I have always wanted to make a gingerbread house. It's Domestic Goddess baking, Blue Peter model house making and Grand Designs Goes Hansel & Gretel all rolled into one!
I don't know why I've never done it before other than that I found it too daunting, I guess.
A few days ahead of time, Pete helped me mix together and roll out the dough and I carefully cut out my wall and roof slabs, cutting simple door and windows and scalloped roof edges. Pete kindly baked my slabs whilst I was out gallivanting at The Chocolate Festival and Bar Boulud. I was really pleased with the careful shaping, even thickness and pretty colour.
On Sunday at noon I took my place in Lex and Johanna's open plan kitchen diner and, after being welcomed with mugs of delicious hot soup, we got to work. Somehow, in transporting my slabs, one of them had cracked, so my first act was to affect a sugar-cement fix, embedding pieces of wooden skewers into the icing on the back of the slab. I left that piece to dry and started assembling the rest of my house. I was soon slathering sugar-cement all over the place (myself included) and raising the walls. To my delight, the fix held and all four walls were eventually up.
My first roof slab went on well and I was feeling happy.
And then disaster stuck.
I pressed down a little too firmly when pushing the second roof slab onto the sugar-cemented gables and it snapped vertically down the middle. Aaaaaargh! Disappointed with myself, I tried another fix job with more skewers and icing and left it to dry on the windowsill.
We paused our efforts for a fantastic starter of cured salmon with toasts and salad (with fresh leaves and herbs and a really special maple syrup dressing) followed by a selection of mains including roast lamb, honey glazed ham and an array of salads and vegetables.
When the sweets came out I was excited but had absolutely no design ideas or thoughts on where to start. I began with the (unbroken) roof slab and affixed stripes of chocolate fingers, sherbet chewy straws, jelly tots and smarties. I quickly realised I had no unified theme in mind and my first efforts weren't too pretty so I randomly decorated the various walls in completely different and un-matching styles!
The first time I tested my broken roof panel, it quickly sagged along the break again. And the same the second time. I was starting to think I'd have to take my house home in pieces and fix it at home.
Finally, I slathered an absolute tonne of sugar-cement on the top surface and used long strawberry chews to hold it together along it's width. And after I let that dry a while again, I used three skewers laid across from gable to gable to take the slab's weight before (carefully) pushing it into place.
Inspired by another participant's Chapel Of Love, I adorned the entrance side of the house with a simple K *heart* P. The snowman was added later, inspired by a similar one by yet another participant (though his original had a lovely smile and three buttons down his belly).
Delighted as I originally was about how neat and well-shaped my slabs were, my finished house, I freely admit, is ugly as hell. But I had such great fun making it (breakages and all) that I don't mind at all. And once Lex had wrapped it all up in cellophane tied with ribbons, even mine looked a little more glamorous!
During the decorating, we were treated to mulled wine sorbets and later, a truly marvellous home-made Christmas pudding with nutmeg custard. The flames when it was doused in rum and set alight burned tall, fierce and long! And it was really delicious.
As well as my house I made a gingerbread man and a gingerbread woman.
Unhappy with the shapes of the cookie cutters I had been able to find in the shops (all of which seem to have amputated legs) I searched for some images I liked online, adapted them to create my own paper templates and carefully cut mine out by hand. Yes, it took me a while!
I decorated them very simply and quickly, after finishing my house. I think they came out rather better!
I had such a lot of fun (and was really inspired by some of the more elegantly decorated houses that some of the other participants created) that I'm determined to try again, perhaps scaling down the size and coming up with a design in advance.
Click here to see Lex' recipe, templates and guidelines to create your own gingerbread house.
Thanks, Lex and Johanna, for a really fun afternoon and delicious meal. You are both wonderful hosts!