For the gingerbread:
- Pour the light molasses into a large pan with the sugar, zest, butter and spices, and melt over a low to medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved.
- Increase the heat to bring the mixture to boiling point. Remove from the heat and beat in the bicarbonate of soda – the mixture will froth up. Mix briefly until combined, then leave to cool for 15 minutes.
- Sift the flour and salt, then fold into the mixture in batches. Beat in the egg until just combined. Do not overwork the mixture, or the biscuits will spread during baking.
- The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but do not add more flour. Scrape out of the bowl onto a clean surface and knead together until just smooth. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
For the caramel glue:
- Put the sugar and water in a large, low-sided frying pan. Place over a medium-high heat. Without stirring, bring to 160°C on a sugar thermometer. If you don't have one, you will know the syrup is ready when the sugar dissolves and turns light golden.
- Swirl the syrup gently in the pan to even out the colour. Then leave to cool for a few moments to thicken slightly until it's the consistency of honey.
- If the syrup begins to harden in the pan, put it back over a gentle heat until it has returned to the required consistency.
For the royal icing:
- Sift the sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the egg white and lemon juice.
- Whisk on a low speed, so you don't incorporate too much air, for 2-3 minutes until you have a smooth, but not wet consistency that's dense and spreadable but holds a stiff peak. If it looks dry and crumbly, add a little water. If it looks slightly runny and glossy, add a little extra icing sugar.
- You now have stiff-peak icing for sticking houses together and sticking decorations on icing. Transfer to a bowl and cover with a damp cloth to prevent it drying out. The icing can be prepared ahead and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 1 week.
- You can adjust this icing to make soft-peak icing by adding water a drop at a time until you have icing that holds a soft peak but does not spread on its own. Use for piping lines, borders and decorations.
For the cottage:
- Heat the oven to 160˚C/gas 3. On a large piece of greaseproof paper, roll the dough to 5mm. Using the templates, cut out the house pieces and transfer to baking trays on the paper. Cut small hearts in the porch panels. Crush half the boiled sweets to a powder and pile high in the windows and heart-shaped holes. Add the cut-out hearts to a tray.
- Put all dough in the freezer for 10 minutes until hard then bake in batches for 8-15 minutes, depending on size, until golden brown at the edges. Leave to cool for 5 minutes on trays then transfer to wire racks.
- Build the base of the house: in turn, dip one edge of each wall piece into the caramel glue until completely covered. Attach to another and hold together for a few moments while it hardens and sets. Use tins or jars to support the walls while they set. Stick the porch walls together and stick to the house. Leave to set completely for 30 minutes.
- Remove the supports from the house and fix the roof panels on using a pastry brush to coat the edges of the roof panels and top edges of the house. Stick the chimney pieces together. Once hard, glue to the roof.
- Add water to the icing to soften it. Use it to pipe decorations onto the house and stick on the remaining sweets and mints.
For the gingerbread (you will need two quantities for this recipe):
- 140g light molasses/golden syrup or honey
- 200g soft light brown sugar
- Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
- 200g unsalted butter
- 4 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 500g plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 lightly beaten medium egg
For the royal icing (you will need two quantities for this recipe):
- 250g icing sugar
- 1 lightly beaten medium egg white
- ½ tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp water
For the caramel glue:
- 200g caster sugar
- 60ml cold water
For the cottage:
- 2 quantities of gingerbread dough
- 2 quantities of royal icing
- 1 quantity of caramel glue
- 200g yellow hard-boiled sweets
- 50g mints
See below for templates