“Tiiis the season to be faaaties, om nom nom nom nom, nom nom nom noooom…”
Ah, Christmas. The season of cinnamon, presents, gluhwein, pine, friends, and family. My kitchen – and therefore my entire house – has always smelt so good at this time of year, and I have my mum to thank for that. Since I can remember, from the first weekend of school holidays up until the week before Christmas, we go through our German recipe book and bake around 4 or 5 different traditional German Christmas cookies. It takes a little planning, because baking in thirty degree weather isn’t really fun, but it’s so worth it.
Our normal bake consists of Lebkuchen (“gingerbread”), Zimtsterne (“cinnamon stars”), Springerle (“anise cookies”), and of course an Ingwerbrot Haus (“gingerbread house”), which we generously decorate with a variety of sweets.
We make them about a month in advance because these cookies all need time to sit in the cupboard and soften. It sounds kind of gross if you are new to this style of baking, but trust me: if you don’t soften them, you’ll end up needing to buy yourself a new set of teeth. They start off really hard – almost rusk-like, but harder – and need a good three weeks at least to become chewy and (a little more) “edible.”
That said, if you really can’t wait, a cup of hot cacao or coffee will work wonders.
However, this year we’re going to Germany and so we didn’t have time to bake and didn’t really think we needed to because we’re going to be surrounded by the real things all over the place! That said, I couldn’t not do anything, so I took a little crack at adapting our Ingwerbrot recipe to the ingredients we had at hand (because I was too lazy to go shopping, bite me), and to the little time I had before our flight (roughly 12 hours).
Therefore, instead of one big house, I made 7 little ones. I didn’t have time to let the dough sit after it baked, and if I made the big roof tiles then the dough might have cracked and collapsed under the weight of all the decorations. Making bite-size ones avoided this problem, and let me cram an overnight wait into a 30-minute cool-down. Nailed it.
Some things to note that I found while making this, though: firstly, I have only ever made this with ground ginger so I have no idea what the measurements would be for using fresh ginger. I would caution you from using it, however, as it may make the dough too wet and screw up the other quantities.
Secondly, this is usually done on a far larger scale, so the decorations and icing sugar measurements will depend on how big you go. Licorice all-sorts are a family tradition, so I always use those, but you can really sweep any sweets shelf into your trolley and come away with a pretty substantial haul. You could even veer away from the sugar, and use nuts, dried fruit, and poppy seeds to decorate your gingerbread – the decorations are really entirely up to you.
Lastly, I didn’t put the icing sugar through a sieve, before I mixed it with the water, and boy-oh-boy did I wish I did… Don’t be me, yeah? The lumps are paaainful to try and squeeze out of the water, and it just wastes precious time (“time” in my case was probably more precious than it will be for you, but still… your arm gets sore, so just save yourself the trouble and sieve the icing sugar, OK?). Not a train smash, but just a long wait at the station.
Oh, and when you’re rolling the dough out, you want to try get as quadrilateral a shape as possible. This isn’t easy for those new to baking, but a good trick I learnt is to roll out a circle to the thickness you need, and then pat the edges into the shape you need (I took a picture of this part, I think it’s in the photo set above the one immediately up here).
Then, roll the raised edges out towards where you want the corners to be, and just keep repeating this while being careful not to make your dough thinner. It takes a few repetitions, but it saves re-rolling the excess again and again from cutting square shapes out of a circle dough.
All-in-all, it’ll be less hassle in the long run, and give you more time to snack on the decorations and lick the icing off of your fingers – yes please.
Mini gingerbread houses // Mini-Ingwerbrot Häuser
290g self-raising flour
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
85 g butter (salted or unsalted, doesn’t matter)
110 g brown or treacle sugar
1 tbsp blackstrap molasses (or treacle)
40 ml golden syrup
20 ml honey
as much or as little icing sugar as you like
things to decorate with, either sweets, nuts, dried fruit, poppy seeds, or a combination of them all!
- Sieve the flour and spices into a large bowl, add the sugar and combine well.
- Cut the butter into the bowl and rub the flour and the butter together with your fingers until well mixed.
- Measure out the golden syrup and honey into a measuring jug, add the molasses and the egg, and stir well.
- Create a well in the flour mixture, and pour in the syrup mixture. Stir well, until a spoon will no longer serve you well, and then finish off by using your hands to make a nice ball of dough that holds its shape.
- Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
This is the part where you keep yourself busy for 30 minutes by turning an oven tray upside down and wrapping it in foil, and cutting a 4.5×4.5cm and a 5.5×5.5.cm square out of baking paper.
- Once 30 minutes have passed, preheat your oven to 170 degree celsius.
- Take your dough out of the fridge and roll it out to a 5mm thickness with a floured rolling pin onto your prepared baking tray.
- Try roll it into a square (using the technique I mentioned in the rambling above), and cut out 7 big and 14 small squares from the dough. You may need to re-roll your dough once, and I would advise using a flat knife to peel the squares off the foil and arrange them with just under a centimeter between them.
- You should have a little ball of dough leftover, which you can squish into a cookie and bake with the rest for 10-15 minutes (the cokies shouldn’t be too soft to the touch, and should be slightly darker on the corners – only slightly though).
- Take out of the oven and let cool completely.
- Make your icing in the meantime, by icing sugar and water, and make sure it’s thick enough. You’ll know it’s the right consistency if it doesn’t drip from your spoon.
- Sort out your decorations, and when your dough is cool you can start constructing your mini-houses!
- Start by spreading a layer of icing onto your base, and standing your two roof tiles like a teepee or tent. Glue the edge they create with some icing, and be messy so the icing drips and looks like snow.
- Now, it’s simply up to you to go wild with the decorations! 🙂