How to build and decorate a gingerbread house

Photographs by Tansy Tester

Photographs by Tansy Tester

WHEN the festive season rolls around, there is nothing more delightfully Christmassy than a good old-fashioned gingerbread house. Inciting images of fairy tale forests, cosy fires and picturesque German villages, this classic makes a wonderful gift or centrepiece.

The house

You will need…

  • Gingerbread dough (I used a recipe from BBC Good Food)
  • Royal icing (the above link has a recipe for this as well)
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Pen
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Baking tray
  • Rolling pin
  • Round-tipped nozzle and piping bag
  • Drinking glasses

When you have made the gingerbread dough, wrap it in cling film and flatten it. Leave in the fridge for about half an hour.

Now you will need to make the template for your house. Of course, you don’t have to stop at this simple structure; you could make a clock tower, church tower, TARDIS- wherever your imagination takes you. You can find house templates online, but it’s also easy to draw up your own from scratch using a ruler. A basic house is made up of three sets of twin pieces: the roof, the sides and the front/back. Each piece needs to have the same measurements as its adjoining parts.

After the dough has become firm in the fridge you can roll it out between two sheets of greaseproof paper until it is half a centimetre thick, then place your templates on the dough and cut out the shapes with a knife. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and bake your gingerbread according to the instructions on the recipe you used. When the pieces have baked and cooled you may need to trim the edges with a knife so they all fit together neatly.

The first time I tried to assemble a gingerbread house I made the mistake of trying to stick all the pieces together at the same time. Inevitably, the house collapsed, so if you’re going to make one you’re going to need time and patience!

You can use caramel to stick the pieces together, but royal icing is (apparently) stronger. You can apply it with a knife, but if you’re going for neatness I’d recommend using a piping bag. Cut the pointed end off the bag so it can fit your round nozzle without any icing leaks. Take the nozzle and drop it, pointing downwards, into the bag so its half out the bottom, then twist the top closed. Piping is a job for two hands – one directing the nozzle at the bottom of the bag, the other squeezing out the icing from the top. Squeeze a line of icing along the short edge of one of the side pieces you wish to stick first, making sure that the icing covers its thickness. Press this against the edge of the front piece. To avoid it collapsing, prop a drinking glass against each side to hold it in place as it dries – this may take a couple of hours. Make sure the icing is bone dry before you stick on the next piece, and only stick one piece on at a time.

If your piping isn’t too neat, don’t worry! Luckily, you can’t see the back of my house in the pictures, which was a broken mess. If icing drips over the side, this can work to your advantage as it gives the effect of icicles- very wintry!

The base

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Photographs by Tansy Tester

You will need…

  • Cake board
  • Regal icing
  • Icing smoother
  • Star nozzle and piping bag
  • Icing sugar
  • Sprinkles
  • Lolly sticks
  • Wood glue
  • Ribbon
  • Sugarcel (icing hardening powder)

I’d recommend making a base to stand your house on, and this can easily be decorated to look like a lovely festive garden. To give the appearance of snow I took a square cake board with deep sidesand covered it in a layer of regal icing (for added texture, sprinkle on some dessicated coconut). When you roll the icing into a ball you may find that it is too soft to work with, but this can be easily rectified with Sugarcel, a hardening powder which makes modelling with icing much easier. Make a thumb dent in the ball of icing and add about half a teaspoon of the powder. Knead it well into the icing, which will begin to feel tougher more rubbery in texture. Sprinkle a little icing sugar on your work surface and gently roll out your icing, keeping it square as you do so. When it is a centimetre larger than the board and a quarter of a centimetre thick, lightly dampen the board, drape the regal icing over the rolling pin and lay it down on the board. Then take an icing smoother and smooth the surface in gentle, circular movements. Trim the excess off with a knife and put aside for later.

I made the fence out of lolly sticks, making a row of fence posts first (sticking them together with wood glue). When these were done I glued the bottom of each post to the side of the board.

The sides of the board can be neatened by covering over the bottom of the board with ribbon. Dot the ends of each edge of the board with glue and stick the ribbon across, and leave it to dry.

Decoration

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Photographs by Tansy Tester

You will need…

  • Edible glue
  • Paintbrush (preferably one that hasn’t already been used for paint)
  • Food colouring
  • Sweets
  • Sugarcel (icing hardening powder)

Now it’s time for the fun part!

Any sweets or decorations can be attached to the house or the base using edible glue and a paintbrush. When choosing sweets, I went with my house’s pink and white theme and found that Flumps were particularly useful in covering the messy joins between the walls. The Christmas trees were made from ice cream cones, with stars piped onto them (working from the base up) and decorated with sprinkles.

Although I used sweets in decorating my house, I also made some of my own with regal icing. You can buy pre-coloured icing in cake decorating shops but colouring your own is much cheaper, though it can get quite messy. Take the desired amount of icing and place it into a bowl, sprinkle in some food colouring and knead in until you have reached your desired colour. Food colouring makes icing extra soggy, so you will need to add some hardening powder if you’re going to be constructing things like doors and snow men. If the colour looks a bit uneven keep kneading it on a dye-free surface. Hardened icing continues to stiffen after it has been left out in the air, so you can glue your pieces together once it has dried.

There are many things you could use to decorate the roof of your house, such as chocolate buttons, Shreddies and piped royal icing. For mine, I continued to use hardened regal icing. I cut out circles with the lid of the hardener and left them to harden. I then cut off the top quarter of each, and glued them on the roof overlapping each other.

The exciting thing about making a gingerbread house is that there so many different colour schemes, themes and decorations to make. If you need design inspiration there are plenty of images amazing creations online to suit all tastes. I hope you have a great Christmas, and happy baking!