Building a cabin in the woods

Building a cabin in the woods

By
From
B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself

From the smallest gingerbread house to a scale model of the Palace of Versailles, gingerbread construction has always fascinated me. It’s probably the builder in me, as I love to make higher and higher biscuit constructions. Here I’m going to show you how to make a woodland scene. We’ll look at glueing biscuits together, sliding them together as interlocking pieces and making melted sugar glass for windows. This will give you a few ideas to think about and hopefully muck about with to make your own amazing biscuit masterpieces.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient

For the gingerbread

Quantity Ingredient
900g plain flour, plus more to dust
5 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons mixed spice
4 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
230g unsalted butter
200g golden syrup
230g light brown muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
a bag boiled sweets
mixed sweets, to decorate (optional)

For the royal icing

Quantity Ingredient
3 large egg whites
or 6 tablespoons two chicks liquid egg white
1 tablespoon lemon juice
500g icing sugar, plus more to dust (optional)
gel food colours

Tool kit

Quantity Ingredient
3 baking sheets or trays
rolling pin
food processor, (optional)
palette knife
electric whisk
small piping bags
2 mm icing nozzle
display board

Method

  1. Trace the templates on to thin card, such as an empty cereal box, then cut them out. Preheat the oven to 170°C and line 3 baking sheets or trays with baking parchment.
  2. Make the gingerbread in 2 batches, cooking the first batch before making the second, or it will cool down and be much harder to roll out and shape. You probably won’t get all the templates you need cut out of the first batch, though it depends how economical you are with your cutting. Sift half the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
  3. Melt half the butter, syrup and sugar in a saucepan over a low heat. (To get an accurate measurement of golden syrup, put the saucepan on your scales and set them to zero, then pour in the sticky stuff.) Pour it into the bowl with the flour and mix with a wooden spoon for 30 seconds to distribute the heat. This doesn’t have to be fully mixed, you’re just doing it so the egg doesn’t cook in the hot sugar. Break in 1 egg and continue mixing until the dough is fully combined.
  4. Tear off about one third of the dough and roll out on a floured work surface to about 3 mm thick (about the depth of a pound coin). I have been doing this by eye for years, but I recently got a rolling pin with depth guides as a present. If you can get one, they’re excellent.
  5. Lay your templates on the dough and cut out with a sharp knife; I use a long knife and cut straight down for edges; a small knife for curves.
  6. There are 3 templates opposite for the house, but remember to cut out 2 of each: 2 pieces for the roof, 2 pieces for the front and back, and 2 pieces for the sides. Don’t forget to cut the open doorway into the front of the house only and the windows into both the sides.
  7. Gently pick up the gingerbread pieces and lay on the prepared baking sheets or trays, then lay the templates back over each piece to make sure you haven’t stretched or bent the dough (if you have, reshape it on a baking sheet). Re-roll the offcuts and remaining dough to make more templates.
  8. To make the glass for the windows, take 1 colour of the boiled sweets and blitz them down to dust in a food processor (it must be absolutely dry when doing this, or you’ll get a sticky gunge, rather than fine dust). If you mix different-coloured sweets, it turns into quite a sludgy colour. If you don’t have a food processor, put them in a freezer bag and bash them with your rolling pin. Put 1 teaspoon of the coloured sugar dust in the window hole on your biscuits.
  9. Bake the gingerbread for 9 minutes. Take each tray out at a time, lay the templates over each biscuit and cut off any edges which have warped during cooking. Bake for another 9 minutes to fully cook.
  10. Take out of the oven. Leave to cool on the baking trays for 10 minutes to allow the gingerbread to firm up and the sugar to set.
  11. Lift the gingerbread off the baking trays. You will need to slide a palette knife underneath the windows to make sure they don’t stick to the baking parchment.
  12. Follow steps 2–3 to make the second batch of gingerbread dough.
  13. Next make some trees, using the tree templates. Feel free to make your own if you want variety in your woodland; the important thing to get right is the interlocking notches that you’re going to shape. These can also be used to make characters (people, animals and so on) that are free-standing, so populate your forest as you see fit!
  14. Roll out the gingerbread in batches, cut it out and lay on the baking sheets or trays as described above. Bake for 9 minutes as before, then be really careful when cutting to the template, as the width of the notches in the stands is the most important factor in making interlocking shapes. Return to the oven and bake for the remaining 9 minutes. After taking out for the final time, use the templates to check the notches again. If they’re too small, you can still saw away at them with a serrated knife to make them bigger, but be careful as the gingerbread gets more brittle the cooler it becomes. Leave to cool.
  15. Make the royal icing by mixing the egg whites and lemon juice in a large bowl, then gradually beat in the icing sugar with an electric whisk on a slow speed, a couple of spoonfuls at a time. Once all the sugar is incorporated, turn the electric whisk up to full speed and beat until the icing becomes firmer. Load some of the icing into a small piping bag fitted with a 2 mm nozzle and put the rest of the icing in an airtight container in the fridge.
  16. To build the house, take the back of the house (the end without a doorway) and pipe a thick line of icing along the bottom, to stick it to the display board. Pipe icing along each of the sides and along the bottom of the side walls and glue the 2 side walls to the back of the house. Take the front of the house, pipe icing on the bottom and on each of the sides and stick this to the 2 sides on the display board. You can use tins or books or whatever you like to prop your walls in position until the icing dries, about 30 minutes should do the trick.
  17. Once the walls have set in place, pipe icing on to their top edges and along the top of the roof pieces and lay the roof in place. You’ll need to prop up the roof to stop it sliding down while it dries. Or you can hold it in place for a few minutes. Once the structure of your house is stable, use some remaining plain royal icing to fill in any holes around the edges and to further anchor your house to the board.
  18. To start decorating the trees, take about one-fifth of the icing from the airtight container and mix thoroughly with some green gel colour to make a rich green, then load into a small piping bag fitted with the 2 mm nozzle. Pipe outlines of the foliage and the impression of leaves; you don’t need an accurate representation – the effect will be better if you work quickly and don’t worry about precision.
  19. Mix up other colours as you need them and try to use all of each colour before you move on to the next; this takes forethought, but is worth it as the icing can dry in the nozzle and be a pain to get running again. If you are having trouble with a dry nozzle, dip the tip in water for 30 seconds to dissolve the icing, then have another go.
  20. Once all the icing decoration has been applied and is dry, you can assemble the interlocking elements of your scene around your decorated forest cabin. I tile the roof with chocolate buttons, and the kids stick dolly mixtures over every available surface. If you’re feeling Christmassy, give the scene a dust of icing sugar (great for hiding imperfections) and use as a lovely centrepiece.

Note

  • This recipe has a star bake (extra advanced) difficulty.

Extras

  • So, that’s gingerbread worked out; what about some other biscuits to build with? Peanut butter cookies make excellent desert islands and you can stick other biscuit constructions in them while they are still warm and malleable, as this helps the more precarious free-standing things to stand up. The same recipe makes excellent stepping stones for woodland scenes...

    Vanilla biscuits work well, but I’d be wary of making anything too big or elaborate with them as they are not as hard, so stick to simple characters (preferably short ones!). Try brandy snaps as tree trunks; they set hard and can be moulded into curves for towers or tunnels.

    My wife has thrown a gingerbread house-decorating party at Christmas for her mates and their kids. For this, make scaled-down versions of this template with no windows. Fill a table with squeezy icing bottles and bowls of sweets. It’s a great party idea if you have children with December birthdays, though I think the grown-ups enjoy it more than the kids!

    The most important thing to remember is to eat them! Don’t leave them to go soft as you admire them. Make them, show them off, take a picture, then play King Kong vs. Godzilla with the kids and destroy them; it really is half the fun!
Tags:
Great British Bake Off
Baking
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