Introduction: Gingerbread (Pepperkake) Castle

For anyone who likes to have a Hansel and Gretel moment. This is guaranteed to mesmerise small children.  I made my first gingerbread house for Christmas a few years ago, and each year I like to raise the bar. So I upgraded from a gingerbread house to a castle, and last Christmas I added coloured windows. For Christmas 2012 I got more ambitious with my windows, and had to have gingerbread dinosaurs attacking the castle as instructed by my nephews.

This is a Norwegian recipe. Traditionally Norwegians are supposed to bake at least seven types of biscuits for Christmas. 

The advantage of making a castle is that when it gets nibbled it becomes a picturesque ruin.

Once prepared the gingerbread dough should sit in the fridge at least overnight. If you can't be bothered to make a gingerbread building, the dough makes very nice biscuits.

Step 1: Ingredients

For the dough;
400g syrup
200g granulated sugar
100g butter
4 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1kg flour
4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon aniseed
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

If you have the unground versions of the spices, then they can be ground in a pestle and mortar (I like to do this because it makes me feel like a witch). If you don't have all the spices, the most important spices are the cinnamon, ginger, pepper and cardamom.

a cake board or similar to use as a base (I have also used a large breadboard covered with foil)

baking tray

rolling pin

ruler and protractor

cookie cutters

coloured boiled sweets for windows (optional)

icing sugar

small set of lights (optional)

sugar (for sticking castle together)

sweets for decorating

Step 2: Gingerbread Dough

Melt the syrup, sugar and butter together in a saucepan. Allow to cool. If you are grinding the spices, this is a good time to do it. Stir the eggs into the syrup mixture, one at a time. Add about three quarters of the flour together with the baking powder and the spices. (The rest of the flour is used when rolling out the dough. ) Mix together well then put in a cool place - e.g. the fridge to cool - at least overnight.

Step 3: Design Stage

Now it's time to discover your inner architect and plan your gingerbread building. If you haven't done any gingerbread construction before, keep it simple.  Bear in mind where the building is to be sited, for example if it is to be mounted on a cakeboard, don't make it too big.
My castle is made with 16 tower pieces of 7cm by 20cm and four wall pieces of 14cm by 14cm. I also made four equilateral triangles with 8cm sides for the roof of one of the towers.

Also bear in mind that gingerbread is a temperamental building material. It will often change shape a bit during cooking.

Step 4: Cutting Out

Grease a baking sheet, or cover the bottom with non-stick baking paper (baking paper is probably better if you are using sweets in the windows). Roll the dough out so that it is 3-4 mm thick.

When cutting out the shapes it is often best to do it on the baking sheet so that they don't get distorted when you move them (though you can see from the pictures I forget to do this)

I find it best to press a ruler into the dough to get straight edges. I use a protractor to get them at the right angle. I make crenelations by using the edges of cookie cutters.

With the left-over dough you can make gingerbread trees and animals or a fence to place round your building. Last year one of my junior assistants made an army of gingerbread men to defend my castle. I sometimes also make a few spare parts for the castle in case any get broken.

Prick any large pieces with a fork.

Step 5: Stained Glass Windows and Baking

If you want to add windows, cut them out - cookie cutters are good for this - for the windows in the photo I used two triangles back to back. Place a boiled sweet in the window. If the window is too small for the boiled sweet I cut it in half using a tool for pulling tacks.

Bake in a preheated oven at 175 degrees C for about 15 minutes until the gingerbread is the proper gingerbread colour.

Step 6: Assembly

Now to assemble the castle. This is the dangerous part.
Melt some sugar in a saucepan. In the picture I've used a large frying pan, because I can dip the whole edge of a gingerbread wall into the caramel rather than having to dribble it. This usually works well, unless like me you drop your gingerbread in the caramel.I tend to start with a fairly small amount of sugar, and add more as I go along. The resulting caramel only sticks well when it is hot, but gets dark and bitter if overheated.

I start by constructing the towers. I keep some objects such as mugs or jam-jar handy to act as extra hands. I dipped one long side of a tower piece in the caramel., then stick another one to it to make an L-shape. (Alternatively a wooden spoon can be used to spread the caramel). I then lay this on the table, so that the partially constructed tower is on its side and put a jam jar beside it to stop the upright section tipping over. I then put caramel on one side of another tower section, and stick this so that you end up with a U-shape. Use another jam jar to support this side. Then I put caramel on both edges of the final tower piece, and put this on top to complete the tower.

When making the tower, remember to try to make the bases as level as possible, although, if you want to put lights in the towers it's a good idea to leave a gap under one of the walls for a wire to go under. This should be on a side of the tower facing the courtyard.

Once all the towers are constructed, put them all on your base, and stick on the connecting walls. If you are including lights (I use the battery-powered LED lights you can get for about £2 from Ikea or supermarkets) then this might be a good time to incorporate them. Placing some lights in the towers means you get the full benefit of the sweetie-windows.

Step 7: Decoration

All the castle needs now is some decoration. 
I sometimes use icing left over from decorating the Christmas cake.
Fondant icing is good for sticking gingerbread men, trees and animals round the castle and in the courtyard.
I pipe icing on the walls, and it can be used to hide dodgy joints. You can stick sweets onto the walls, I use jelly tots as flowers, and chocolate buttons as roof tiles. A light dusting of icing sugar can pass for snow.

I've found the gingerbread castle will last for about a week. It is actually the caramel-glue which fails first as after a while it starts to go runny.

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