Tag: Fun

Gingerbread architecture: The final frontier

At last, time to decorate.

This is by far the best bit, and your opportunity to hide any blemishes. For me, that was a whacking great crack down the front, the odd broken window pane and some darker than attractive edges. So fill your piping bags, stick on a Christmas film, or phone a good friend using hands-free and enjoy!

There are no steps in this post, just some ideas to get you going.

Things you need:

Royal icing of course (you can use regular but I find royal dries quicker and looks whiter)

Piping bags

Sweets Sweets Sweets

A little tip

When you’re buying your sweets you should have a think about roughly what will go where, specifically in terms of the roof. Make sure you overestimate how much you think you will need, it’s always surprising how quickly everything disappears. Particularly if you adopt a ‘one for the house, one for me’ approach, which is the correct way to do this in case you were wondering.


I chose button tiles for my roof. The key is to make sure there is some overhang on your first layer, and then just keep going in lines, overlapping slightly, until you hit the top. Chocolate fingers or matchmakers work for a sort of log cabin look, or I’ve seen shredded wheat for a thatched roof (not sure who would want to eat that though!).

Once I had finished I dusted my roof with some icing sugar snow for a wintery look.


The last couple of years I’ve done normal houses, but I’ve decided to start theming them more now I’ve got the hang of it a little bit. So this year’s effort is designed to be an old fashioned sweet shop (it seemed apt given the sugar coma it put me in). Obviously it needed an awning or two! I just coloured some of my icing red and alternated between the two colours until I reached the end. If you want straight lines then the trick is to hover away from the biscuit a bit so you have more control over the direction.


What cosy winter hideaway is complete without some snow caught in the window panes? The idea here is to fill one of the corners a little more than the other, which I realised after piping the window in the centre…

And now ladies and gents…the finished article! Complete with flickering fire light (an LED tea light candle pushed through the doorway)

As you can see I bought mainly different coloured and sized circles: chocolate drops, silver balls, smarties and chocolate buttons. I like little dots of icing to decorate with too, but you need to decide what works best for you, it should be fun! I don’t really pre-plan, but buying lots of similar shaped things helps I think.





Oh wait!

That’s not all… remember this little guy?


Well I decorated him too. The base he was sitting on is actually the lid of a gift box, I won’t show you what’s inside though, incase the recipient is reading this (there needs to be some element of surprise!) This adds a lovely personal touch to any present, or can just be the present in itself!

The front and back are A6 size (A4 paper folded into quarters) and then measure everything else out based on that. You can get at least four of these guys out of one batch of mixture.

Before you go…just one more little idea…


A homemade festive gift without the fuss for someone you like, but not an ‘I made you a gingerbread house’ level of like.

To make a tree the easiest thing to do is to get your hands on star shaped biscuit cutters of at least three or four different sizes. You want around 16 or so stars for each tree, then just stack them with icing to stick each layer together. If you don’t have cutters then make some templates to cut round instead (you can do this using auto shapes on the computer). One batch of mixture should make at least 8 I reckon.

Pipe lots of blobs of icing and add silver balls, chocolate drops and smarties for decoration.

I used a candle holder turned upside down for the base, but a disc of cardboard covered in tinfoil would work just fine too. Remember, whatever you use, you aren’t going to get back!

The cellophane I used to wrap it was bought from a florist supplies shop online and was about £3 for the roll, which I’ve been using for various projects for about 2 years!

Cut a big square (bigger than you think), I made one as large as my roll would allow. Place tree on the middle and bring all the corners to meet in the middle. scrunch the remaining edges together and call for help (this will save your little finger aerobics when you’re tying the ribbon). With someone else holding it all together, double knot a few pieces of gift ribbon and curl the ends with scissors. Chop off the messy bits of plastic.


Gingerbread architecture: Phase 2


So, I have a confession to make, I didn’t actually photograph the assemblage of the big house. All my fingers and toes were required to hold it together until the icing dried, so there was nothing left besides my nose to press the camera trigger.

Instead I whipped up another half batch of dough and made a little one to show you how to, aren’t I lovely?

Things you need:

Royal icing

Piping bag/Strong sandwich bag (snip a corner off to pipe)



An extra pair of hands

Deep breaths


Step one:

Cover base in tinfoil/something pretty. Tin foil works well because it doesn’t soak up the icing. I used an upturned tray for the bigger one, and stuck ribbon where the tinfoil didn’t quite meet the edges. Chopping boards and baking trays also make a good base (but make sure you don’t need them for Christmas dinner first!) Alternatively you can buy one, but that would just eat into your sweets fund. Nobody wants that.

Step two:

Mix up your royal icing  and put in icing bag. It has to be pretty thick, or construction will be hard going. At the same time, make sure you can pipe it without getting hand cramp.

Step three:

Place back wall on a flat surface (if you use your base you have less far to travel when you flip it). Pipe along the two sides, as shown above.


Step four:

Attach sides and hold for a while until the icing starts to dry, you might want to get another pair of hands involved here, or the salt and pepper shakers to everything in place. Pipe along the top edges.


Step five:

Place the front on top. Definitely don’t drop it on your way over and crack it. That would be really silly.


Step six:

Flip it! This is where with anything bigger, you will need someone else to help.

Now you can see the crack *sob*. So this also happened to my big house, I might show you in the next post, but I’m still deeply saddened by that (the sugar windows stuck to the tray rather than me dropping it but still, a perfectionist’s nightmare). I’m basically a massive klutz. All is not lost though.

At this stage you are unlikely to want to make any more gingerbread. So if this happens you need to make do and mend. This can be done with royal icing, but you’ll get a white line along the cracked bit. A better (albeit more perilous) way to fix the cracks is by making a sugar syrup. Essentially all you need to do is melt down some sugar in a frying pan and voila, you have baking’s version of super glue. Dip the broken pieces into the sugar and stick. Be careful though, definitely not a game for children to play. Sugar syrup is dangerously hot. If you end up dipping your thumb in it, don’t let your gut reaction be to stick it in your mouth to cool it off. That is a most unpleasant experience. 

Some people use sugar syrup to put their whole house together, but quite frankly, I value my life more than that, I’m far too clumsy.


Step seven:

Now you have it upright and relatively stable, ice it all over. This looks a bit messier on a little house than a big one, but basically go around all the edges inside and out with icing. You can really go to town on the inside corners as nobody will see them, the more you can reinforce at this stage the better.

Step eight:

Stick the roof on and leave as long as you can to dry before decorating.

Step nine:

Stay tuned for phase three later this week.

Happy festive baking!

Gingerbread architecture: Phase 1

Three and a bit years ago I stumbled across a marvellous young lady called Anna. She gave me the inspiration to start a new Christmas tradition. I implore you to do the same, there is very little as satisfying as creating a freestanding gingerbread structure – and I won’t lie, it helps that you have a year in between to recover and block out all the royal icing acrobatics it took you to get there.

Apologies in advance for some of the slightly odd measurements below, the recipe is a bit inbred at this stage. Original credit goes to Anna, but I’m not convinced she would still want ownership given my Canadian to English translations and elaboration on the method (I lost the original).


Things you need:

Plain flour: 1lb 10.5 oz/750g/5 cups

Soft light brown sugar: 5oz/140g/1 cup

Unsalted butter: 7oz/200g/1 cup

Eggs: 2

Treacle: 5 tbsp

Golden syrup: 8 tbsp

Salt: 1 tsp

Baking powder: 1 tsp

Ground ginger: 2 tsp

Cinnamon: 2 tsp

Nutmeg: 1 tsp


Royal icing: probably 2 boxes

A lot of sweets

A base (I used an upturned tray)

Patience: a generous glug


Step one:

Draw out your design on greaseproof paper. I did write down the dimensions of mine but I suspect it ended up in the recycling with a flurry of lists and post-it notes, but it is relatively straightforward maths.

Some tips:

Measure your baking trays and base first. I hope that doesn’t sound too obvious, I’ve had to go back to the drawing board before now, after realising to my disappointment that I don’t own industrial equipment.

When drawing the chimney, draw it directly onto the roof so that it is definitely at the right angle to put on your house later (see photo above left). Don’t forget you need two little rectangles as well, one the same height as the short edge, and one the same as the longer side – they should be the same width.

Draw the front and sides first so you can take the measurements for your roof from those, make sure you add a little for overhang etc.

Mark x2 or x1 and something to identify the pieces on each – they have a tendency to become unrecognisable at some stage.


Step two:

Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. You will need a large bowl.


Step three:

Put butter, golden syrup, treacle and sugar into a saucepan and gently heat until sugar has melted.


Step four:

Beat the eggs with a fork in a small bowl and mix into flour mixture. Alternatively you can mix them with the treacle and syrup at an earlier stage and not heat these with the butter.

Pour in butter and treacle mixture.


Step five:

Stir wet ingredients into dry. Place bowl outside or in the fridge until completely cool.


Step six:

Dust a large work surface thoroughly with plain flour. Take a third to half of the mixture and mould into a ball.

Sprinkle dough and rolling pin with more flour and roll out. Make sure you keep turning the dough to keep it as square as possible. You want it to be about 5mm thick.


Step seven:

Grease baking trays well and then cut out all your shapes.

A tip with the larger pieces is to define the rough shape and then transfer to baking tray, in order to finish cutting once it’s on the tray. This will stop it stretching when you move it, as it’s fairly important to keep the edges as straight as possible. Of course, if your baking trays hate you as much as mine do, then they will warp themselves in the heat of the oven just to mock you.

When cutting out the chimney, flip the template over so that you can have pieces with right sides facing out all around.

Keep rolling and cutting until you have all the pieces you need.


Step eight:

If you want a stained glass window effect then put some boiled sweets in a sandwich bag and pound them to dust with a rolling pin. This takes a bit of welly, so best to do it at a sociable hour to keep the neighbours happy…sorry Audrey…

Fill your window gaps with the crushed sweets.

The bottom-right photo shows you my fatal mistake. For any pieces with windows like these, put greaseproof on the tray first. Otherwise you might have a spot of bother removing it due to its size, fragility, and your patience levels…more on that later.

Step nine:

Bake the pieces in the oven at gas mark 4/180 C/350 F.

Keep an eye on them, as different pieces will bake at different speeds, from 10 mins to 25! It’s always better to go a bit over than under though, as you can cover the darker areas in sweets, but nothing can hide/save a caved in roof because the biscuit was too soft. Having said that, my sister did prop my first roof up with a gingerbread dinosaur when I had that exact problem, so all is never lost.

Step ten:

Stay tuned! I will be posting a guide to assembling and decorating later this week.

Stocking fillers: Christmas lollies

Continuing with the festive theme, here’s an idea for some stocking fillers; an afternoon’s entertainment for the kiddies; affordable presents for their little friends (or yours for that matter); or a little Christmas cheer to hand out at work.

These little chaps are fun and easy to make, and the best thing is there’s no need for any special equipment, just a little imagination! Even if you don’t have any of that, you can find a link to a template at the end of this post. No excuses!

A quick tip:

Try to time this activity between bursts of central heating, as chocolate doesn’t love an unexpected change in temperature (it’s sort of like your granny in that way). If you have the heating on constantly, that’s ok, but try to do this in the coolest spot in your house.


Things you need:

Chocolate (I used 300g of each milk and white)

Candy chips (for a splash of colour, but read on for more info!)

A couple of piping bags (sandwich bags will work too)

Cellophane or Greaseproof paper

Lolly sticks or equivalent


Step one:

Draw your characters.

This isn’t absolutely essential, you can go freestyle if you prefer, but I’m a touch OCD so I drew mine out first. The more rounded the shapes are and the less you have sticking out the better. The roundness for ease of making, the closer everything is and the less delicate, the lower the risk of arms and legs snapping off.

Once you have a couple of designs you are happy with, trace several copies onto greaseproof paper. Do this in pen so it’s nice and clear.

Either turn the sheet over to make your lollies straight onto the greaseproof, or, if you want a shiny back to your lollies you will need to get your hands on some cellophane/acetate to place over the top. I had a roll of florists wrapping stuff from a previous project, so I used that, but if you can’t find any/don’t want to buy some you can use shiny plastic wallets instead.


Step two:

It’s chocolate time! I got basics bars for 30p a pop. You might want to splash out a little more if you’re doing this for the grown ups, but for littles it makes this a really cheap and cheerful craft, and this way it’s not a problem if more ends up on them/in their mouths than on the lollies!

Hold a little bit back (50g or so), and break the rest up into a microwaveable bowl. It’s not a sin to melt your chocolate in the microwave, and let’s be honest, who can be bothered boiling a pan of water?! You DO need to keep a close eye on it though. Put it on for about 30 secs to begin with, and then 5-10 second bursts stirring in between, don’t get impatient here, it turns so quickly.

Once you have it just melted, chop the other 50g into relatively small chunks and stir until melted, don’t put it back in the microwave – the warmth of the other chocolate will melt it in a couple of minutes.

This is my nod towards tempering (a technique that makes the chocolate shiny and gives it a snap). Don’t worry too much about this, it’s supposed to be fun, if you want to be more precise about tempering then have a google, there’s loads of advice out there, but I won’t bore you any further here.


Step three:

Put your piping bag over the edges of a glass and pour in the chocolate. If you don’t have a piping bag (or don’t know how to make one) then you can use some good quality sandwich bags. The bigger these are the better, and remember you will need to tilt it diagonally to snip off one of the corners so don’t overfill it!

Pick up at the edges and twist to avoid the choc exploding out the wrong end of the bag.


Step four:

Pipe the lollies.

Starting in the middle of each section point the piping bag straight down and squeeze gently. The chocolate should spread out pretty evenly from the centre (hence the better the rounder). Don’t be afraid to use quite a lot for a nice chunky lolly.

Once you’ve got the basic shape and are fairly close to the edges, make a sort of stirring motion in the chocolate to push it out a little bit more until it reaches the sides.

Pipe the wings, be careful not to lift the piping bag too far away from the surface or you will lose control of the flow of chocolate.


Step five:

Put the lolly stick in.

Drop onto the thickest part of the shape and twist gently so that it is covered completely.

I used some wooden BBQ skewers that we had left over from the summer, I chopped them in half with branch clippers. Most craft or cooking shops (and even supermarkets) now sell packs of lolly sticks. As ever, you will find them cheaper online if you have the time to order them, or be resourceful with what you have – you don’t have to use sticks at all.


Step six:

Use a cocktail stick to pop any bubbles and tease out any features of your shape that you couldn’t make right with all that chocolate gushing out of the piping bag.

Cocktail sticks are your best friends when it comes to craft of any kind. Seriously.


Step eight:

Leave the milk chocolate to set at room temperature until it is touch dry. That is, when you can touch it gently and nothing comes off on your finger. Now it’s time to pipe on the penguin’s face and belly, using the same techniques as before.


Step nine:

Creature features. Ok, so this is where is all went a bit wrong for me. I’ve seen these candy chips all over the internet, mainly used to cover cake pops and the like, so I thought they’s be perfect for this project. Well after forking out a small fortune, I found them a bit of a nightmare to pipe, hence the rather wobbly scarves and beaks!

A tip – don’t be tempted to put food colouring in your chocolate as an alternative – it either splits it or seizes it up. In most supermarket home baking aisles you can find strawberry and orange flavoured buttons, though you have less colour choice, I have no doubt that they would be a bit easier to work with. Either that or you could use dark chocolate, or perhaps you know something I don’t about working with these chips – answers on a postcard please.

Whatever you choose to use, pipe the feet onto a spare spot on your acetate, they will dry really quickly (part of the problem with piping this stuff). Just flip the little things over and press them onto the white chocolate while it’s still wet. Pipe the scarves straight onto the lollies, you might want to let the chocolate set first.

Step ten:

Wait until the white layer is touch dry and put in the fridge to set completely. It is important you wait for this, so your lollies will be shiny and won’t melt at room temperature – no one wants a melted snowman in their stocking!

Once they have set, tie a little ribbon to the stick and store in a blacked out tin in a cool dry place until you want to re-home them. You might want to get your hands on some cellophane bags to present them in, just put the lolly into the bag face first and tie around the stick.

Oh and one more thing…

I promised you a template didn’t I? Here we are then: Little Penguin Template

Happy making!