Special equipment: Special equipment: Piping bag, nozzles, and tips
Our boys love it when it is time to make a gingerbread house at Christmas; they normally start asking for it at the end of November! You need to put aside a couple of hours, but it is great fun for the whole family - you can get very creative and as tasteful or as tacky as you wish. This recipe can also be used for making gingerbread people.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C/Gas mark 4. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter together with the golden syrup or treacle, caster sugar, and brown sugar.
Sift the flour, ground ginger, bicarbonate of soda, and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add the melted butter-sugar mixture and mix together. Knead the mixture for a few seconds until it comes together, adding a teaspoon or so of water if necessary, but without allowing it to get too wet. Flatten the dough slightly into a round, about 3/4-inch/2cm thick, wrap with cling film/plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
To make the gingerbread boys and girls: Remove the dough from the refrigerator, dust the work surface with flour and roll all of the dough out to about 1/4-inch/5 mm thick. Cut out the girl and boy shapes using boy/girl cutters, transfer onto the baking trays and cook in the oven for 12 minutes, until they are slightly firm, a little darker at the edges and slightly drier on top. Allow the shapes to firm up for a few minutes, then place them on a wire rack to cool. When they have cooled, they can be iced, if you wish.
To make the icing: Sift the icing sugar (confectioners') into a bowl and add the water. Beat until the icing comes together, adding a little more water, if necessary. Cook's Note: Be careful not to add too much water or the icing will be too runny.
Using a small palette knife or the back of a spoon dipped into boiling water (to make the icing easier to spread), spread the icing over the cooled gingerbread boys and girls. If you wish to pipe on the details, such as faces and hair, spoon the icing into a small piping bag with just the smallest corner cut off. While the icing is still slightly 'unset' on the biscuits, arrange the silver balls or whatever decorations you are using, then set aside for the icing to set.
To make the gingerbread house: First make templates in paper to the measurements/dimensions given below. These are handy not just for now, but for when the dough is cooked and you need to trim the walls and roof, to ensure all the edges are straight.
Place a sheet of parchment paper on the work surface, dust with flour and roll out about 1/4 of the dough to 1/4-inch/5 mm thick. Place one of the paper templates on the dough and cut round with a sharp knife, then slide the dough, still on its parchment paper, onto a baking tray. Repeat with the remaining dough, re-rolling the trimmings, until you have a front and back wall, 2 side walls and 2 roof panels. Re-roll any leftover dough to make into Christmas trees or boys and girls - there should be enough for 6 to 8. Carefully trim the excess paper from around each piece on the baking trays.
Bake all the sections in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until slightly firmed and just a little darker at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes on the baking trays to firm up. One by one, lift the pieces, still on the paper, and trim around the template to give clean, sharp edges. To make an open door for the house, cut one out of the front wall and cut out windows, if you wish. Place on a wire rack for a few minutes, then turn over and peel off the trimmed paper. Leave all the pieces to cool completely.
Meanwhile, prepare a board for the house to sit on. I like to use a large wooden chopping board, which can be covered with tin foil, if you choose.
To make the icing 'glue' for the house: Place the egg whites in a large bowl, sift in the icing sugar, then stir to make a thick, smooth icing. Spoon into a piping bag with a small, star-shaped nozzle.
To assemble the house: Pipe generous lengths of icing along the vertical wall edges, one by one, to join the walls together. Using a bowl or some other object or objects to support the walls from the inside, hold the walls gently in place with your hands until the icing is dry. Leave the roofless house to dry for at least 30 minutes until the icing is firmly set.
Once dry, remove the supports and pipe a thick line of icing along 1 long side of a roof piece and along the top edge of all the walls. Stick the 2 roof sections together at an angle and set the 2 pieces on top of the house. You can arrange the roof so that there is a slight overhang on either side of the house. Hold the roof gently in place for a few minutes until it dries, then leave it to dry for a further 30 minutes.
While the roof is drying, attach the door to the doorway - so that it looks slightly ajar - by running a line of icing glue down 1 side and along the base. Stick a small piece of a Flake bar onto the roof as a chimney.
Using the icing as glue, pipe around the windows, and stick sweets around the door and on the front of the house. To make snow on the roof and icicles hanging from it, start with the nozzle at a 90-degree angle to the roof and squeeze out a pea-size blob of icing. Keeping the pressure on, pull the nozzle down and then pull away, leaving a pointy trail of icing. Repeat all around the edge of the roof.
Using the icing as glue, stick milk chocolate and sugared buttons onto the roof for the tiles. Glue the gingerbread trees or boys and girls around the house, then scatter the board with sugar strands.
Front and back: 2 (5 by 7-inches/12.7 by 17.7 cm)
Roof: 2 (3 by 7-inches/7.6 by 17.7 cm)
Sides: 2 (5 by 6-inches/12.7 by 15.2 cm)
The gingerbread house will stay fresh for a week, although, after all the work putting it together and icing it, the temptation is to keep it for the few weeks over Christmas, by which time it will be quite stale and not so good to eat!
Recipe courtesy of Rachel Allen