A gingerbread house is something that didn’t seem to exist when I was a child in England. Then as an expat, we lived in countries that either didn’t celebrate Christmas or where gingerbread houses were just something you saw in shop displays. I remember seeing an amazing gingerbread village in the Kempinski hotel in the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, I was fascinated by all the details.
But I still hadn’t made one myself. I know that back home you can buy kits to build a gingerbread house, but I’d never seen one on the island. That’s how at the age of 50 I’ve just made and decorated my first gingerbread house. I spent lots of time online, particularly on Pinterest looking at so many pictures of amazing gingerbread houses that I nearly dropped out before I’d started.
Though the whole task worked out easier in the end, it did take a lot longer than I thought it would. First I needed a design a template to cut out the gingerbread house, find a gingerbread recipe that fitted the ingredients we had available. The mix for a gingerbread house is slightly different than for biscuits. You don’t need the rise or spread so there’s no raising agent, which also means that the gingerbread house is stronger. Then I had to learn how to make and pipe royal icing something I also hadn’t done, finally, I needed to source and find decorations.
The first bake was done and as happens at this time of year the construction of the gingerbread house was delayed by different Christmas events. Then it was sabotaged by a cat. Chui jumped up onto the kitchen side and knocked the whole thing onto the kitchen floor. Where Apollo (German Shepherd) and Alsan (ginger cat no1) set about eating parts of the gingerbread house.
The second bake of the gingerbread house went a lot quicker than the first and I’d already learnt that it didn’t matter too much about chilling the biscuit before rolling it and cutting it so long as it was chilled for at least half an hour before baking. The whole thing was then left this time secure in an airtight container until I had time to ice it together.
I don’t have any baking gadgets, all my cakes and bakes are made by hand. I think that’s one of the reasons I’d been put off making royal icing as I’d always seen in made in a mixer. Google came to the rescue once more and I found a very simple method using a spatula. You just take your time and add a little icing sugar at time sieved into your egg whites.
All the advice I’d read said that the decoration of the gingerbread house sides and the roof was best done before putting it together. This worked well, working on a flat surface is much easier. Though I was also busy making jams and things for the craft bazaars so this took a couple evenings. There was one other small accident when I picked up a piece and the corner snapped off by the door but that was soon glued back with royal icing.
Finally, it came to glueing the gingerbread house together with the royal icing. Using tins to prop things up as I went along I started with 2 sides, let them set and then moved on to another piece. In one evening the whole house was constructed and fun part of decorating could begin.
To sourced the sweets to decorate the gingerbread house from different places. One thing about living on this Greek island is that you can never buy everything you need in one supermarket or grocery store. I picked up pretzel sticks, icing sugar and eggs in the village shop. I won a raffle prize at one of the craft bazaars which included a lovely box of sweets from The Candy Cart Shop in Kremasti on the island. Then I got a few bags of British children sweets from the British shop in Faliraki.
A few people gave advice on which sweets would be best including chocolate flakes and smarties, though if not needed you do get to enjoy eating them while working out what to decorate next. Dolly mixtures made great bricks for the gingerbread house step and lights for the gate made of pretzels. The majority of it is simply gingerbread and royal icing.
We’ve had a really wet and rainy few weeks here and soon as the gingerbread house was erected it began to deteriorate. The damp weather means that the gingerbread began to soften and the intricate icing was starting to fall off after a day especially if touched at all. 3 days later and it’s all still standing. Hopefully, it will hold up until Christmas day. Some advice online says you should cover the gingerbread house in cling film overnight to keep it dry but we live in a very damp area so I know there’s not much point.
I enjoyed making it and will definitely be doing it again next year. Next time I’ll source a better base to put it on, the green plastic tray is practical not the prettiest. Maybe next Christmas I’ll try and make something a little different in shape out of gingerbread.
Christmas on this Greek island is very different to back home, less commercial. The decorations in the villages are smaller and go up a little later. Each village has a nativity and activities surrounding it. Her in Pylona there’s food, drinks and crafts to buy to support the village on the evenings leading up to Christmas and then on Christmas morning after the church service there will be mulled wine and nibbles and the nativity may have an added live donkey, young goat and lamb added to the display as they have in previous years. Most of the village will turn out to wish each other happy Christmas or Καλά Χριστούγεννα (Kalά Christούgenna).
This Saturday I’m taking my jams and chutneys to another craft bazaar in the Old Town and with just a few days to go we’ll also check out the Christmas things in town though I don’t think we’ll have any snow on Rhodes before Christamas. There’s a small Christmas market and the lights to see. Then on Sunday, there’s Elpida’s Christmas party at the ranch. I’ll be popping into the village bakery to get some Greek Christmas biscuits on Christmas Eve. Christmas day this year will be a quiet one at home just the two of us, something that we haven’t ever done. We’ve always either gone out or had lots of people around. I’m looking forward to the quiet day.
The gingerbread house template I found on Rice and Flour, she’s also got a great video on how to make a gingerbread house. Here’s her template…
Gingerbread house template
Gingerbread house recipe
- 145g corn syrup (honey or golden syrup)
- 100g brown sugar (packed)
- 160g butter
- 420g plain flour
- 2 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1 large egg white
- 180 – 200g icing sugar (varies depending on the size of your egg white)
- 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
- food colouring (if using liquid as I did you will need to add more icing sugar)
- Melt the butter over a low heat, add the sugar and mix until dissolved. Removed from the heat and add the syrup.
- In another bowl mix all the dry ingredients, then add the slightly cooled batter and mix until it forms a dough. If it’s too wet add a little more flour and if too dry add a little syrup.
- At this stage you can also colour the gingerbread dough if you want to.
- Roll out the dough in batches between 2 sheets of greeseproof paper and place in the fridge for 1/2 an hour.
- Then cut out your pieces using the template. I made mine out of cardboard, make sure you put a little flour on the templates to stop them from sticking. Make cuts around the doors and windows but leave in place. Pull away the extra dough and then place on baking sheets and return to the fridge for 10 minutes.
- Bake at 180c until the edges begin to brown, the timing will be different of different size pieces. Try and bake all the same size on a baking tray to make it easier.
- Allow to cool slightly before transfering to a cooling rack. Cool for several hours before icing.
- Ice the decorations on the sides and roof while flat.
- Have fun!
Have you ever made a gingerbread house? What advice would you give someone making one? How will you be spending Christmas this year? If you enjoyed this and found it useful please comment and share. Thank you