Fruit-laden British favourites such as Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies still sweeten our festive season, but these traditional favourites often share the table with Italian panettone, a classic pavlova, a pile of sweet mangoes and a bowl of juicy cherries.
The gingerbread house is one of our favourite festive foods, and while it may seem incongruous, we say if ever there's a reason to abandon logic and embrace whimsy and the child within, Christmas time is it.
The spiciness of gingerbread is very much a matter of taste - ours sits somewhere in between; adjust the spice levels to suit your palate. The gingerbread dough is simple and can be made up to a week in advance and refrigerated. Let it stand at room temperature to soften slightly before rolling it out on a lightly floured surface.
The easiest way to cut out the pieces of gingerbread is to make cardboard templates as a guide. We made three templates: the side walls measure 14cm high and 24cm long; the roof pieces are 10.5cm wide and 27cm long; and the end walls are 13cm wide and 14cm high, with a 6cm-high pitch for the roof. Cut out two of each piece from the dough (you may need to re-roll the scraps).
Once the gingerbread pieces are baked, cool them briefly on the oven trays, then cool them completely on wire racks, ensuring they're completely flat, and store them in airtight containers between layers of baking paper until required.
A couple of piping bags and cake decorating piping tubes are a worthy investment. Cake decorating piping tubes are smaller than pâtisserie piping tubes, are made of metal and come in all manner of shapes to produce different decorative finishes. We found the most versatile were a 2mm plain tube and a 4mm scalloped tube. You'll also need a board or flat platter to act as the foundations of your house.
The quantity of royal icing we've made may seem enormous, but how much you need will depend on the amount of decoration you have planned. You may find it easier to make it in two batches, and that way you can adjust the consistency according to how you intend to use the icing - a thicker consistency is better for bonding the structure together, while a slightly thinner version is more suited to decorative work. Adjust the icing with extra icing sugar or water as you go, and do a test run on a piece of baking paper before you start.
We found it easiest to do all the decorative piping on the gingerbread pieces before assembling them, but ensure the icing is completely dry before you begin construction. Decorate the pieces with whatever edible fripperies you like, pressing them into the icing while it's still wet. Don't get too carried away, though, or your house might collapse under their weight.
To keep the walls upright and perpendicular to the adjacent pieces during assembly, you'll need to use straight-sided glasses. Ensure the walls are steady, secure and thoroughly bonded before you affix the roof.
The finishing touch is to disguise the board, using fondant or more royal icing to cover it. And now your work is done - at this point your creation will last for about a week.