MAKE THE DOUGH: Put about half the flour in a food
processor with the butter. Whizz until you
can’t see any lumps of butter remaining
(if you don’t have a food processor, rub
the butter into all of the flour with your
fingertips, until it resembles fine crumbs).
Tip the buttery flour into your largest
mixing bowl and mix in the remaining
flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda
with a pinch of salt. Stir in the sugar.
Whisk the eggs with the golden syrup
and stir into the flour mixture with a
wooden spoon. Using your hands, knead
together into a smooth dough. Use
straight away, or chill or freeze until
ready to bake.
CUT OUT ALL THE SHAPES: Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
Roll out a quarter of the dough at a time
on a sheet of baking parchment, to the
thickness of 2 x £1 coins. Use a small,
sharp knife to cut around the cottage
templates (see the 'try' section below to print off the template) – remember
that each time you’ll need 2 x ROOF,
2 x END and 2 x SIDE for one cottage.
Remove the trimmings and lift the
gingerbread, on its parchment, onto
baking trays. Re-roll trimmings to cut
out all the shapes you need.
BAKE YOUR GINGERBREAD: Bake the gingerbread one tray at a time
(so it cooks evenly), on a high shelf in the
oven for 8-12 mins, until rich brown and firm to the touch. Give each tray 3-5 mins
to cool, then carefully sit the templates
back onto the relevant shapes and trim
any edges to neaten (step 1, above). Keep these
trimmings for nibbles. Use a small knife, or
heart-shaped cutters, to cut out any doors
and windows you want to have. If you want
to fill your cottage with lights, use the
end of one of the SIDE templates to cut out
a little door in the back END of the cottage.
For a roof like ours, roll out remaining
gingerbread to about half the thickness
of the walls. Use a 3-4cm cutter to stamp
out rounds – to fully cover the roofs, you
will need about 75 round biscuit tiles.
Bake as above, but for 6-9 mins – as they
are thinner, they will bake quicker. Let all
the biscuits cool completely.
DECORATE YOUR GINGERBREAD: Sift 250g of the icing sugar into a bowl,
dribble in water, stirring in until you have
a thick-ish icing. Tip the preserving sugar
or pearl sugar into a shallow bowl and get
a couple of cooling racks ready. Dip the
round roof tile biscuits into the icing, one
by one – covering about a quarter of the
biscuit in icing (step 2). It looks nice if they’re
all a bit higgledy-piggledy. Dip into the
preserving sugar to stick, then sit on
the cooling racks and leave to dry.
Put the egg whites in a large bowl, sift
in the remaining 500g of icing sugar, then
stir to make a thick, smooth icing. Spoon
a little into a piping bag with a very small
nozzle. Spoon half of the rest into a piping
bag that has a slightly larger nozzle (or
spoon into large food bags and, when
ready to ice, snip off the corner to turn
into a piping bag). Keep the rest covered
in the bowl. Use the small piping bag to
pipe any icing decorations you want onto
the END that is going to be the front of
your cottage. Leave to dry.
START BUILDING: Arrange the wall biscuits as you are
going to assemble them. Swap to the big
bag of icing with a medium nozzle to pipe
generous snakes of icing along the SIDE edges (3) and stick the walls together.
Pipe extra icing where the walls join each
other on the inside of the cottage, and
support the sides using your icing balls (4).
To decorate the roof, scrape any excess
icing and sugar from the underside of the
roof tiles with a small knife, so they can lie
flat. Start at the bottom of one and work
along in a row, using the icing in the bowl,
spread good-sized blobs of icing on the
underside of the top of each tile biscuit to
stick (5). Let the bottom row overhang
the edge of the ROOF. Continue working
up, sticking a row at a time, sitting the
row above in the gaps of the row below,
so the tiles sit in a diamond pattern rather
than straight lines down the ROOF (6).
You’ll need to cut some of the tiles on the
edges to fit – just use a big sharp knife
and be brave (you should have a few
spares available in case you have any
accidents). Repeat to cover the second
ROOF, then leave the completed ROOFS
with the half-built cottage for a few hrs at
least, or preferably overnight, until set.
When ready, remove the supports from
the cottage and stick on the ROOFS (7). This bit can be fiddly, so you
may need an extra pair of hands. Shape
your icing balls to support the bottoms of
the ROOFS. Hold the biscuits on firmly for
a few mins until the icing starts to set
(8 & 9). Set again for a few hrs, or overnight.
FINISHING TOUCHES: To finish decorating like ours, roll
marble-sized balls of the ready-to-roll
icing and stick them along the ROOF top
– this is perfect for hiding the join. To
make the icicles, start with the nozzle at
a 90-degree angle to the ROOF and
squeeze out a pea-sized blob of icing.
Keeping the pressure on, pull the nozzle
down and then off – the icing will pull
away, leaving a pointy trail. Repeat all
around the front of the cottage, covering
the gap between the ROOF and roof tiles
too, if you like.