December Digest - Gingerbread House

December Digest - Gingerbread House

Harajuku Gingerbread House

Each year the pressure mounts. What will I bake for my children's birthdays and what will the theme of my annual gingerbread house be? This year I took inspiration from some of our family travels. We visited Japan over Easter and Amsterdam in October. 
In both places we sourced sweets from different shops and markets and these informed the colour choices. We fell in love with Japan and the Harajuku area of Tokyo is a riot of colour. The famous rainbow coloured candy floss got me thinking. Then in Amsterdam, the tall elegant canal houses inspired me to bake taller thinner panels to replicate their beautiful architecture. And our Harajuku Canal House was born.

Baking gingerbread houses is a tradition for me and my family. In Germany it's known as a Knusper Haus - the sweet covered house featured in the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. And it's something I've done with my German family since I was a child. Then, we used to buy one from the local bakery and add extra sweets but since having children I started making my own. And each year they keep getting bigger and better. And the best thing of all is we get to eat every last bit!

Gingerbread house recipe
115g butter
200g light brown muscovado sugar
115ml golden syrup
115ml honey
115ml treacle
750g plain flour 
1 tbsp finely chopped preserved ginger
3 tbsp ginger powder
1 tsp ginger syrup from the ginger
2 tbsp cinnamon 
1 tsp salt
100ml water
Heat oven to 160c/325f
In a mixer cream the butter and sugar then add the different syrups, spices and salt. Once combined add the flour and water, alternating between them. The dough should be stiff enough for rolling. I like to roll my dough between one sheet of baking parchment and clingfilm. This stops the dough sticking to the rolling pin.
Roll your dough out to 10mm thickness. And place in the fridge. Leave for 30 mins. Then use a pizza cutter to cut around the templates. This will stop the dough from pulling out of shape. Place back in the fridge for half an hour before baking.
Put on a baking tray and bake for around 35-40 minutes depending on how big the pieces are. Once they come out of the oven, dust the surface with flour, place the template over the top and re cut your shapes, as they will have spread a little in the baking

Icing for decoration
250g Icing sugar
10g powdered egg white
35ml Water 
I often like to colour my panels of gingerbread. Its an extra step that's not really necessary. But for this house I wanted the background to be rainbow hued too. So I made up different coloured batches of icing sugar. Firstly I iced a line around the edge of each panel, this way the flood icing wouldn't run over the edges. For the flooding I watered down my icing sugar more until it was the consistency of single cream and placed in little bottles, this made creating the stripes easier. I then used a tooth pick to drag through each layer of icing, creating a feathered effect. Just make sure to clean the tip of your toothpick before the next layer.
Use the icing sugar to stick your sweets onto the gingerbread. You can put it in an icing bag, which makes the positioning of the mixture a little neater. Once Ive stuck down my sweets I then use the rest of the icing to decorate the edges once assembled. I place mine in an icing bag using a star shaped nozzle. And I ice over the joins, creating icicles along the edges to disguise any joins. Once the icing has dried on the roof joints I can tie my bows. I like to use wither velvet or ribbon with a wire edge. This gives my bows structure.

Now its time to stick your sweets on. I like to lay my sweets onto each piece before sticking, that way I can make sure I have enough of the same sweet to create a pattern and I can try different designs out before committing to one.

Top Tips
* Make sure to cool the dough for half an hour before cutting. This will make the pieces easier to cut. 
* Make sure to cut out each piece on baking parchment. This means you won’t have to lift each piece once cut, distorting the shape. Dust your dough surface with flour so that when you lay your template on it doesn’t stick. 
* Cut your pieces with a pizza cutter. Better than a knife as it won’t drag your dough and distort the shape 
* When your pieces come out of the oven they will be warm. Lay your template over the top and re-cut using the pizza cutter. Gingerbread always spreads. This way your pieces will line up and be easier to assemble. It’s at this point that I cut out the holes in my roof sections ready to thread through later with ribbon. 
* Stick your sweets on before you assemble your house. This way they won’t slide off. 
* You can use royal Icing (this is icing sugar with egg white. It dries really hard and is great for construction) to stick your house together. If so, use tins and boxes to keep them propped up until your house dries. I like to use caramel as it sticks instantly. However it can be hot to handle. And once you place you piece together there’s no changing it

Caramel (for sticking your house together) 
200g white caster sugar
60ml water
1/8 teaspoons cream of tartar or 2 teaspoons lemon juice 
I like to use a wide saucepan to make my caramel. This way I can dip each side into the pan and assemble immediately 
Place sugar, water and cream of tartar/lemon juice into the saucepan. Don’t touch. Don’t stir. Or the mixture will crystallise.  Place over a medium high heat. Once the sugar stars to brown turn onto a low heat.  At this point swirl the pan rather than using a spoon to stir. 
When the mixture comes to the boil, reduce the heat and watch the caramel brown. Watch for dark streaks. If so remove from the heat. The syrup will continue to cook even when taken off the heat. Aim for a medium amber colour. 
Take your decorated pieces, make sure you know which side your are dipping and place on your board or plate. I often like to mark out the position on the board with a dab of icing sugar. So that when it comes to placing the piece down I know exactly where it should be. I like to start with one of the sides and build out from there. Assemble the sides and then the roof. I assemble one side of the roof. Then thread through the ribbon on one side. Then I bring over the second roof section, thread through the ribbon first. (but not tying in bows) and then stick down the second roof section. By this time you won't be able to dip the roof in your pan, so using a spoon I drizzle the caramel over the sides and then hold in place, being careful not to stick the ribbons down too

When it comes to giving the finishing touches, nothing beats a good swirl of icing sugar to conceal all your joins, I tend to use one star nozzle, it works brilliantly for creating star edges as well as swirls

I tie the ribbons at the very end, once the icing has had time to dry a little. If there's room, we love to add sprinkled pathways and iced Christmas trees to set the scene.
Enjoy making your houses

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