You can always tell when Christmas is coming in the Read household.
It's when clouds of ground ginger, cinnamon and icing sugar waft through the home.
The warm spices of a good gingerbread cookie remind me of Christmas and spending time with my grandmother.
Since about 2011, I've made it my mission to construct increasingly elaborate gingerbread houses.
I've invited friends over for gingerbread house decorating competitions, where everyone gets their own house to build and decorate with their favourite lollies and other sweets. And when the houses are done, my five nephews have a competition to see who can pluck the most lollies off in record time on Christmas Day.
Building gingerbread houses is truly a wonderful holiday activity for all ages. The great thing about gingerbread houses is that they keep for quite a long time too. You can build your house a week before Christmas, and if it survives sticky fingers, take it along as a centrepiece for the dinner table.
I usually take my gingerbread houses to my work Christmas function, to my in-law's house on Christmas morning and then to my family's Christmas on Boxing Day. They also make great gifts. You can buy a small gingerbread house cookie-cutter set and make miniature houses for gifts or place settings.
For a gingerbread house, you will need a denser gingerbread recipe than you would need to make your average cookie. You will also need a template for your gingerbread house, which you can download for free on the internet and cut out.
- 7 cups of self-raising flour
- 4 teaspoons of ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of ground cloves
- 250 grams of unsalted butter
- 200 grams of brown sugar
- 250 golden syrup
- 2 eggs
- Mix the flour, sugar, spices and butter together in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add the golden syrup and the eggs and mix to form a dough.
- Divide into portions, wrap and chill for a least 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius and grease two baking sheets.
- Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface or between two layers of baking paper. Lay the gingerbread house template over the rolled dough and cut around it. Any excess can be rolled out again for other pieces or cookies at the end. Transfer to the baking sheet.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the pieces have risen slightly and bounce back after being touched.
- Leave on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then transfer onto a cooling rack.
Royal icing recipe
- 4 egg whites
- 6 cups of icing sugar
- Whisk eggs until foamy, then add the sifted icing sugar a bit at a time to avoid lumps.
- You will want the mixture to be quite thick, to begin with, as this will form the 'cement' to use on the foundation, walls and roof of your house.
- Start by glueing the walls to the base of your serving plate, cement the walls together and then glue the roof on top, using cans to support the structure as it dries.
- Decorate with lollies, chocolate and biscuits, whatever your heart desires.
- To make icicles add a little water to the mixture to make it runnier and drip it down from the house's eaves.
- Use any leftover icing as a floor covering for your serving plate.