A gingerbread house – or indeed, a barn – is a labour of love, so don’t embark on this one unless you really have the time to do it justice. We’ve based this on our family’s Hampshire dairy barn where Jude’s first began, and we now make one every Christmas with the little ones. Along the way, we’ve learned new traditions are just as important as old ones.
Makes 1 large barn
Cowbarn Gingerbread Ingredients:
- 300g (10 1/2oz) golden syrup or clear honey
- 400g (14oz) soft light brown sugar
- 400g (14oz) unsalted butter
- Zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
- 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
- 1kg (2lb 4oz) plain flour
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
- 250g (9oz) icing sugar
- 1 medium egg white, lightly beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
You will need:
- Firm paper or card to cut out templates
- 2 x wooden poles/twigs, roughly 12cm (4 1/2in) and marzipan to secure the poles
- Toy animals and trees, to decorate
- Put the golden syrup, sugar, butter and lemon zest into a very large saucepan and place over a medium heat. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat slightly until the mixture reaches boiling point and then, working quickly, remove the saucepan from the heat and beat in the bicarbonate of soda briefly until combined. Set the saucepan aside to cool for 15 minutes.
- Sift the flour, spices and salt together, then fold them into the melted mixture in batches, using a wooden spoon. Mix in the eggs until just combined, but be cautious not to overwork the mixture or the biscuits will spread during baking.
- The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but resist adding more flour. Scrape the sticky dough out of the saucepan onto a clean, oiled surface and knead together until just smooth. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the refrigerator for an hour.
- Make your versions of the templates using firm paper or card. Cut a large sheet of greaseproof paper and roll out the gingerbread on it to a thickness of 8mm (3/8in). Using the templates as a guide, cut out house pieces from the gingerbread, but leave on the paper for ease. Transfer the gingerbread pieces, still on the paper, to a couple of baking trays and put in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up completely.
- Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius/fan 140 degrees C/gas mark 3. Bake the gingerbread in batches for 12-15 minutes until golden brown at the edges. Leave to cool on the baking trays for 10 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the icing. Sift the icing sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the beaten egg white and lemon juice. Whisk, on low speed (to avoid incorporating too much air into the icing), for 2-3 minutes, until the consistency is smooth, stiff but not too wet. If the icing seems too dry and crumbly, add a little water. If it looks slightly runny, add a little extra icing sugar. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small plain nozzle, ready for piping.
- To assemble the gingerbread barn, pipe icing down both sides of a gable end. Attach a side wall at right angles and hold together for a few moments while the icing hardens, then use cans or jars to support the walls while they set. Continue to stick the gingerbread together by attaching another wall and the back gable so you have the walls for the barn. Leave to set for 1 hour before you add the roof.
- Decorate the side walls of the house by piping royal icing to make windows and the front door surround before you add the roof (the overhang can make this tricky).
- Lay the roof pieces flat and, with a steady hand, pipe on roof tiles. Secure the wooden poles each in a ball of marzipan to take the weight of the large, overhanging roof. Pipe the remaining icing along the tops of the four walls and gently lower the roof pieces into place.
- Leave the barn to set for a further 2 hours. Decorate with toy barn animals and trees. Serve.
Template for the Gingerbread Cowbarn recipe:
Templates are 50 per cent actual size.
- Door: 6 x 8cm (2 1/2 x 3 1/4in)
- 2 x gable ends: 14 x 16cm (5 1/2 x 6 1/4in) including a triangle point and 10 x 10.5 x 16cm (4 x 4 1/8 x 6 1/4in)
- 2 x walls: 14 x 20cm (5 1/2 x 8in)
- 1 x roof: 15 x 22cm (6 x 8 1/2in)
- 1 x roof: 19 x 22cm (7 1/2 x 8 1/2in)