The Gingerbread House is not truly a Christmas tradition in South Africa, but I have an extremely soft spot for any fairytale house. For years I have been wanting to bake and decorate a Gingerbread House, but I was scared. I heard about houses crumbling, tumbling and turning soft.
Apart from sharing my tips and recipe with you today, I write to tell you that YOU CAN MAKE A GINGERBREAD HOUSE. I must confess it was the most beautiful and easiest baking project I have ever tackled. It can be time consuming, but it need not be. You can spend as much time on this fairytale house as you want to. I read these words somewhere and they came up in my mind when I stood back and admired my little house: Fashioned in love was this special gift, simply to give your heart a lift.
Please look out for the tips and tricks underneath the recipe. If you are scared to try this, then those tips and tricks are just what you need to help you climb over the fence between the “I cannot” and the “I did it”. Lets get started.
There are many recipes you can use, I decided on one of Martjie Malan’s recipes from the Afrikaans book Koekedoor Bak (Errieda du Toit).
150 ml water
420 g brown sugar
90 ml soft brown sugar
90 ml golden syrup
90 ml ground ginger
90 ml ground cinnamon
5 ml ground cloves
500 g butter
10 ml bicarbonate of soda
1,1 kg all-purpose flour
1. Place all the ingredients, except butter, baking soda and flour, in a pan. Over medium heat stir continuously until the mixture reaches boiling point.
2. Remove from the heat and add the butter, cut into small squares.
3. Add the the bicarbonate of soda after all the butter has melted. Whisk with hand whisk until well blended.
4. Pour into electric mixter’s bowl and allow to cool.
5. Sift flour over this mixture and turn mixer to lowest speed. It must form a dough.
6. Press the dough into the silicone moulds (see hints, tips and tricks). If you are going to cut the house with cutters or manually you must leave the dough in the fridge for at least two hours or over night.
7. Bake at 160 °C (oven with fan. 180°C without a fan) until properly baked and slightly brown at edges.
8. Leave to cool and remove from mould. Place in airtight container over night.
9. Decorate with royal icing (or as preferred) and assemble.
Handy hints, tips and tricks
I obtained my mould at CNA long time ago. However, just this week I noticed the very same mould for about R145.00 at a Bargain Books store. You can also opt to hand cut your house. I did not do that simply because I knew that my walls and roof would not match, no matter how many times I measure. I have also more than a year ago, ordered via Internet a gingerbread house cutter set. It is made from stainless steel, but I have never used it. Though I plan to use it in making a fairytale house from clay. Here is a picture of my mould-set.
Remember to bake the dough a bit longer than you would bake biscuits. I baked mine far too long.
Do not remove from the moulds until it has cooled completely. Mine popped out easily. Just remember that most (if not all) cookie dough are still soft when you remove it from the oven. It only crisps when it cools down a bit. I waited until mine were firm, then I removed them and placed on cooling rack to cool completely.
All the recipes I have read and all the research I did indicated that once your house elements has cooled completely you must put them in an airtight container over night and decorate the next day. The reason for this is, that the biscuits grow more crisp over time. If you decorate too soon the dough may turn soft again.
Many recipes suggest that you assemble the house and then decorate. I did not work in that order. I have a dear friend who have made many gingerbread houses in her life and she advised me to decorate first and then assemble the house.
Herewith the recipe for the royal icing: (I have doubled the recipe when I made it, but I am sure that it will be enough if you make it as it appears hereunder.)
Place the whites of 2 eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until foamy. Add 400 g of confectioners’ sugar a bit at a time and whisk until it thickens. Add 10 ml of lemon juice or 5 ml cream of tartar. (I prefer to use cream of tartar) The mixture must keep its form when you lift the whisk. I added 5 ml vanilla essence (rosewater also works well).
Spoon the mixture into different bowls and add color. I used pink gel color. Cover each bowl with glad wrap until you are going to use it.
You can decorate the house in any manner you prefer. I have decided beforehand that I am not going to use sweets etc. I only decorated with royal icing and sugar decorations (pink pearls, silver balls and so forth). You can even use sugar paste (fondant). The possibilities are endless. As are the colors. My sister's eldest daughter could not understand why me and my daughter opted for pink and white. She wants it to be red and green and white, which would also look amazing.
I dreaded the assembly. Yet, here I was and it was time to assemble the house. My friend also advised me to rather use white baking chocolate to assemble the house and not royal icing because the royal icing does take a while to dry in the meantime you must hold the pieces of the house. I forgot to buy said chocolate and decided to use the royal icing, of which was left a whole lot after I decorated the house panels. It does take a while to dry. I did not have patience to hold it, so I stacked various groceries from the pantry in and around the house to keep it steady until it dried. You must wait for the walls to dry completely before you attach the roof, otherwise the whole construction will crumble. Just remember, that if you are going to use baking chocolate to buy good quality baking chocolate. And it must be baking chocolate because that turns hard when it cools down, whereas plain white chocolate would not turn hard enough to assemble the house once you have melted it.
And it was done. My very own, and very first gingerbread house! It was the most fun, easiest and most beautiful project I have ever assembled.
I had a lot of dough left over, so I rolled it out and cut small houses. I do not have a cutter but draw the figure on paper and cut it with a knife from the dough. I baked these and decorated them as little houses with the royal icing I had left over. They went straight into plastic bags and onto the Christmas tree.
Vera Nazarian wrote in her “Perpetual Calender of Inspiration” that: “The Gingerbread House has four walls, a roof, a door, a window, and a chimney. It is decorated with many sweet culinary delights on the outside. But on the inside there is nothing—only the bare gingerbread walls. It is not a real house—not until you decide to add a Gingerbread Room. That’s when the stories can move in. They will stay in residence for as long as you abstain from taking the first gingerbread bite.”
So here is my Gingerbread House. The first story has already moved in. Make you own and watch the stories move in, your children’s delighted faces and have a blessed and peaceful festive season. I would love to hear how your little fairytale house of stories turned out.