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Gingerbread Sleigh and Reindeers

There are those who say no Christmas is complete without something made out of gingerbread - a house, typically, but really anything goes - your favourite building, your dog, or Santa's sleigh with edible reindeer. Yum.

Gingerbread Sleigh and Reindeers

These same people will also have you believe it would be fun to get some kids in to help you, and this may be true if you restrict yourself to simple two-dimensional cutouts and the kids' role is simply to stick Smarties on things. My problems with gingerbread structures are rooted in my over-ambition. I am a three-dimensional designer, so stamping out a flat person or reindeer with a pre-made stamp just doesn't do it for me.

To be honest, I don't have a whole lot of experience with gingerbread. I have so little, in fact, that I can detail my three previous attempts at gingerbread construction here. The first one was the second Christmas we were married. Our baby had been born at the beginning of December, and we didn't want him to know what lousy parents we were by failing to produce a perfectly-formed gingerbread house. I wasn't particularly into cooking at that time, and I kind of assumed that my shiny new wife would know exactly how to make a gingerbread Empire State Building complete with working elevators if that's what you wanted.

I designed the simplest house possible, templates were produced, gingerbread was cut to shape, baked, cooled and trimmed. Royal icing glue was made and we began assembling the house. It soon became clear that you had to hold the pieces firmly in place while the icing set, and even when you thought it had, the walls would still come crashing down. By the time we got to trying to stick the roof on (3 a.m. if I recall correctly) we were practically in tears. We had the central heating on full-belt, and also the gas fire in the living room with the gingerbread house directly in front of it. I don't remember how or if we decorated it, and I don't know if it met with the approval of our Firstborn. He's never mentioned it, bless him.

Gingerbread structures were off the agenda for many years after that, but four years ago I decided to tackle it again and to video the attempt for my YouTube channel Keef Cooks. 2016 gingerbread houseI thought it should be considerably easier this time. I'd become fairly serious about cooking and I decided to attempt something basic but elaborately decorated. And with edible glass in the windows! What could possibly go wrong? Well, we had slabs breaking when you tried to tidy up the window openings. Inevitably the icing glue didn't want to set and ended up surrounding the whole structure inside and out with books and boxes of anything that had a bit of weight to support it while it set. I'd designed a chimney to go on the roof, otherwise how would Santa gain entry? That was a mini-house on its own with four walls, two of which had an inverted V at the bottom, an overhanging slab on top and two cylindrical chimney pots. After a day or so, the fake window glass began to melt - some of it I'd coloured red and it did look like blood dribbling down the walls. There's a somewhat mournful video of this gingerbread house being constructed here:

Moving on. This year I decided to try something else. Initially I thought of the ruins of nearby Kirkstall Abbey, on the basis that it mostly hasn't got a roof (rooves are notorious for sliding off) and the walls are a bit wrecked so whatever horror I produced would look deliberate. But Mrs Keef Cooks vetoed that and suggested Santa's sleigh and the full set of reindeer. Okay, it doesn't have a roof and it's a fairly simple structure ... but it still took three days and drove me to the very edge of insanity.

I wanted my reindeer to be free-standing, with splayed legs slotted onto the body and also slightly 3D so the antlers would be slotted on at 90 degrees. But if there were going to be eight or nine of them, there was no way I was going to cut them out by hand. Obviously, the thing to do was 3D print a set of cutters, one each for the body, antlers and legs. As always, the first attempt at a design rarely works. Version 2 was better, and version 3 would have been perfect but I was seriously running out of time by then so I had to use version 2 and I only made one reindeer. But he did get a red icing nose.

I'd planned to decorate the sleigh by piping the fine outlines of flowers, but my icing was too runny and it spread itself very wide once applied to the gingerbread. I ended up changing it to flooded panels of icing with Smarties applied. It actually looks pretty fabulous.Offspring spent Christmas with us and a little bit dubious about trying gingernread that's been lying around the kitchen for five days. But we encouraged him to try the spare body of a reindeer (how I've longed to write a sentence like that!) and he loved it. This is the thing about gingerbread structures - the original gingerbread has to be very hard for structural reasons, but this makes it unpleasant to eat. After several days of absorbing moisture in the kitchen however, it becomes soft and delicious. So no matter if your gingerbread mansion would be condemned by a council building inspector, you can still enjoy the wreckage. Happy Christmas!

The video above is from the Keef Cooks YouTube channel. Click here to see the video recipe of Gingerbread Sleigh and Reindeers on YouTube.