This gingerbread house is not for the faint-hearted, but wonderful to have a go at. Even if it isn't a total success, disasters are usually more memorable! If you have bought a Dinner Ladies gingerbread kit, ignore the parts of the recipe for making dough and icing.
Preparation time: Allow at least three hours, and if you are making lattice windows you'll need to begin a day ahead. Constructing the house a day ahead of decorating is also a safer way to tackle the job - it means your base will be completely sturdy when you are decorating. You'll need to leave at least a couple of hours for the door piece to harden after icing it, before assembling the house.
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Make ahead: This gingerbread house can be made up to two weeks before Christmas. You can prepare the components (the gingerbread roof and walls, and the Royal icing) up to a week ahead of assembling it - or of course, you can buy the Dinner Ladies gingerbread kit!
You can make the windows of this house one of two ways: with white latticed windows, or with sugar window panes. If you live in a semi-tropical region (Sydney and north) don't try to make the sugar windows. The humidity will melt them within a day or two. If you live south of Sydney or west of the Great Dividing Range, you can make either type of window.
350g plain flour
Half a teaspoon bicarb of soda
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
130g butter, cut into cubes
150g caster sugar
1 tablespoons golden syrup
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
500g pure icing sugar (MUST be pure - not icing mixture)
Clear boiled sweets (for the sugar windows - barley sugars are good)
As many Kinder eggs or Yowies as you have children (you won't fit more than 12 in this house)
Dolly mix (mini mixed sweets, available from specialist lolly shops - substitute any small colourful lollies)
White melts, white chocolate buds or Freckles (for the roof tiles - whichever you prefer)
Flake chocolate bar
Mini liquorice allsorts
One packet white fondant icing
Caster sugar and icing sugar to strew on the finished house
Edible silver balls
Any other decorations that take your fancy - there are many in the supermarket these days
Start by preparing the template for you house. You can either download this document which contains a printable pattern, or make one up yourself using an old cornflakes box. For the roof, cut a rectangle 21x10cm. For the front and back of the house, cut a rectangle 19x10cm. For the sides of the house, draw a rectangle 12 wide by 10cm high. To the top of this shape, add a gable which measures 6cm from the roof line to the central point. Cut out a 5x3cm rectangle for the door, a 3x3cm square for the front windows, and a 4x3cm rectangle for the side and back windows.
Now make your royal icing. Mix together the egg whites and pure icing sugar using a hand held beater. You want to end up with a good stiff cement-like consistency, but not so thick that it is hard to get through a piping bag. If you don't get it quite right, it's fine, you can add more icing sugar to thicken, or lemon juice to thin it out, at any time. Store it in an airtight container, covered in the fridge, for up to a week.
If you are making the lattice windows, make them now. You'll need to make them a day ahead of assembling the house. On a sheet of baking paper, draw out your window shapes. Put some of your royal icing into a piping bag with a fine nozzle. Pipe a lattice pattern over your window shape, with four lines going one way, and four the other, making sure that you make the whole pattern at least half a centimetre larger than the window shape. Set aside in a cool, dry place to harden overnight.
The next day, make your gingerbread dough. Put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend till it starts to come together. Turn out into a bowl and bring it into a lump with your hands. If it is a little dry, you can add a little milk, but be careful - the dough should be reasonably stiff. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 150 degrees. Roll out sections of gingerbread dough to half/three quarter centimetre thick. You'll find this easier if you do it between two sheets of baking paper. Peel off the top layer of baking paper, and cut out 2 roof sections, 2 side walls and the front and back of the house. Cut out the window and door apertures from each section. Leave all the sections on the bottom layer of baking paper - it makes them easier to handle. Roll the cut out door piece a little thinner, so that it is bigger than the aperture it came from.
On a flat baking tray lined with a fresh sheet of baking paper, cook the roof sections and door first, for around 15 minutes or until starting to darken around the edges. Ovens are variable, so it may need a little more or less - start to check it at around 12 minutes. Set aside to cool when it is done.
To make the lattice windows version, cook the front, back and sides for 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
To make the sugar pane windows, bash up the barley sugars in a mortar and pestle till fine. Cook the front and sides of the house for 7 minutes, then take them out of the oven and carefully put a teaspoon of the crushed barley sugar into each aperture. Return the house sides to the oven, and cook for another 7 minutes till the edges are starting to darken and the sugar has melted to form window panes. Start checking it before the end to make sure nothing is burning. Set aside to cool on the same tray - don't try and move them till they have completely cooled.
Take a little of your icing and thin it a little with a drop of lemon juice. Either leave it white, or add little food colouring, then use it to ice the door piece. Set this aside to harden for a couple of hours before assembling your house.
If you are making the lattice windowed version, you need to stick the lattice pieces onto your window apertures. The outside of your house is the top baked side, so turn the front, back and sides of your house over to expose their undersides. Fill your piping bag with the royal icing, then using a fine nozzle, pipe a line around the back of each window, then secure the lattice work in place. Do this for all the windows.
Now, using the same technique, stick your door in place, from the back of the house front.
Now it is time to assemble the house. Take a large board or flat platter of at least 30x30cm. Using a large nozzle on your piping bag, pipe out a rectangle of 13x19cm towards the back of the board (you want to leave room for your front garden). This will be the foundations of your house. Check that your pieces are going to fit on the lines you have piped, adding another line of icing if necessary.
You'll need a second pair of hands for the next part. Pipe lines of icing on the inside edges of the front and back of the house, then get someone else to hold the two sides of the house in place, on the base line of icing, while you put the front and the back of the house in place.
Make sure it is nice and sturdy, cementing with extra icing if it needs it. Put the Kinder eggs inside the house. Then pipe icing all around the top of the walls, and along the top line of one of the roof pieces, before sticking the roof in place. If your house feels tremendously solid, you can proceed straight to decorating - however it might be a good idea to leave the house overnight at this stage, just to make sure that nothing goes wrong, especially if you are attempting this with small helpers. Just make sure that your icing is kept airtight and in the fridge. You don't need to empty out your piping bag - just wrap it up in a plastic bag and refrigerate.
Tadah! The tricky part is now done, and the fun part begins. You can come up with whatever ideas you want to to decorate your house, but here's how we do it:
Put the fine nozzle back on your piping bag. Cut out a little piece of liquorice, or a mini M&M and ice it in place to make a door knob.
Cover the joins of the house with a line of dolly mix or other small sweets, using the royal icing to stick them in place. If you can't find dolly mix, cut up jubes or other sweets into quarters and use these. Cut up slivers of mint leaves, and ice them in place along the bottom edges of the house to resemble grass.
Now make window boxes. Cut musk sticks to the width of the windows, cut a flat edge off the back of them. Thin down a little of the royal icing, colour it green, and use it to ice the top of your window boxes. Strew it with some chopped up brightly coloured sweets and ice them onto the top of the green icing to resemble flowers in the window boxes. Ice the window boxes in place using your stiff white icing - don't ice them in place with the thinner green icing, as they may droop down.
Now for the roof. Use your piping bag to ice lines on the roof, and using either Freckles, white melts, or milk chocolate buds, cover the roof with them to resemble roof tiles. You could put some silver balls, or other decorations, in between the tiles if you would like.
Now to decorate the garden - cut your Flake bar into short lengths to resemble logs, and pile them up underneath the windows at the side of the house.
Cut the mini marshmallows in half horizontally and, placing them sticky side down, create a path to the door.
Now make a snowman with white fondant icing. Roll two balls, one small for the head and one large for the body, and place them on top of each other. Use cut up pieces of the liquorice strap to make eyes, buttons, a top hat, and for arms. Use a little bit of orange liquorice allsort, moulded to a point, to make a carrot-like nose.
Now for the Christmas tree. Using whole mint leaves at the bottom, stick them in place in a circle using some of your royal icing at the centre to secure. Work your way up, trimming the mint leaves to become smaller with each layer till you get to the top. Ice a small yellow sweet at the top for the star, then ice silver balls and mini M&Ms all over the tree for baubles. Thin down and colour a little of the royal icing yellow, then ice in lines around the tree to resemble tinsel. A zip lock bag, with a tiny hole cut out of the corner, makes a good makeshift piping bag. Strew mini liquorice all sorts around the bottom of the tree to resemble presents - cut large ones into quarters if you can't find mini ones.
Use any remaining sweets that you have to make any other little bushes or flowers that you would like to. Make flowers by icing a short length of musk stick to the ground, then with a blob of icing on the top, ice sweets on top to resemble flowers.
Use liquorice allsorts to make a chimney.
Finally, make some icicles dripping off the edges of the roof. Thin down some of your royal icing, using lemon juice, till it it nice and droopy. Using the finest nozzle on your piping bag, go round the house, creating icicles all the way round.
Finally, using a metal sieve, strew the whole house with caster sugar. Once you have a good layer of caster sugar to resemble snowfall, strew the whole house with a layer of icing sugar to add texture to your snow.
Congratulations. Admire your handiwork. Merry Christmas!