I shy away from hobbies requiring a lot of paraphernalia. It hasn’t always been this way. In the past I started any new hobby with great gusto and commitment. Hence, a cupboard in our bedroom holds all manner of skeletons from crafts-past, including:
- Pens and nibs and ink for 19th Century style calligraphy
- Riding boots and a horse whip
- Ski goggles, jacket and strange strip things with velcro that hold skis together when you carry them
- Bobbins, zips and pins from my sewing lessons
- Thick cotton and fat needles for cross stitch
- A flower pressing kit from around 1988
- Paper making machine thingy, unused
- Boxing gloves and related boxing style gym kit (!)
- Stuffing, patterns, eyes and felt for soft toy making
So there it is. I’ve admitted it. The only ‘craft’ I’ve ever stuck at is baking. Now, regular baking needs little more than some tins and elbow grease, if we’re really going back to basics that is. Sugarcraft, well, sugarcraft is a crazy, crazy world. The amount of kit required both amazes and bugs me.
This cake is therefore a two fingers up to all those cakes that require cake smoothers and special implements and revolving cake stands. All you need are a few bits and bobs from the kitchen and my template (Download PDF House template here). Not even a smoother! We’re going to cover up the sides with biscuits to hide any lines and other imperfections. It’s also an alternative Christmas cake for those who aren’t so keen on dried fruit. Controversial I know. Who knew baking could get this revolutionary?
Please note: This cake is best eaten between one and three days after making. You need to give it 24 hrs for the jam to melt into the sponge slightly. Beware, the windows start to soften after a day or so, not that anyone ever eats them anyway. The maple gingerbread is pretty hard so be careful with any false teeth or little ones munching on it. I break into little bits for my boys. And lastly, I know fondant is a pain to work with but believe me, the alternative of making and using royal icing is just as difficult. I didn’t say it was going to be easy. The cottage may well fall apart on you as you’re making it. Just smile sweetly, take another glug of wine and start again.
For the cake, two lots of:
- 110g self-raising flour (so 220g altogether)
- 1 tsp ground ginger (2 tsp altogether)
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (1 tsp altogether)
- 110g Stork marg (220g altogether)
- 110g caster sugar (220g altogether)
- 2 large eggs (4 altogether)
- 1 blob of finely chopped stem ginger (2 blobs altogether)
- 2 tbsp semi skimmed milk (4 tbsp altogether)
For the filling:
- 200g cherry jam
For the icing:
- 75g sieved cherry jam
- 500g marzipan – there may well be leftovers from this, I suggest rolling up balls of the stuff and throwing into a fruit cake recipe. Yum.
- 750g white fondant icing
For the maple gingerbread house:
- 125g unsalted butter
- 100g dark muscovado sugar
- 65g maple syrup
- 300g plain flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 4/5 clear boiled sweets like these
To decorate the gingerbread house:
- Chocolate buttons for the roof – buy a large family pack and eat the leftovers
- 2 mini marshmallows for the chimney, again eat the leftovers or make some rocky road
- 1 silver ball for door knob – these last for ages so just store them
- A few jelly diamonds to decorate around the windows – last for ages
- Some white chocolate stars for scattering – use the rest for decorating cupcakes
- Sparkles to dust the forest floor (I used Wilton) – use the rest for decorating cupcakes
1. Preheat the oven to Gas 5/190C.
2. Make the first two cakes – so please use the first set of ingredient weights – 110g, 2 eggs etc. Grease two sandwich tins with margarine (20cm) and line with greaseproof paper. Beat the cake ingredients together with a handheld electric mixer for about 4 minutes until lighter than when you started and creamy looking. Then pour equally into the cake tins – there’s not much batter so don’t think you’ve gone wrong. Bake for about 20 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
3. Repeat step 1 again so that you have 4 thin cakes altogether. Leave to cool.
4. Make the gingerbread cottage. First make the template by downloading my template and cutting pieces of greaseproof paper to size.
5. Turn the oven up to Gas 6/200C. Take 3 baking sheets and place near your work surface. Unwrap your sweets and place in a bowl.
6. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan. Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and ginger into a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture with a wooden spoon to make a stiff dough. If it won’t quite come together, add a tiny splash of water.
7. Roll your still warm gingerbread dough onto greaseproof paper to about 5mm thick then use your template and a sharp knife to cut two sides, a front, a back and two roof panels. Also 8 stars and a tree which you may have cutters for already. I make as many stars as I can, to eat as I’m decorating, though this amount doesn’t allow for many leftovers be warned.
8. Make windows in the side panels and the back of the cottage using a knife, and cut a door out too but keep this and bake it. The windows can be re-rolled. (When re-rolling this dough beware it becomes harder to roll as it cools as it begins to crack. Just push together with your fingers.)
9. Place each part of the cottage onto the baking tray by lifting the whole piece of greaseproof and trimming the paper to about 2cm all around the biscuit, on the tray, so as not to lose any shape. (If you try to peel the biscuit from the tray you’ll find it stretches out of shape as you move it.)
10. Put boiled sweets into the window holes once on the baking tray – some people crush theirs but I pop them in whole – just don’t use a HUGE sweet for a small window or it’ll spill over onto the biscuit.
11. Bake until hard, for approx 12 minutes. Cool on the greaseproof paper, on the tray. If you try and move the ones with window panes in too early, you’ll likely burn yourself or cover everything in molten sweets. I speak from experience.
12. Take a large piece of greaseproof paper and pop one layer of the cake onto it. The greaseproof paper is your makeshift cake board. Use the un-sieved jam to sandwich the cakes together until you have a stack of four sitting on top of each other. I used a regular knife to do this.
13. Take the sieved jam and warm slightly in the microwave then brush on the tops and the sides of the cake with a pastry brush or failing that a clean household paint brush.
14. Take the marzipan and knead until pliable, then roll onto a work surface sprinkled with icing sugar using a normal rolling pin. Roll to 4mm thick, then cover the cake with it, smoothing down the top first, then the sides gently and trimming with a knife around the bottom. Gently tuck any excess marzipan under the cake using your fingers or a sharp knife.
15. Wash your jammy pastry brush and then use to brush plain cool water onto the marzipan.
16. Take about 450g of the white fondant icing and knead until pliable on a very clean work surface. Then roll to about 4mm thick and polish the surface with the palm of your hand. This will make the cake look a little shinier but isn’t essential if you forget.
17. Cover the cake with the icing. I use a rolling pin to move the icing onto the cake, using it almost as a hanger but do it how it works best for you. Beware rolling too thinly as the icing is more liable to crack. Use your hand to smooth over the top and the sides. Then smooth and trim as with the marzipan, tucking the edges underneath. Don’t worry if the sides look a bit uneven – they’ll be hidden by the gingerbread stars. Move the cake to the stand or plate you’ll be serving it on.
18. Assemble the gingerbread house partly on your work surface. Firstly take a large piece of your leftover fondant icing and add a drop or two of water and knead to make it a little more sticky. Pull off little bits and use to attach the jelly diamonds to sit around the windows.
19. Then fashion sausage shaped pieces of fondant and use to attach the side and front of the house together, brushing the parts of the fondant that touch the gingerbread house with a little water on your pastry brush. This works best if you use good sized pieces of fondant, so that some of it pokes out of the house and some sits inside it. The icing not only sticks the house together, but makes it more stable by doing it this way.
20. Fix both sides and the front and back together into an open box using the method above. Don’t expect stability. That comes with drying. Sometimes my house collapses on me and I start again.
21. Fashion sausage shaped pieces of fondant to act as foundations and fix to the covered cake with water. Brush the tops of these foundations with water and pop the open ended house on the top of them. Push down gently. You may need to re-push together the sides of the house after this manoeuvre.
22. Push a little silver ball into a small round of fondant. Then use some water to fix this fondant to the door of the cottage. Take a sausage of fondant and as before fix the door to the cottage, leaving it slightly ajar.
23. Fix the gingerbread stars to the sides of the cake, in pairs ,opposite each other, using a small, slightly flat blob of fondant dipped in water. Push the wet icing onto the star, then hold to the side of the cake. Repeat until all 8 stars are used. You may need to hold these firmly to the cake for a few minutes to stop gravity letting them slip down. You can use a piece of ribbon if you don’t have the time to wait, well I say this but I haven’t tried it. I think it would work.
24. Fix the roof to the top of the house, using fondant ‘sausages’ and water as before. Place a long sausage of fondant along the top of the roof, fixing with water.
25. Add the Christmas tree to the cake by pushing it through the fondant cake covering. Then use two small balls of fondant and a little water to hold the tree up either side.
26. Assemble the gingerbread house:
- Apply chocolate buttons for the roof tiles, starting at the bottom of the roof panel with some overhang and working upwards. Use fondant and water to fix them on gently. Remember your cottage isn’t dry yet so don’t press too hard.
- Attach mini stars to the sausage shaped fondant on top of the roof by pressing down slightly
- Add two mini marshmallows with a little icing and water as a chimney
- Scatter mini white choc stars on the snowy floor
- Dust the cottage with icing sugar shaken from a tea strainer to look snowy
- Add a little glitter to the floor
27. Serve with a flourish to oohs and aahs.
And if all these instructions are making your head spin then watch the video instead:
and for an artier version without me blathering away: