In past years, my family and I have always been invited to a friend’s to put together a ginger bread house on Christmas Eve morning. This year we have been booted out due to an onslaught of rowdy cousins and family descending on them a bit earlier this year.
Typically my kids were no longer happy with our alternative ideas and not only insisted on making a gingerbread house ourselves, but rather than my friend’s easy kit from Ikea, we were now going to attempt a completely handmade house!
What a perfect chance to use some of my spent grains – I thought!
In fact, in all honesty, the last time I was making some of my favourite spent grain granola, I was thinking how well those flavours would go with a gingerbread cookie. So I had been hoping to try my hand at some simple spent-grain gingerbread men… well it all got a bit more intricate than that!
After finding a basic gingerbread house recipe on-line (thanks to Jamie Oliver) I then went about adapting it. See below for recipe details.
It all seemed like it was going fine, until actually trying to grind my grains into flour. My old food processor was crap at really getting into the light and floaty sheathes. It was not at all ground into anything resembling flour, but I decided to press ahead anyway. It would now be a very rustic looking gingerbread (which was okay with me).
EXCEPT that the dough then seemed to really not stick or form well together. There was a clump of grainy dough and then a pool of melted butter. No matter how much I got my hands in there, they did not want to combine. I was worried.
Having never made any gingerbread from scratch before, I wasn’t sure if this was normal or due entirely to my rustic spent-grains. After adding in more and more regular flour it didn’t seem to making much difference, so I just decided to move ahead anyway.
Rolling out the dough was not great either. I have a pastry mat and following the above directions, I was sprinkling that and the roller with flour because my dough was still VERY sticky. Eventually I decided to embrace the buttery sludge rather than hopelessly attempt to make it dry with more flour. I found that forming a large ball in my hands and trying to work together the seams and then flatten the ball with my hand before gently rolling worked the best.
Because of the grains, you do need to be be careful as you cut out your template as the grains can snag and pull at the dough. Cut carefully, perhaps use a pizza cutter if you have one!
I was impressed with how easily the baked cookies transitioned from baking sheet and onto the cooling rack. Those rustic sheets of house sections turned out to be quite tough! (probably from all the over-working of the dough!)
Of course we sacrificed a few of our gingerbread men and women for a snack, and wow did the grains work! It was delicious.
So we had some nice delicious and solid house sections – now for the glue. That again went a bit lopsided.
After forming a nice peaky egg white and adding the sugar it seemed too drippy. We added more icing sugar but eventually had to piece the house together over a few days. Once the glue dried it was as strong as cement, but it was not stiff enough to hold things immediately.
We attached the lower house sections and left for a few hours, then propped one roof sections with a beer bottle inside the house holding it up. Again after leaving it for a while, and carefully pulling the bottle free, we were then able to glue on the other roof section. We left it over-night again before putting the two side supports for the chimney, and finally gluing the final two sides to the chimney and securing with an elastic band until the glue hardened. (You can see the elastic in the pictures!)
Again we learned that we needed to give the icing glue time to part-solidify before expecting it to hold up any weighty candy. We slathered the house in a thick layer and then left it for 30 mins. From there it was easy to just press the sweets into the house – using a dab more glue as needed.
And VOILA our very own, seasonal gingerbread house. We will now proudly display it through New Years and see about whether it is edible after that! (My kids insist it will be…)
So all in all – I would make this again. I just wouldn’t be so nervous as I went through. It actually was quite easy and has worked out really well. We doubled the recipe so we had plenty for the gingerbread men and women biscuits as well. Happy baking and Happy Christmas!
- 4 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons treacle or molasses
- 160 g muscovado or brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 200 g unsalted butter
- 1 orange
- 120 g dried and ground spent grains
- 360 g plain flour plus extra
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 2 free-range egg whites
- 500 g icing sugar
- Sweets to decorate
- Gingerbread House template
- After brewing, reserve your spent grains and spread on roasting pans to dry in an oven overnight at 75C. Ensure completely dried out and then blend into as fine a flour as possible with your blender or food processor. (Can be stored in an air-tight container for future use).
- Search on-line for a gingerbread house template that you like. Print it out and cut out the pieces to use as guides for your shapes.
- Put a small saucepan on a low heat, add the maple syrup, treacle, sugar, ginger and cinnamon with 4 tablespoons of water and combine with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the mixture boils.
- Carefully take the pan off the heat, then cube up and add the butter, saving 1 piece. Let it all melt in, stirring to combine, then grate in the orange zest.
- Stir in the flour and baking powder until everything comes together as a dough – if it’s very sticky, dust it with flour, then wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Grease a baking tray with the reserved butter.
- Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour, then roll the dough out to about 5mm thick.
- Using a sharp knife, cut out pieces for your house. You’ll need six pieces, in three different shapes measuring: sides: 20cm x 14cm; roof: 21cm x 7cm; gable ends: 10cm (base) x 14cm (outer sides) x 18cm (apex). Any scraps can be pressed together and rolled out for the next pieces.
- Place your house pieces onto the tray, leaving a 1cm gap between them. Bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden and slightly darker around the edges.
- Let the gingerbread cool completely before icing.
- Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks then, while whisking, gradually mix in the icing sugar till you have a dense stiff meringue. Use this to glue your gingerbread pieces together.
- Decorate with sweets, using more of the icing as glue, then very lightly dust with glitter for sparkly snow.