find it is too hard to use anymore. If you just need to leave it on the bench for an hour or so, cover it in a damp cloth to help it retain its moisture, as it forms a crust and hardens when it is exposed to air.
Softly beaten eggs.
Royal icing – you can see the stiff peak that has formed.
Assembling a gingerbread house
- Gingerbread shapes
- Royal icing
- A large, flat platter to build the house on
- 2 sets of hands, preferably
Pick one side wall and one end wall and pipe icing onto the base of each piece and also the corner that will meet. It makes life so much easier if there is one person to pipe icing and another to hold the pieces in place until the icing has set but it’s not crucial.
Continue to construct the house. You should start with a side wall and the rear facing wall and then let them dry completely. Next, ice and stick the bottom and adjoining side of the front panel and hold it in place until the icing has set. Make sure the joins are all at right angles, so that all the pieces fit together as they should. Finally, ice and stick the remaining side wall in place and let the walls completely dry for a couple of hours before contemplating sticking the roof pieces in place – houses can collapse.
I mentioned in the notes section that you can reinforce pieces with either royal icing or melted chocolate allowed to set – this can be quite useful for the inside faces of the roof pieces, as they will have quite a bit of downward force going across them eventually, both from gravity and all the lollies you will be decorating it with. Now, as I was doing this to a roof piece that had a visible crack running through it from moving while still warm and soft (my bad), I carelessly wiped the spatula away from me and pulled the piece in two… whoops. I glued it back together with the icing and threw in a couple of wooden skewers cut to size for good measure. This roof isn’t going to collapse on my watch.
Whoops. This is why you should be careful.
Reinforced roof piece.
Once the walls are dry and you have reinforced any possible cracks (and let that dry as well), pipe icing along the tops of the wall pieces and lay the roof slabs down. The shallower the angle of your roof, the less likely they will be to slip down before the icing dries.
Once more, let this dry completely before you use the remaining icing to decorate and stick on the lollies of your choice. The photos I’m posting are of the last two houses I made – in Australia Christmas 2010 and in Seattle Christmas 2013. You can see the difference in lolly varieties in the two countries and also an improvement in my icing skills, although they still leave much to be desired.
Melbourne – Christmas 2010
Melbourne – Christmas 2010
Seattle – Christmas 2013
Finally, demolish the house. The best part of all!