Gingerbread is traditionally used to make houses as it is the perfect dough to build with: strong and tough, and able to withstand slight weight without crumbling. Unless your freeform cutting is very good, or you want to use hand-drawn templates, you can buy nativity cutters online. Pictured overleaf.
|100g||light muscovado sugar|
|3 tbsp||golden syrup|
|1 scant tsp||bicarbonate of soda|
|1½ tbsp||ground ginger|
|Rollable white fondant icing|
|200g||icing sugar, plus extra for dusting|
You will need nativity pastry cutters or templates; a small piping bag fitted with a very small, plain nozzle.
Melt the butter with the sugar and syrup in a pan. Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger in a large bowl. Pour in the butter mixture and stir to make a stiff dough. Rollout on a sheet of baking paper to 3mm thick and chill for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5.
Use nativity cutters to cut out shapes for the stable and figures from the chilled dough, then re-roll the trimmings and cut out the largest rectangle you can, for the base. Place the shapes and base on 2 baking sheets lined with non-stick or silicon paper, transfer to the heated oven and bake for 12 minutes.
Remove from the oven and, whilst still hot, trim any edges of your stable so they are nice and straight; this will make them easier to stick together later. Allow to cool on the sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. You can then use a fine grater to smooth and even out the biscuits to get a really straight edge for sticking.
To decorate, you can ice your biscuits in a number of ways. If you want solid icing, roll out ready-made fondant on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar. Cut out shapes using your nativity cutter. Brush the corresponding biscuit with a little water then stick the icing to it and set aside to dry.
Mix the icing sugar with enough water to make a thick but pipeable icing. Spoon into a small piping bag fitted with a very small plain nozzle. Use either to attach dragées and decorations to your fondant-covered biscuits, or to pipe detail on the un-iced biscuits.
Arrange your nativity by sticking the pieces together with the piping icing (see Tip). Some straw or hay makes a lovely artistic addition to your scene.
Tip: Be patient when assembling your nativity. Make sure your icing is really lovely and thick and stick the stable together first, using matchboxes or cotton reels to support the positioned pieces and figures as they dry.