Making a gingerbread house – a Christmas tradition that has become a fun family activity.

Since long before I was even married I have always loved making a gingerbread house at Christmas time. When I lived at home with my parents it took ages to eat them and it almost seemed pointless to spend all that time making it with no one to eat the finished product. I can’t explain why I love it, I don’t adore gingerbread or the tons of sugary sweets used to decorate it but there is something magical and Christmassy about the whole thing.

Christmas has become a lot more special since we have had children… it really is more of a kid’s holiday. So making a gingerbread house has become a lot more fun and meaningful (well there is no real meaning in a house made of sweets but you know what I’m saying).

This year, for the first time, our daughter (4years old) is going to help us eat it so we may even get close to finishing it (usually we eat some and give some away because a house is too much for 2 of us).

To try balance it out a little (I know it is a stretch) we decided to use Catherine Barnhoorn’s refined-sugar free gingerbread recipe from her Mila’s Meals website (click here for link). As an aside, I have her recipe book, The Beginning & The Basics, which has some lovely recipe ideas.

Usually I use a more traditional recipe but I actually found this one was quicker to bake, the dough didn’t need as long in the fridge or the oven, it is healthier and uses less ingredients… so I may use this as my go to recipe in the future. If you also choose to use this version I tweaked it slightly in the following ways:

  • I used cake flour (I love the Eureka Mills brand) instead of almond and cassava flour (even though we tend to avoid gluten no one in our family needs to have gluten free food so this made the recipe less expensive and easier – since I had cake flour at home already).
  • I used mixed spice instead of ground cloves (I don’t really like the taste of clove and I had mixed spice at home).
  • I used raw honey instead of pure maple syrup (I had it at home and it isn’t nearly as expensive as real maple syrup).

Here are some tips that may help if you use my adaptations above:

  • You may need to melt the honey a little to make it very runny to help the mixing process.
  • You may need a little more of the wet ingredients… I added a little more of all of them.
  • Use an electric beater to combine the wet ingredients, it helps the molasses and coconut oil combine better.
  • Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients, mixing by hand (a spatula at first and then your actual hands) – I used the electric mixer for our first batch and the consistency wasn’t nearly as nice as when I mixed by hand.
  • I made 2 batches, one wasn’t enough for the house but 2 was a little much…however, I am always weary of halving a recipe when it comes to baking. We used the extra to make approximately one million cookies.

For the royal icing (the glue for the house) I used Jamie Oliver’s version (link found here). The royal icing needs raw egg white and there are plenty of good tips on how to make them safe if you spend a little time on Google. Otherwise buy “safe eggs” or pasteurised eggs at the supermarket (for readers in South Africa, Checkers is the most reliable place to find these). 

I printed and laminated a template for the house pieces years ago, which I reuse every year… I am sure there are tons online you could print out or just draw your own. The only tip I have here is that it is often useful to cut 3 gable pieces (the end pieces) so you can have one inside in the middle, which helps to support the roof.

Once you have made the dough and it has been refrigerated, then roll it out 4-5mm thick and cut the pieces out. Use flour on your surfaces and rolling pin so that it doesn’t stick – I didn’t bother to put it between parchment etc. I used any extra dough to make cookies (so many cookies). For my sanity I made the dough alone and then when it came to rolling and cutting I worked with my daughter. I gave her a whole bunch of cookie cutters and her own ball of dough and let her do it whichever way she wanted to. There are so many benefits to playing with dough and making cookies, from fine motor skills and hand strengthening to planning and creativity… and of course the most important of all, fun and bonding time.

Once the house was cooked and cooled, we constructed it using the glue icing (put some in a ziplock bag, snip a little hole in one corner and then use it to pipe the icing. I made one for myself and one for my daughter. We use a cake board as the base for the house (I reuse the same one yearly or I usually have a few left over from birthday parties) you could also use a large cutting board or a platter… and flat surface really. We constructed the house and then we each picked a side and decorated.

At the end she decorated a cookie with some sweets to eat (this helped her from wanting to eat all the sweets while decorating the house). 

The hardest part was waiting 2 days to take it to Gran’s house to finally eat it. Luckily we had all those cookies to see us through the hard long 48hour stretch. As the plain gingerbread cookies were slightly healthier than an average cookie I let her have a few more than I usually would (also it is the holiday season and I need to chill a little).

We wish everyone a happy, fun, chilled Christmas week and happy baking.


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