advent, advent village, almonds are mercurial, Christmas, cookies, Cornish church, gingerbread church, gingerbread house, gingerbread recipe, gingerbread village, how to make a gingerbread house, icing with egg white, mercurial almonds, royal icing, stained glass window cookies
In my previous post I mentioned how last year for the first time I made a gingerbread house. As a family, the thought of eating gingerbread biscuits has never been particularly appealing, but my desire to start a mini building firm with the things overrode that aversion. I set to with the construction, made a large quantity of sugar icing, and decorated it in a most authentic manner with dried fruits and sweeties. Because we ALL have glacé cherries on our walls, yes?
Trust me, when it comes to real life DIY I prefer DISE (Do It Someone Else), but I found I had more than enough stamina for the miniature sugar-based kind. The result was decidedly amateur, but seeing as how it was made with the verve of a three year old you’d expect the finished product to be reflectively childish.
And when we finally came to devouring it we all found that gingerbread is very nice, especially with the softness of a few days air-exposure and a good covering of crunchy white icing. The roof was also an interesting taste experience, as I had made a sort of brittle using mixed seeds and sugar syrup. These cut into crunchy tiles and tasted mildly healthy at the same time as being utter tooth-rot.
So this year, come November, I was already wondering how I could step up the gingerbread extravaganza …
… and then it hit me: a gingerbread village! With a house for every day of advent!! And a church!!! And lake!!!! Now that would test my builder’s mettle.
Interestingly, there is actually a village here in Cornwall called Advent, but mine was going to be a whole lot more enticing. But unlike my last creation, I wanted this one to be tasteful and at least mildly realistic, so sweets of many colours would be out, whilst elegant stained glass windows would be in, along with crisp white snowy gables, rocky outcrops, picket fencing, houses for families on differing income levels (ie: small and large ones) and a genuine Cornish church in the centre (because they all seem to look the same).
Starting on October 27th I worked with gusto. It took three days of variable effort: the first day was definitely part time, the second a casual nine-to-five, the third was an all day marathon. And I had a few issues along the way:
1) I sorely underestimated the amount of gingerbread and icing that I would need. Shopping trips and lots of extra measuring and mixing was required.
2) The sugar in my pond didn’t melt in the oven before the gingerbread border was cooked, so I had to use coloured sweets of rather un-pond like colour to create a water effect.
3) The fence posts didn’t all stick to the wire they were baked on, so extra icing on the back was needed. They still don’t stand up without a wobble.
4) Some biscuit burning occurred. Cue Trixpin sighing with resignation, too weary to fling blackened biscuit across room. More measuring and mixing.
5) Stained glass windows made of sweeties need to be removed from the baking sheet at a precise time: too early and they’re still gooey and don’t set, too late and they’re really stuck. I cracked more than a few.
Otherwise, it was all pretty good!
The completed village was just up and ready on the 1st of December but it still awaits the fairy lights (currently winging their way here via Royal Mail), so the final photos will be in my next post. Stay tuned …
Here are the gingerbread and icing recipes. Some biscuits spread just a little in cooking so trimming to straighten a few edges might be required here and there.
350g plain flour
2 tsps ground ginger
100g soft dark brown sugar
75g caster sugar
125g butter or margarine
30ml / 2tbsp golden syrup
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, ginger and sugars.
Rub in the butter/margarine until fine crumbs are formed.
Add the golden syrup and egg and bring the dough together with your hands to form a ball. It will be slightly sticky, but not too much so.
Roll out on a lightly floured surface and then cut into the required shapes. To make really simple gingerbread houses, simply cut out 6 squares of the same size using a biscuit cutter, or going around a template with a knife. These make the 4 walls and two roof panels. A window can be made in the panels with a smaller cutter, and part of a boiled sweet can be put in the gap before baking. This will melt to form a the glass.
Place on a well greased baking tray, leaving a little space between each biscuit. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly golden. Cool for a few minutes on the tray before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Stained glass window biscuits may need to longer to cool so the glass can set.
For the Royal Icing
240g icing sugar
1 egg white
Use a fork to blend the two ingredients together in a large bowl. The consistency should be fairly runny (but not sloppy) and it shouldn’t be too firm either. You can add a little extra water if it’s not piping easily enough.
It should be more like this:
… and less like this:
Pipe the decoration on the biscuits before assembling. It’s easier!