Good enough to eat

If you fancy a Christmas decoration with a difference, MARIA SOCRATOUS suggests a gingerbread house
Welcome to Christmas… With a little imagination, you can give your home a tasty new look for Christmas, or at least a part of it with gingerbread dough. Make it, bake it and turn it into anything you like, and why stop at Christmas?

Create a village with the church and thatched cottages. A single cottage with a scene of children playing in the yard or a big gingerbread house full of sweet delights for all the children. Make the dough in advance and look forward to a stress-free festive period.
The recipe below is ample to make a large gingerbread house:

For the dough
175g butter
175g light brown sugar
2 eggs – beaten
450g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves

For the decoration

10 coloured boiled sweets
350g white chocolate
An assortment of sweets
A selection of breakfast cereals
A small packet of chocolate biscuits
1 chocolate flake
A silver square cake board

For the dough, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs incorporating well. Sift in the flour, baking powder and all the spices and mix to a nice soft ball. Wrap dough in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the templates (see bellow) on stiff card and cut them out. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Knead the dough and divide into six equal pieces. Roll out each piece between two sheets of greaseproof paper to 3mm thick. Place the template on top and mark out the shape in the dough. Discard the top sheet of paper and cut out the shape from the dough leaving the bottom sheet intact. Remember to cut out windows and doors.
Transfer the shapes, with their greaseproof paper, onto the baking tray and bake in batches. Bake shapes without windows or doors for 10 to 15 minutes; bake those with windows for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and place broken boiled sweets in window spaces. Bake for another 5 minutes until the sweets have melted; leave to cool before trying to transfer.
Before assembling the house, decorate each panel using the melted chocolate to stick the tiny sweets around the windowpanes or around the doorway and chocolate biscuits for the roof. Spread chocolate along the side and bottom edges of the wall panels. Stand the panels upright on the cake board with the edges touching, using tin cans to support them. Let chocolate set, and then fill with small sweets.
Spread chocolate along the house side and end panels and stick on the roof panels supporting the walls as before. Leave to set. Decorate the garden area with more sweets.
Spread chocolate over the cake board to create the snowy effect and dust lightly with icing sugar.

To make a large gingerbread house that you can fill with sweets and chocolates you will need the following panels (remember to cut out spaces for windows and doors): side panels 8x10cm (x2), roof panels 13x21cm (x2), front and back panels 10×15.5cm (x2), roof triangle 12x12x15.5 cm (x2)
If you are feeling more adventurous, you could make three smaller houses out of the same dough, or a smaller house with trees etc. Or use the dough to make an edible advent calendar: stamp out different shapes like gingerbread men, trees, reindeer, bell, snowmen etc. Make a small hole at the top of each biscuit, for threading through a ribbon or cord. Bake for seven to ten minutes and decorate when cold with white or coloured icing. Write numbers from one to 25 in the centre of each biscuit.