Perfect gingerbread: From people to entire villages, let your imagination run wild

Now is the right time to make gingerbread that will last right up until Christmas Day

Gingerbread can be cut into every shape imaginable and decorated as delicately or as gaudily as you like

Gingerbread can be cut into every shape imaginable and decorated as delicately or as gaudily as you like

 

No one is too young or too old to enjoy making gingerbread biscuits. The smell of orange, ginger and mixed spice wafting through the house on a cold wintery day is completely enticing.

If you’re of a mature and civilised persuasion, gingerbread biscuits are lovely dunked in a cup of tea in the morning. For the rest of us, they can be cut into every shape imaginable and decorated as delicately or as gaudily as you like.

Younger children might want to use cutters to make sure their biscuits have a recognisable shape. They can go to town with brightly coloured icing, sprinkles and baubles. The sky is the limit for older bakers. From gingerbread people and animals, to entire gingerbread villages, you can let your imagination run wild.

My daughters get very excited about the prospect of building a gingerbread house. After the photoshoot for these ginger biscuits was over, they picked up the piping bags and started giving the gingerbread ladies perms and elaborate hairstyles.

To cut out gingerbread biscuits freehand, or using homemade stencils, use a sharp knife to get the cleanest lines. Once the biscuits are cool, they can be adorned with ready-made fondant icing, crisply piped royal icing, nuts, sweets, candied peel or dried fruits. Gingerbread house constructions can be held together with thick lines of royal icing. Vertical joints will need to be supported for a few minutes until the icing starts to set. The only remaining conundrum is how to stop eating pieces of the gingerbread architecture every time you pass by.

About now is the right time to make gingerbread. The addition of golden syrup creates a hard gingerbread as opposed to softer gingerbread cookies. The hard dough will ensure the cookies can be admired on the tree and still just about last right up until Christmas Day.

Gingerbread biscuits

Makes 16
Ingredients
Gingerbread dough:
150g dark muscovado sugar
150g golden syrup
200g butter, diced
½ orange, zest and juice
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tbsp ground ginger
350g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Royal Icing:
150g icing sugar, sieved
1 egg white
½ tsp lemon juice

Method
1
Place the muscovado sugar, golden syrup, butter, orange zest and juice into a medium size saucepan. Heat gradually at first until all the sugar is dissolved, then increase the heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring well. Remove from the heat and stir in the spices.

2 Sieve together the flour and bicarbonate of soda then add these sieved ingredients into the saucepan and use a wooden spoon to mix to a dough consistency. When the dough has cooled slightly wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate for 45 minutes before rolling out. 

3 On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out to a 5mm thickness, before stamping out shapes with cookie cutters. Alternatively, use a sharp knife to cut out shapes.

4 Place the dough cut outs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving space between them. Refrigerate for 10 minutes before baking.

5 Preheat an oven to 180 Celsius, fan, or equivalent. Bake for 12-15 minutes (smaller shapes may only need 10 minutes) or until the edges are beginning to darken in colour. Remove from the oven and leave them to sit for one minute (at this point you could stick a skewer in the top of each biscuit so they can be threaded with ribbon or string and hung from the Christmas tree). Next, carefully lift them up with a palette knife and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

6 To make the icing: Place the sieved icing sugar into a large mixing bowl with the egg white and lemon juice. Start mixing on the lowest speed until combined, then increase the mixing speed, whisking for about four minutes until the icing has a firm satin-like consistency (add in a drop or two of lemon juice if it looks very dry or too stiff for piping).

7 To decorate the gingerbread shapes with thin lines of icing, place three quarters of the icing in a piping bag fitted with a pen tip sized nozzle. Use any remaining icing to fill between lines.

8 Allow iced biscuits to set for at least 30 minutes.

Variation
For a paper piping bag, take a small rectangle of parchment paper and fold it diagonally to create a thin tipped funnel – use a scissors to snip an opening to your required size.

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