As Christmas is fast approaching I can finally share with you our biggest Christmas bake yet. Baking gingerbread is one of our favourite festive traditions as a couple. Sitting in a cozy living room, surrounded by candles, icing biscuits is the loveliest thing to do when it's cold outside. We took on this challenge last year and missed the opportunity to post a 'how to' for you, as we'd already fallen into the new year. A year later, here is our guide to making a beautiful gingerbread townhouse.
We started by working out how big we wanted our bake to be. I had seen lots of amazing inspo pictures on Pinterest and new that I wanted to go big! My other half is an absolute wonder and is the maths mind behind all of our more complicated creations. He returned a while later with plans that brought my idea to life, including how to make the ambitious bay window section actually stand. He has made a printable template for you to use for your own gingerbread townhouse, which you can download here.
To make the gingerbread dough we use this trusty Mary Berry recipe. This always makes so much more than you will need so be prepared for leftovers. The extra dough is actually really handy, as you will almost definitely have to remake a piece or two...or more. This saves so much time when constructing as you don't have to jump all the way back to stage one and bake more.
Roll out your dough in batches, lay your paper templates over the top and cut out all of the required shapes. We find it best to cut out the shapes on sheets of greaseproof paper so you can easily slide them onto baking trays. This means they don't get moved around and misshapen. Don't forget to cut out spaces for windows and doors.
Bake each batch for 7-8 minutes. Reduce the cooking time for smaller pieces so they don't burn. In the meantime, crush your boiled sweets using a pestle and mortar...or creativity and any pent up aggression. We used glacier mints to make clear windows but you can use any colours you can find.
Remove the gingerbread from the oven and neaten any of the window cutouts. Then, fill each space with the crushed boiled sweets and pop back in the oven for a further 3-4 minutes, or until the boiled sweets have melted down to fill the spaces.
While the gingerbread is still warm, check the shapes with the template and trim off any excess. It's important to make sure that all the pieces are accurate now so that it all fits together later on.
Top Tip: To use the leftover dough, we cut out a tonne of biscuits to ice and gift to our family and friends every year.
Once all of your pieces are baked, leave to cool and harden. It really helps to lay all of the pieces out together, marking which part is which so that nothing is forgotten in all the madness.
When you're ready to start assembling, make up a large batch of royal icing. We use the same Mary Berry recipe for the royal icing and you can always make more if needed.
Top Tip: If you find that your icing is too stiff to pipe, add a little more lemon juice to loosen it. This can also help combat the sweetness.
Decant your icing into two piping bags. You will need one with a larger nozzle for assembly and another with a smaller nozzle for decorating. We did things a little differently this year, in terms of decorating, as I wanted the piping to be more detailed. I decorated each side of the house while flat on the table and we attached them afterwards. If you decorate after assembling your house, it can be hard to get the icing to stay put as gravity tends to make it drop down, making the whole process rather messy.
I really recommend having some edible glue on hand as some of the piped decorations fell off as we put the walls together. Some of the window piping came off as a whole piece so being able to stick it back on with edible glue and extra icing saved some redecorating time. It can also be used to salvage any window breakages!
For the additions to the roof panels, we assembled them on their own before attaching them. This ensures they are fully set and stable.
For the bay window section of the house, we joined each panel and rested it on a curved support to set. The little supporting levels are vital for the structure of this section. They help to hold it all together whilst setting and strengthen it when the house is all assembled.
For the layered doors, we made the doors bigger than the doorways and stuck them behind the space. This adds depth whilst also helping to strengthen one of the otherwise weakest points.
Top Tip: Use spare gingerbread biscuits to prop up your panels to make them flat (useful when sticking the doors on). They are perfect for this as they are the same thickness as what you are working on.
The reason I suggest making a large batch of royal icing is so that you don't have to scrimp when holding the sides of the house together. We recommend piping lots into the inside corners of the house to strengthen the structure, but this does mean a longer setting time. It helps to prop the sides against something to hold it secure while the icing sets, or find a willing helper to hold everything together while you put your feet up.
After making sure the house was definitely steady, we left it to set further overnight. We didn't want to risk adding the roof if there was any chance it might fall under the extra weight. This is also a great opportunity to add in some little string lights. We used some battery wire lights, which were perfect for this as the wire holds itself up towards the roof, ensuring all the windows are lit up. We strung the battery pack out the back of the house for easy access.
Move the house onto a large serving plate or board and secure the base with more icing. Once set, attach the roof panels using lots of icing along each join and hold steady until it has fully set. At this stage, you can of course be all extra and add snow and scenery around the house, but we were a bit worn out by this point! Finally, switch on the string lights and admire your work...
...and if you're like us, spend the entire next day icing a million more biscuits!
We took this along to two Christmas family get-togethers (I am still amazed that it survived the journeys) and it went down so well. On the second visit we let the little ones demolish it and share it around the guests. This was a tad hard to watch but it was lovely to see how excited they were that they were actually allowed to touch it, let alone eat it.
This bake is definitely not a quick, easy one and I don't think we'll be making the same again this year. So if you don't fancy making a full house, simply use the same recipe to bake biscuits instead. You can even punch little holes in the top of each biscuit to make hanging tree decorations. Baking and icing gingerbread is a great activity to do with your kids or with friends and a glass of wine! Whatever you feel like making, enjoy your cozy winter baking and have a fantastic Christmas.