Nearly seven years ago when I first arrived in Stockholm I joined several clubs. The object was to make new friends, see and learn as much as possible, and to integrate into the Swedish way of life. And what better way than through food! Every season here in Sweden there are special rituals and celebrations, each associated with particular foods. Easter, Spring, Midsummer and Christmas are the primary occasions for enjoyable customs and regional delicacies.
One of the clubs I joined was the ESCC (English Speaking Community Club), through which I met my lovely young friend Patrik. His mother, Anita, is a master arts and craftswoman, and her apartment is a veritable gallery of fine cross-stitch embroidery, painted ceramics, paintings and stained glass – among other beautiful things. Baking gingerbread houses is one of her annual artistic baking activities, as well as part of the traditional Swedish Christmas ritual. Some have become extremely elaborate and ambitious:
On a cold December morning I made my way by metro train to Anita’s apartment in southern Stockholm. Patrik met me at the station, and upon our arrival on her landing, the scent of gingerbread already filled the air. Anita had been up since early baking gingerbread shapes for the family. Her dough was already prepared, awaiting our arrival and Partik’s customary task of assembling the gingerbread houses.
I stood poised with camera and notebook throughout the process, and recorded how to go about it:
Roll out the dough (recipe below) to 2 mm thick, and cut out the shapes of the 4 sides, the 2 roof pieces, and the chimney of the house, using templates*. Cut out the windows on the front and side pieces carefully. (The side windows may have a semi-circular shape, as illustrated in the photographs further below.)
Place the pieces of the house on baking paper, and bake on baking trays for 12 mins or until firm and just a little darker at the edges. Leave to cool for a few minutes to firm up, then trim the pieces with a sharp knife to make neat edges. Cool completely.
Assemble the house by gluing together the pieces with the toffee glue (recipe below), or make icing to use as “cement”:
Sift 500 ml icing sugar in a large bowl, add 2 egg whites, and stir to make a thick smooth icing. Spoon the icing into a piping bag, and pipe generous amounts of icing along the wall edges, one by one, to join the walls together. Use a small bowl to support the walls from the inside, then allow the icing to dry, preferably for a few hours.
Once the “cement” is dry, remove the supports and affix the roof panels. The angle is steep so hold these on firmly for a few minutes until the icing begins to dry. Let the whole structure dry completely. (Overnight would be best.)
Then pipe the patterns for the roof tiles and trimmings onto the house. (Almond slices may also be used for the roof tiles, but should be inserted into the 2 dough roof pieces before baking.)
Decorate the house with Smarties, MnM’s, jelly tots, or any candies of your choice:
Place a small battery-powered light or t-light into the house, and illuminate your masterpiece!
*Templates, click here
250 g soft butter
200 g brown sugar
7 Tbsp golden syrup
600 g flour
2 tsps bicarbonate of soda
Spices: 1 tsp each of ground cinnamon, ginger and cloves (or buy a packet of ready-mixed gingerbread spices.)
- Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a saucepan.
- Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices in a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture to make a stiff dough. If it won’t come together nicely, add a little water.
For the knäck (toffee “glue”)
Place 100 ml sugar and 100 ml syrup in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the is sugar completely dissolved, then boil for 5-10 mins.
2 egg whites and 500 ml sifted icing sugar
1 egg white
1 cup icing sifted sugar + extra for dusting (“snow”)
A little fresh lemon juice
Mix all in a small bowl and apply with a piping bag.