One of Australia's most recognised pastry chefs, Anna Polyviou, is well trained in crafting gingerbread houses. Not just because she has built towering renditions at Sydney's Shangri-la Hotel when she was there, but because she has one niece and 12 nephews in her extended family who all want a piece of the Christmas tradition.
"I love making the experience of making the gingerbread house a journey," says Polyviou. "You have to take the kids with you when you shop for the lollies, let them visualise how they want the house to look and then let them select the things they need to create it."
No need to get all architectural with the construction of the house. "I've gone crazy before with design, but really all you need is a roof and walls. You let your imagination run wild with the decorations."
It is important to get the icing right, though, and the key is to use egg whites to ensure it is not too runny. "Once you have the base built and made the icing, the joy is in getting everyone around the table, adults and children, to bring it to life. Just don't try to do this too close to Christmas. Doing it about two weeks before is perfect."
Anna Polyviou's gingerbread house
"This is a simple construction that's simply delicious – a fun activity for everyone to make during Christmas," says Anna Polyviou. "The framework is there, now it's time to showcase your creative flair to decorate it any way you like!"
- 80g unsalted butter
- 160g honey
- 150g brown sugar
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
- 650g plain flour
- 50g baking powder
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 3 tsp ground mixed spice
- 1 tsp salt
- zest of 1 lemon
- 4 eggs
- 100ml milk
- 2 egg whites
- 500g icing sugar, sifted
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 Iced Vovo biscuit for the front door
- 1 bag chocolate freckles
- 1 bag licorice allsorts
- star sprinkles
- 7cm Christmas tree cookie cutter
- 5cm gingerbread man cookie cutter
- 4cm star cookie cutter
- piping bag or medium press-seal bag
- Before you start, you will need to create some cardboard templates:
1 x 24cm square
2 x 15cm x 20cm rectangles
2 x 20cm triangles
- Melt butter, honey, brown sugar and vanilla paste in a small saucepan over low heat. Set aside to cool.
- Sift flour, baking powder, spices and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the lemon zest and beat on low speed until combined, then add the cooled liquids. Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated into a dough. Divide dough into 4 even pieces, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 150C fan-forced (170C conventional) and line 4 large baking trays with baking paper.
- Working with one piece of dough at a time, place on a floured bench and roll out to 5mm thick.
- Place cardboard templates on the dough and use as a guide to cut out all of the shapes. Use cookie cutters to cut shapes from remaining dough. Place cookies on prepared trays, arranging larger and smaller pieces separately, and brush the tops with milk.
- Bake larger gingerbread pieces for 10-12 minutes, and smaller pieces for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely on wire racks.
- To make the royal icing, place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat on low until broken up. Slowly add the sifted icing sugar, then the lemon juice, until smooth and combined. Cover the surface directly with plastic wrap to prevent the icing from drying out, and set aside until ready to use.
- To assemble the house, transfer royal icing to a piping bag with a plain nozzle. If you don't have one, use a medium press-seal bag and snip off 1 corner. Place the square gingerbread piece on a cake base or serving platter, piping a small amount of icing on the underside of each corner to secure.
- For the roof, pipe royal icing along both of the short sides of the two rectangles, then position short edges on opposite sides of the square base, so the roof meets at an apex. Hold in place for a few minutes to stabilise.
- For the walls, pipe icing around the edges of both triangles. Press triangles against opposite open sides of the roof and hold in place for a few minutes to stabilise. Pipe icing along all joins to secure. Leave the house for 30 minutes or until the icing has completely set.
- Meanwhile, decorate the gingerbread men, tree and stars with icing.
- Once the gingerbread house has set, add the Iced Vovo front door and use your imagination to decorate with the remaining icing, gingerbread shapes, freckles, allsorts and sprinkles.
Anna Polyviou is an ambassador for Australian Eggs