Gingerbread is a catch-all name that can mean a cake or bread, as well as the biscuits we know as gingerbread men. It’s particularly associated with Christmas – German lebkuchen, Dutch speculaas, Belgian speculoos, Norwegain pepperkaker (pepparkakor in Sweden) are all types of gingerbread that, despite being eaten year-round, are more abundant and decorative around the festive season.
The ingredients to make it are easy to come by. Once you’ve made the dough, you can be as creative as you want when cutting shapes and piping on decorations – our wreath is a fantastic way to show off your work. Originating in Germany, gingerbread houses have reached around the globe, and you can find styles of architecture from all cultures. The city of Bergen in Norway hosts a huge gingerbread town each year with more than 2,000 gingerbread buildings.
Gingerbread biscuits can be hard or soft, so if you want to make decorations, you’ll need a recipe that will set hard and be very dry. The drier the biscuit is, the longer the icing will keep its original colour and stay hard. If the biscuits are soft, the icing will start to suck up moisture and colour over time.
The gingerbread for houses needs to be hard and dry so it keeps its shape well – it’s unlikely you’ll want to eat it on the day you make it after all your hard work!
Gingerbread quantities for houses are quite large. You need a lot of mixture for four walls and a roof, so make sure you have a very large bowl to mix it in. Try our cut out template for a gingerbread house.
Cutting and shaping gingerbread
You need to cut your gingerbread shapes when they’re raw, but sometimes they spread or get misshapen when cooking. If this happens, trim your pieces back to their shapes while the gingerbread is still warm.
You can even make gingerbread Christmas decorations by pushing a straw through each biscuit shortly after they’ve come out the oven to make a hole for the ribbon.
Using up leftover dough
Store biscuits in an airtight container. Gingerbread houses will have to stay on display, so make sure you keep them somewhere dry – not near a steaming kettle, for example.
Make only as much icing as you intend to use that day. For houses, you’ll need one batch to stick the house together, and a second batch the following day to decorate and use to stick on sweets, nuts or chocolates.
For gingerbread people, you’ll probably only need one batch. Use a good-quality gel colouring for strong colours that won’t fade or dilute your icing too much – you can buy tube of gel in most large supermarkets. If you want to make flat, coloured surfaces on your biscuits, follow our video on how to flood icing.
Some icings use raw egg to make sure they set very hard. If you prefer not to use raw eggs, look for pasteurised egg white, which is available in cartons in most large supermarkets in their chilled isles. Alternatively, powdered egg white or boxes of royal icing mix containing powered egg white can be found in most large supermarkets.
To hold the roof pieces together while they dry, try propping the pieces up from underneath using food cans.
Add some light
Put an electric tea light inside the house instead of a candle, as it will glow all evening without scorching the gingerbread or melting any decorations.
Will make one batch of biscuits. For a house, triple the amounts.
- 175g dark muscovado sugar
- 85g golden syrup
- 100g slightly salted butter
- 350g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 egg, beaten
- Put the sugar, syrup and butter in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then bubble for 1-2 mins, stirring. Set aside to cool for 10 mins.
- Tip the flour, bicarb and spices into a large bowl.
- Add the syrup mixture and the egg, stir to bring everything together, then gently knead in the bowl until smooth. The dough will feel a little soft, but will firm up once cooled.
- Wrap and chill for at least 30 mins or wrap and freeze for up to three months.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and leave at room temperature until soft enough to roll.
- Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6 and line two baking trays with baking parchment.
- Working with half the dough at a time (keeping the remaining dough well wrapped or covered with a damp cloth), roll out to the thickness of a £1 coin.
- Cut out shapes, re-rolling the off-cuts if you need to.
- Arrange over the trays and bake for 8 mins until a few shades darker and puffed up a little.
- Cool on the trays for 5 mins, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Will keep, un-iced, in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
Five more gingerbread recipes to try:
Christmas gingerbread cottage
This classic gingerbread house makes a fantastic Christmas centrepiece.
Homemade gingerbread cottage
Gingerbread penguin biscuits
These cute penguins make a very cute alternative to gingerbread people.
Can’t eat dairy? Try our vegan gingerbread recipe.
Gingerbread star tree cake decoration
Make a gingerbread star tree to put on top of your Christmas cake.
Gingerbread star tree decoration
Use your favourite sweets to decorate gingerbread people.
Want to know how to make the best dough? Looking for tips to perfect your decorating? Help is at hand. Join our online masterclass – How to Make a Gingerbread House – on Friday 11 December at 4pm (GMT), to learn everything you need to know about making a magical gingerbread house.
To book your place on our How to Make a Gingerbread House costs just £14. If you book your place before the 3 December you can use the discount code EARLYBIRDIE123 and pay £12.
Once purchased, you’ll receive a link to the webinar and an email reminder the day before the class.