After one day of designing (auto-cad), 3 solid days of baking and one solid day of construction/decorating we have managed to construct the most amazing Gingerbread Castle to ever have graced the planet. Honestly. It’s so cool. Part of the amazingness is it’s size. The footprint is 25×25 inches around the outer wall. That’s just the wall. That doesn’t count the towers, which stick out at each corner, or the moat, which encircles the entire thing, or the bridge, which goes over the moat. And the central Keep, which is the tallest point, is 23 inches high! Like I said, enormous. And it’s rocking awesome.
There are several important tricks to a successful Gingerbread House (or Castle!) First, plan. Plan out what you want to do. You need exact dimensions. If you don’t plan, it won’t work. (For my plan, see below.) Work out what your dimensions are going to be. Print (or draw) it out, and cut the pieces out of paper or cardboard. These will be your patterns for cutting around to ensure you cut the right shape and size. Anything you want to cut into the dough (windows, doors . . .) will need to be done before you bake, so planning is important in that respect, too.
Second, you don’t want to stress the dough. This means 2 things. First, you want to use something like a pizza cutter (rolling circle blade) or (what I did, as my folks don’t have a pizza cutter) a metal spatula which has a good sharp edge, and can be used to cut straight down on the dough. Don’t use a knife which you’ll have to pull through the dough. Second, you want to cut out on parchment (much better than wax paper, as you can bake over and over on the same sheet, whereas once through with wax paper, and it’s not going to be usable again) which you can get in the same aisle as aluminium foil or plastic wrap. Don’t try and peel the pieces off the parchment. Simply slide the parchment onto a baking sheet, and pop it all in the oven together. That maintains the shape of the dough, and your corners will match up.
You can do unusual shapes (for example, curved) by baking around another object. For example, my moat bridge is laid out over the top of a couple of foil rounds so that it bakes in the proper shape. Once baked and COOL (warm it will still be soft) it should be strong enough to support itself.
I always bake my pieces a little firmer than you’d really enjoy if you were planning on eating the gingerbread. If you’re doing a large-scale project like this, you really don’t want the weight of the pieces to pull it apart, so baking it to just this side of burnt helps. If you want to eat your project afterwards, I suggest you make something small, so the weight of the individual pieces aren’t so worrying. Even still, I ended up having to reinforce the roof of the bottom part of the Keep (that’s the inner section of the Castle) with cardboard that I’d reinforced with wooden bbq skewers (think: enormous toothpicks). I jokingly call it my Gingerbread Rebar.
Here’s all the pieces baked and ready to get set up.
Now, once you’ve got everything baked, the next trick is: LET IT DRY! Don’t try to put loads of decorations on the House until it’s dried enough to support itself. The great thing about Gingerbread Creations is, the more icing the better!
The thing about more complex structures is, you may have to construct in stages. For the Castle I had to do the lower Keep, then let it dry, then the upper Keep, and let it dry. Then we had to do all our decoration along the outside of the Keep walls, because it wouldn’t be possible for us to reach them later.
The next stage in the construction was putting together the towers. I had some minor (ok, major) trauma during this process. One of the walls for one of the towers broke. Shattered in my hand, fell to the floor and became cookie crumbs! I nearly cried. Fortunately, it was only one piece, and it could be a back wall, where no one will ever see. So we quickly cut a piece of cardboard to the right shape/size, and stuck it in the back. No one but we shall ever know that it is there.
Next, I carefully (very carefully) inserted the outer walls between the towers. This was tricky because in addition to balancing the wall on its edge, I was also trying to make sure that all the walls were going to be centred around the inner Keep. Yeah, that was exciting! And the added challenge for the front wall was, it’s not as strong as the rest, because it’s got this big gaping hole in the middle! But, with help from Dad, we managed to get the walls all installed without any mishaps.
The next secret to successful Gingerbreading is – icing. Use lots of it. If you think you’ve got too much, you’ve probably got about the minimum needed. Make sure every seam has plenty of icing. ‘Glue’ the pieces to the ‘floor’, glue them to each other, cover the seams with extra icing, just in case.
Finally, it’s all done, and dry and ready for you to start decorating.
Now, having a plan is for the decorations as well as the slabs of gingerbread. If you know what you need, you’ll have it. You won’t be wishing you’d bought something, or end up with something looking like you threw a bunch of sweets at it and hoped something would stick. Planning is important for all stages of Gingerbread Creation. That’s not to say you can’t be spontaneous, just that if you’ve got a plan, you will end up with something really special. If you take some time you come up with those special details that make the creation really fun to look at. A couple of my favourites are the curved bridge over the moat with fish in and the portcullis with latticing cut into the gingerbread!
Our finished Castle!
If you want to build your own, you can download the plans here. Please, if you make one, leave me a note telling me, and a link, if you’ve got a photo posted! Happy Baking!