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Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Making of my Charlecote Park Gingerbread House

Isn't it funny how a joke one year can end up turning into something real the next? It was a year ago when a National Trust Gingerbread House appeared in my feed on twitter and a joke was made that Charlecote Park should be made out of gingerbread because it is the right colour.

One year later after seeing a National Trust recipe for a gingerbread house which said at the bottom of the recipe. ..'you can give it the National Trust twist and make one of our houses'.....Well......I thought about it.......then though why not? I took it as an NT Challenge and I would give it a go. No harm in trying, not like I had ever made a gingerbread house before.This would be my very first one!
Here is a link to the recipe.

So many people have asked how I made this house so this is how.......

I started my Charlecote Gingerbread House with a lot of research and printing off loads of photos of Charlecote from every angle you could imagine so that I could draw it first. I used a photo of a very old map that hangs in the conference room to help plan the size and proportions. (A copy of this map could be seen in the kitchen scullery just before the Christmas decorations went up). I printed it off and cut the house out as you can see in the pictures below. This map was a great help. Luckily being the Volunteer Photographer at Charlecote, I had all the photos I would need :)

Drawn on paper first.

Then in card which took ages to cut out.

I even stuck it all together to make sure I had it all right! These are only mobile pictures but as so many people have asked how this house was built, I thought you might like to see these too.

Next came the making of the dough of which I made a few batches.

First batch

Ad a few more.

Cutting the dough out.

The next bit was a little worrying. I hoped the pieces didn't grow to much in the oven.
As luck would have it, they didn't :)

I made some more templates for the windows to help me cut them out then left them to dry.

I did a lot of research on what to use for the windows. Boiled sweets look good but they can weep after a few days so I decided to use gelatine sheets instead as you can colour them in with edible ink pens. This mean't I had more control over where the stained glass should show and where it shouldn't.

Making the door ways.

The Dining room and Library windows. Each section needed to half dry before I could do the next bit.

All done, I also added as much of the little details on the walls as possible.

The front of the house. I cut doorways and arches into the gingerbread even where you would not see them in the finished house as I knew I would need to thread the lights through a little later.

Here I added a little holly to make the house more Christmassy.

Now came the sticking together. I was so worried about doing this that I actually put it off by two days! You have to remember I had never made a gingerbread house before.

The first piece up cracked a little and I thought 'Oh no!' 'is this a sign of how the rest will go' but after fixing the crack with a little icing, the rest went together really well....with a little help from some tins and jars to help support the walls why they dried .

Time for the lights to go in. This took time and two people as it had to be threaded through all the doorways I had made without breaking the gingerbread. My lovely husband helped with this bit.

                    All in and working fine :)

I left it a day to dry as I was a little worried about putting the roof on and I really did not want the house to collapse!

The next day the roof started to go on!

I had a little gingerbread left over so I decided to make Charlecote's Gatehouse too!

 It took me a while to decide how to make the turrets. In the end I to made gingerbread cylinder shapes and hoped they kept their shape during cooking,

The cylinder shapes weren't perfect but they worked. I used icing to make the tops of the turrets so I could mould them better,

 I wanted to decorate the space around the house with things that were very much part of  'Charlecote' but also around a Victorian English Christmas keeping in with the theme of Charlecote's own Christmas decorations.
I made a green Father Christmas and presents wrapped in brown paper with pretty ribbons to go under the main tree. I learnt so much from watching the lovely house team :)

                                       Here is the making of my green Father Christmas.

First I made his legs and left them aside to dry a little while I made his body.

Next his beard went on.

 A little hole was made for his mouth and his moustache goes on.

Then his hat was made.

When the legs had dried enough to support the body, they all got stuck together with a little sugar glue.

Then his mittens were made and put into place with cocktail sticks and a little more sugar glue.

The next day, Father Christmas and the Snowman I had made had a little edible glaze to help protect them.

I made a snowman because when I think of Charlecote in the snow, I remember three years ago, before I started there, walking around the park while it was snowing and finding a snowman in front of the house. 
This is my tour around Charlecote from that day and I didn't see a single soul!. I think I had the park to myself :) The photos were taken with only a pocket camera but they are the only photos of Charlecote in the snow I have.

Next came the deer of course :)

Does and Fawns
Forgive the quality of half these photos,far too many were taken on my phone.

Again cocktail sticks were used to put the head on with a little sugar glue.

Santa's sledge.

I made the sledge from icing as I wanted more control over the shape, I tried to match the colour as close as possible to the gingerbread. I don't think I did too bad :)

Next I made small bricks to build a wall from the house to the gatehouse and back again, sticking them all together with cement looking icing which I had also used to stick the house together as I didn't want plain white icing showing where I didn't want it to.

Making the patterned top part of the wall.

I hadn't planned to make the wall or the gatehouse when I first thought to make my gingerbread house but like many of my cake creations, I make them up as I go along as ideas come to me all the time.

I am so pleased I did do the wall and gatehouse, it looks so much more like Charlecote with them.

I made a few Christmas trees to place around the outside of the house. These were made of icing shaped into cones and placed on a smaller brown piece of icing to look like a trunk or a pot. The path took me ages to do. I made hundreds of mini pebbles which were all stuck down with icing one at a time.

I places all the extra bits I had made including my brown paper wrapped parcels and Santa's sack on the board to work out where everything was going. Once it was iced I would not be able to move anything around.

And so the decorating started. As I had made everything on two boards, it made it easier to turn them around to decorate and get closer to the house so I could do more of the fine detail. I couldn't decide if to cover everything in grass or snow or even a little of both so I asked on twitter and facebook and let everyone else decide. The highest votes were for snow around the house and grass in front of the house with a light dusting of snow so that is exactly what I did :) A BIG thank you to all those who voted on this. It was a big help :)

The grass was made with royal icing with coloured green and piped through a special grass nozzle.

More Christmas trees were made for this too!

Next came the snow which was also made from royal icing.

It was the evening by the time I had finished all the snow and finished placing everything where I wanted it to go but this was nice as when I turned the lights on inside the house, everything light up beautifully. It took just over three weeks to make but it was well worth the challenge. I am very pleased with my first gingerbread house ;)

I left it to try for a couple of days before transporting it to Charlecote Park, taking a few more photos before it went on it's travels in case it had an accident on the way.

When I first decided to make my Charlecote Gingerbread House I never ever expected it to get the attention it has. Everyday I have put my pc on and there it is on my twitter or Facebook feed. People loved it! I have had two local papers contact me and the local radios. Little old me famous ( ok not so little but still).  
For the journey to Charlecote I made a bed of bubble wrap and placed a quilt on top of it. I was so happy to see it arrive in one piece when I lifted my boot at the end of the journey.

And placed in reception for you to see as you enter.

I have received so many kind words about my Charlecote House for which I can't thank you enough.
I am still overwhelmed by the response to it. I never ever expected it to go crazy over the media channels as it did. Thank you all so much. As said before, this is my first ever gingerbread house. I make biscuits every year but never a house. I have had a few suggestions for next year but you will have to wait and see. I might just make another one :))

Don't waste any left over dough, you can use the same National Trust recipe to make Christmas biscuits, just make sure they dry completely for 48 hours before hanging them on your tree.

Use ribbons to match you other decorations.

Hope you enjoyed this blog.
Thanks for read it.

Jana Eastwood