To kick off the Christmas celebrations I was excited to run a gingerbread-decorating masterclass at the Cambridge Cookery School. Armed with a piping bag and nozzle, I taught students the basics of working with royal icing and how to use this skill to create impressive designs for gingerbread.
We also made use of some fabulous stencils from Martha Stewart to create a gingerbread village that would make great gifts put in a cellophane bag and tied with a pretty ribbon, or to adorn a Christmas cake and create a really stunning and alternative festive design.
To create these designs yourself simply follow the gingerbread recipe below, stamp out your favourite shapes and get busy with the piping bag (see top tips)!
Recipe – Gingerbread (prepare the night before)
[One quantity makes around 6 townhouses plus some extra smaller cookies for Christmas tree decorations.]
5 tbsp water
210g light brown sugar
3 tbsp treacle
3 tbsp golden syrup
3 tbsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
250g salted butter, cold and diced
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
560g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1. Place all the ingredients for the hot mix into a deep saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring continuously.
2. Remove from heat and gradually add the diced butter, stirring until well combined.
3. Add the bicarbonate of soda and stir. Be careful at this stage as the mix will likely bubble up and expand.
4. Cool the mixture to room temperature.
5. Once cool, transfer the mixture to a large bowl, sift in the flour and slowly mix together to form a slightly wet and sticky dough.
6. Wrap dough in clingfilm and chill for at least 2 hours, ideally overnight.
7. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough to 5-6mm and cut out desired shapes. Place on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper.
8. Chill for at least 30 minutes, even in the freezer overnight (the cookies can be baked from frozen in the same way as non-frozen cookies, and will even keep their shape better).
9. In an oven pre-heated to 200°C, bake the chilled dough for 8-12 minutes, depending on size, until the cookies spring back to the touch and are slightly darker around the edges.
10. Whilst the cookies are still hot, use a piping tip or cocktail stick to poke holes in the top of the cookies to create ribbon holes. Leave to cool completely before decorating.
Recipe – Royal icing
[This recipe is far more than is needed for this project. The recipe can be halved but it will take longer to achieve the right consistency in a free-standing mixer due to insufficient volume of ingredients for the beater to catch the mix effectively. Alternatively, any remaining royal icing can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. You may need to re-beat the mixture to the right consistency once warmed to room temperature.]
133ml lukewarm water
800g icing sugar, sifted
1. Mix the merriwhite with the water and let rest in the fridge overnight before use, or until completely dissolved.
2. Place the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater and add three quarters of the dissolved merriwhite. Combine at the lowest speed.
3. Once well combined, check the consistency of the mix – if dry and crumbly add some more merriwhite until the icing is smooth but not wet.
4. Continue to mix on low speed for 4-5 minutes until it has reached a stiff peak consistency (when the beater is removed from the icing the mix should stand vertical and not fold back on itself).
5. For icing cookies a soft peak consistency is required (the icing mix folds back on itself a little when the beater is raised) – thin the stiff peak icing with a little water to achieve the desired consistency.
Top tips for perfect piping
- Use soft peak royal icing for piped designs, and ensure there are no lumps or clumps
- Do not overfill the piping bag, about half filled is good.
- Apply gentle and constant pressure to the piping bag and once icing has emerged from the nozzle raise it off the surface whilst continuing to pipe – do not drag the tip along the surface as this will create a scratchy appearance. By raising the nozzle you can create perfect swags and loops with a little practice and patience.