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House proud

Unna Burch, the Forest Cantina, shows us how to make a gingerbread house that’s good enough to eat. And our friends at L’affare have a special coffee blend that’s just perfect to sip while you devour your creation.

Unna Burch

I used to love the book Hansel and Gretel, and the idea of living in an edible house, lined with the lick-able wallpaper from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was my ultimate kid dream. And now as an adult who is 100% Christmas obsessed, I cannot believe that I have never before made a gingerbread house. I’m pretty chuffed at my first ever attempt. Let me tell you though, it was no walk in the park. I tried many different recipes and templates until I found one that worked, and even then, there were challenges. You must have patience, a knack, and a few shots of Bailey’s and milk (and maybe Mariah Carey’s Xmas album on repeat) to get the creative festive juices flowing. If you are the sort of person who just wants to get to the decorating (I bet you’re like that with cupcakes too, huh?) they sell pre-made kits at Moore Wilsons, so all you have to do is ice…ice baby.

You can copy this house, or find a design you like by searching for ‘free gingerbread house templates’ online. It makes the perfect Christmas centrepiece for your table (and it smells AMAZING!) or a wonderful homemade gift. Placing it it on a gorgeous chopping board or in a large dome cake stand so it looks like a snow globe would make this present extra-generous.

INGREDIENTS

For the dough
3 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for kneading)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
120g (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large free-range egg
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup molasses

For the caramel glue
1 cup fair trade sugar
2 teaspoons water

For the royal icing
4 free-range egg whites
4 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon lemon juice
+ 1 disposable icing bag and a number 2 (very small round) metal icing tip

To decorate
1 x large chopping board 
extra icing sugar for snow
trees, I purchased online cinnamon sticks for logs

METHOD

To make the dough
Combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder in a bowl by whisking together, then set aside. In a stand mixer (or you can mix by hand) cream the butter and the sugar. Once the mixure is fluffy and pale, add the egg and mix well. Then add the ginger, cinnamon, allspice, salt and molasses and mix well. Fold in the flour mixture bit by bit until fully incorporated. Bring together into a ball, then divide into two portions. Wrap, and chill in the fridge for one  hour. While the dough is chilling, cut out your chosen template. Mine had lots of windows, which I cut out with a craft knife.

Preheat your oven to 180C. Take a ball of dough and knead,  just adding enough extra flour bit by bit until your dough is soft but not sticky to touch. If it is too sticky it will be hard to roll and cut. You want to bake same-size shapes at the same time. I baked and cut one tray at a time, starting with the larger walls, then the smaller walls and roof pieces (individually as they were quite large), and then the smaller chimney bits and door separately. Smaller pieces take only a few minutes, larger pieces take longer to bake.

Roll dough out on a sheet of baking paper, (the paper is important for easy transfer to the tray) making the dough quite thin, about 1/2 cm. If it’s too thick, it bakes puffy. Once it’s thin I trimmed off the excess around the edges to give a large rectangle to work with. Place your template pieces on one at a time, and then cut. I used my pizza cutter to cut around the edges and a small paring knife to cut out the details like the windows. Remove and peel away excess dough from the shapes. Slide the baking paper with shapes onto a tray. Bake large pieces for 6 minutes to begin with, then rotate the tray and time for another 2–4 minutes. You want the shapes to be quite dark – almost burnt, but not quite, rather than just golden, so that they are super crisp. If not baked long enough, they will be too delicate for construction.

Cool completely on the tray before transferring to a wire rack. If some of the edges of your pieces have curled up slightly, hold them down gently with a tea-towel to flatten. Also, if you need to trim bits (e.g. if the windows aren’t quite square or edges aren’t exactly straight) after baking, trim immediately they are out of the oven. As soon as they cool trimming will become impossible. Repeat the process until your entire template is complete. Any leftover dough can be made into cookies or edible ornaments.

Lots of blog posts on making gingerbread houses recommend you dry the pieces over night before assembling to ensure they have completely hardened, but as long as they are 100% cold, it will be fine.

For the caramel glue
This is a really strong edible adhesive, and like any sugar work it can be a little temperamental. Heat sugar and water over a medium heat, and I stir with a metal spoon until it has all fully dissolved. It will cluster up and crystalize, but it does melt back down – just have patience and don’t be tempted to turn the heat up or it will burn. Any big chunks of sugar you can discard. Once the sugar has fully melted don’t stir it, just swirl the pan. Once it is a dark amber colour and completely melted, it is ready to use. Dip the ginger bread in the glue, working one side at a time, sticking it together (I did a practice run first, just holding each piece in place so I knew where it was to go, then applied the glue). You can also use a pastry brush or a spoon to apply the glue. Work quickly, as it cools and sets fast. Re-heat the caramel glue to re-soften as often as you need to.

Go over any cracks or joins with the caramel, smoothing it with the back of a teaspoon to get it nice and flat. Don’t be too worried if it’s not perfect, though, as the joins can be covered with royal icing. Once the house is assembled, set it aside while you prepare the icing.

To make the icing
In a clean bowl (has to be 100% clean, with no grease otherwise the eggs won’t whip and your icing won’t thicken) add the egg whites and beat until soft peaks form. I did this in my stand mixer with the balloon whisk. You can also do it by hand. Gradually add the sugar and then the lemon juice. Whip for 10 minutes on medium/high so it is thick and holds its shape. Put the piping tip into the bag and cut off the end off the bag to push through. Fill the bag with icing, about 2/3rds fill to begin with. I practiced my piping on some spare gingerbread before I worked on my completed house. This helps get your rhythm and flow. Pipe designs of your choice over your house or biscuits – lots of ideas on the internet.

To finish
I dusted the roof of the house with icing sugar.  Dust the board the house is going to sit on with a generous amount of icing sugar, as this is much easier to do BEFORE the house goes on. I made it thicker in the middle and thinner toward the edges for an ‘ombre’ effect. Place the house on the board. Then I put icing sugar in random clusters to look like snow drifts around the house. I added the trees, with more icing sugar clustering around their bases. I then finished the look with a cinnamon-stick woodpile at the side of the house, dusted with a little icing sugar.

Done! Hope you enjoy, and Merry Christmas xxx
Unna

To sip on the side


L’affare Summer Blend

L’affare prepped a blend fit for a classic NZ summer, and it just so happens to be a perfect accompaniment for when you start chomping on your gingerbread house. Vanilla and summer fruit aromas are followed by flavours of vanilla bean ice cream with a berry swirl. The lingering, cocoa and blackcurrant finish pairs perfectly with the obligatory festive season sweet treats.

Summer Blend is $10 for 200gms and suitable for all brewing methods. All proceeds from the sales of these bags will go to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, so basically you’re making a $10 donation to the Mental Health Foundation and receiving a free bag of coffee!

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