The sweet, spicy smell of freshly baked gingerbread is as synonymous with Christmas as the anticipation of gravy-clogged arteries, the social acceptability of all-day drinking, and scoffing an advent chocolate with your morning toast.
The story goes that the first gingerbread houses were created in homage to the sweetie-covered building that appears in Hansel and Gretel. They've since developed into full-on festive decorations that only stay looking pretty for as long as you can resist stress-eating over Delia's impossible turkey recipe.
To mark the first day of December, and therefore the start of the official countdown to Christmas, we asked some of our favourite chefs and bakers to conjure up their dream gingerbread houses—if the rules of baking were limitless and biscuits weren't so damn finicky to stick together.
Lily Jones of East London's Lily Vanilli Bakery. "I'd have a fully functioning gingerbread space ship capable of intergalactic travel. Disco lights would be shining through sugar glass windows from within, and the ship would be studded with silver balls and heavily decorated inside and out. It would have to have a big kitchen on board so it can be repaired anytime."
The team at GAIL's, a bakery with locations around London. "Our dream gingerbread house would be a treehouse. We were unanimous in that as children, we always wanted a treehouse at the bottom of our garden.
We'd channel the spicy, wintery flavours of homemade Speculoos biscuit for the base, gently framed by the smoothest, purest sugary white icing. We'd keep the windows big and open, with almond and silver doves. We'd coat the ground in front of the house with green leaves made of boiled sweets. There would be a chunky, chocolate bark as the trunk with salty caramel jutting out, and shiny gold candy canes on top of the roof.
For the entrance? A red carpet, lining the perfectly carved stairs—perhaps made of miniature cinnamon cigarillos."
Lee Tiernan, owner and head chef at Black Axe Mangal. "The first idea and the one that stayed with me was a life-size Action Bronson gingerbread man hash cake, smoking a snowman️ bong with Christmas spice-infused smoke coming out the ears and mouth."
Lesley Ward, development chef and owner of Horsham Gingerbread Bakehouse in West Sussex. "My dream gingerbread house would be a shepherd's hut made of gingerbread, complete with cosy wood burner (the chimney could be made of liquorice, which I love), and snow on the roof. Every time I see a shepherd's hut I think how much I would love to have one as my own little retreat!
I would use our Gingerbread Thins for wheels. I'm not so sure about using our Original Recipe Gingerbread for the actual hut as it's quite substantial, so I'm not sure that the biscuit wheels could take the weight!"
Claire Ptak, owner of Violet bakery and cafe in East London. "It would be amazing to have a gingerbread house that was like a handmade wooden house or cabin. I think you'd have to cut the gingerbread in big panels and it'd have to have a deck and a hot tub—like a caramel hot tub! Gingerbread on the outside and caramel on the inside.
I'm from northern California so there would have to be trees out front and a bit of fog in the air. It would be up on a hill with a beautiful view."
Illustrations by Dan Evans.