There's nothing like the warm smell of gingerbread to make a home feel properly festive. We show you how to bake some deliciously spicy Christmas treats, and how to construct your own gingerbread house.
By Diana Pilkington
When you think of the smell of Christmas, what comes to mind? Mulled wine brewing on the stove, perhaps, or the sweet scent of pine trees?
One thing's for sure. The warm, spicy aroma of gingerbread wafting from the kitchen makes a home feel instantly festive.
And as fans of the Great British Bake Off will know, it can also be formed into fabulous houses and structures that put your creative skills to the test. Gingerbread Coliseum anyone?
The custom for building gingerbread houses is thought to have originated in Germany, but has taken off in the UK in recent years. Lakeland, which started selling a gingerbread house kit in 2011, has seen a 38% increase in sales this year, and Sainsbury's, which launched its own version for the first time this year, has had to order in more because sales outstripped predictions. "They've gone down a storm," said a spokeswoman for the supermarket.
This year, BBC Good Food Magazine has broken with its usual tradition and featured one on the front of its big festive issue.
"We normally put a cake, a pudding or a turkey on the cover, because they are iconically Christmassy. But we decided to do something completely different this year," explains editor Gillian Carter.
Not only do these sweet structures tap into the key trends for both baking and handmade crafts, but it seems we Brits are keen to take our home-baked creations to a more intricate level as we get more confident in the kitchen.
Ms Carter adds: "It's also a fantastic Christmassy project for people to do with their children during the school holidays.
"It works for the baker who wants to show they can do fancy stuff and will also hopefully attract parents whose kids want to get involved. The whole family can get together before Christmas and spend a weekend making it."
Here's a gingerbread house recipe from Great British Bake Off winner Edd Kimber for you to try at home, along with some other festive gingery treats...
(Makes 1 house)
200g unsalted butter
200g soft dark brown sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
500g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1tbsp ground ginger
2tsp mixed spice
1tsp ground cinnamon
½tsp freshly grated nutmeg
For the decoration:
450g royal icing sugar
A selection of small sweets
Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas 4 and line two baking sheets with baking parchment. In a large pan over medium heat, melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup together. Meanwhile, sift the remaining ingredients together in a medium bowl. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter mixture over the dry ingredients, then mix together using a wooden spoon to form a stiff dough.
Lightly dust the work surface with flour and roll out the dough until it is 4-5mm thick. Create a template using the measurements in the box below, cut out the house pieces and gently transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until set around the edges and lightly browned. Cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely before using to build your house.
To assemble the house you will need a board, such as a round or square cardboard cake drum, but you could also use a flat plate or even a cake stand. To make the royal icing, which will act as glue, put the royal icing sugar into a large bowl and add 75ml water. Using a wooden spoon, beat together to form a thick paste. Put the royal icing into a piping bag fitted with a medium plain piping tip. Pipe strips of royal icing onto the edges of the gingerbread pieces.
One by one, stick the wall pieces together. To support the house while you build it, put cans next to each wall. Leave the royal icing to dry for at least 1 hour before you attach the roof to the house. Add the roof pieces, supporting the roof edges with cans or books to stop the pieces sliding off while the icing dries.
To decorate, use the remaining royal icing to pipe tiles on the roof and to fix sweets all over the house to make your very own Hansel and Gretel-style house. To finish, cover the board in desiccated coconut, to make a snowy scene.
Measurements for your template:
Draw two rectangles for the roof, each 7.5cm by 10cm.
Draw two rectangles for the walls, also 7.5cm by 10cm.
Create two five-sided shapes for the front and the back of the house, each consisting of a square (with each side 7.5cm long) with a triangle on top. Each diagonal side is 6cm long.
75g softened butter
50g caster sugar
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g golden syrup
2 egg yolks
250g plain flour
½tsp ground cinnamon
½tsp ground ginger
Heat oven to 180°C/fan 160C/Gas 4. Beat together the softened butter with the caster sugar until creamy. Stir in bicarbonate of soda, golden syrup and the egg yolks. Sift in the plain flour and ground cinnamon and ground ginger then bring together with a wooden spoon. Shape into two balls, knead until the dough comes together, then chill for 30 mins. Roll out one ball at a time, to about 2 x £1 coin thickness. Stamp out trees with a 7cm cutter, then re-roll the trimmings. Lift dough onto greased baking sheets and bake for 10-12 mins until slightly risen and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Will keep in an airtight container up to a week.
Double gingerbread men
(Makes 12 big gingerbread men)
140g unsalted butter
100g dark muscovado sugar
3tbsp golden syrup
350g plain flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp ground ginger and 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
2 balls stem ginger from a jar, chopped
50g icing sugar
A few glace cherries (we used undyed)
2 balls stem ginger
Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment. Melt butter, sugar and syrup in a pan. Mix flour, soda, spices and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Stir in the butter mix and chopped ginger to make a stiff-ish dough.
Wait until cool enough to handle, then roll out dough to about 5mm thick. Stamp out gingerbread men, re-rolling and pressing the trimmings back together and rolling again. Lift onto baking sheets. Bake for 12 mins until golden. Cool 10 mins on the sheets, then lift onto cooling racks.
To decorate, mix icing sugar with a few drops of water until thick and smooth. Halve then slice cherries thinly to make smiles, and cut ginger into small squares. Spoon icing into a food bag, snip off the tiniest bit from one corner, then squeeze eyes and buttons, and a tiny smile onto one man at a time. Stick on a cherry smile and ginger buttons. Repeat; leave to set. Will keep up to one week in an airtight tin.
Tip: You can also use raisins, sultanas or Smarties to decorate, if you prefer.
250g plain flour
85g ground almonds
2tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp baking powder
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch each ground cloves, grated nutmeg and black pepper
200ml clear honey
1 lemon, finely grated zest
For the icing:
100g icing sugar
1 egg white, beaten
Tip the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Heat the honey and butter in a pan over a low heat until the butter melts, then pour into the flour mixture along with the lemon zest. Mix well until the dough is combined and fairly solid. Cover and leave to cool.
Heat oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/Gas 4. Using your hands, roll dough into about 30 balls, each 3cm wide, then flatten each one slightly into a disk. Divide the biscuits between two baking trays lined with baking parchment, leaving room for them to expand. Bake for 15 mins, then cool on a wire rack.
To ice the biscuits, mix together the icing sugar, egg white and 1-2 tbsp water to form a smooth, runny icing. Dip the top of each biscuit in the icing and spread with the back of a knife. Leave to dry out in a warm place.
:: Note to editors - This is an amended version of Food Gingerbread including a detail missing from the first transmission.
:: The gingerbread house recipe is taken from Say It With Cake by Edd Kimber (Kyle Books, £18.99).
:: All other recipes are taken from Good Food magazine. The December issue is on sale now, priced £3.70. This credit, along with the magazine cover image provided, must be included with publication of these recipes