We are finally into December, which means Christmas Day is waiting behind just a few advent calendar doors. The festive period is one to enjoy with your family and friends, be it visiting the Christmas markets in your home city or town, or taking your little ones to see Santa in his grotto. But as well as celebrating the festivities outdoors, there are ways in which you can bask in the joyous occasion from the comfort of your home.
For those with young children, setting aside some time to bake a selection of tasty treats is a great way to have fun at Christmas. Kids love getting involved in kitchen-crafty holiday projects and there's an array of child-friendly recipes that they can help with.
A gingerbread house is a sweet idea, as you can be as creative as you like when it comes to decorating. You could even make a few little houses and give them as gifts to your loved ones. They're bound to be thrilled with the personal touch - as well as with the deliciousness once they take a bite!
If you choose to make your gingerbread house from scratch, it may require some patience, as it can take a while to put the pieces together and add the decorations. However, there are a range of recipes that are designed to make the process fun and easy. You can find these in Christmas cookbooks and online, so it's best to look around to find the recipe that most suits you.
For those who are making their first ever gingerbread house, it's a good idea to start small. Once you've made your dough, leave it to chill for at least four hours, or better still - overnight. You may wish to use a pizza cutter to make each shape too.
The construction process
To bind your house together, you'll need royal icing, which you can make from scratch or buy pre-made. This will last overnight if you keep it in an airtight container, but if you use icing in a piping bag, be sure to use it on the same day that it's been made because it will begin to separate if you leave it through the night.
Alternatively, you can purchase ready-made gingerbread house kits, which require no baking at all; you simply assemble each piece and decorate it yourself.
Remember that you'll need to rest your house on a flat surface so that it remains upright. You can buy cake boards in a variety of shapes and sizes from your local crafts store or supermarket.
Now you've made your gingerbread house, it's time for the most exciting part - decorating. You can choose to decorate your house however you wish, or you can use a more traditional technique that is in keeping with the Christmas theme.
Make sure the piping has fully set before you begin decorating, to prevent your edible home from collapsing. Once dry, you can start adding colourful sweet treats to spruce up your creation. Crushed candy canes are a nice touch and can be used to outline the roof or door.
There are a number of ways to decorate the roof, including using sugar wafers to create a thatched effect. You could even coat it in icing and stick on chocolate buttons, Smarties or gummy sweets.
Mini shortbread biscuits, M&M's, humbug peppermints and hundreds-and-thousands are another fun, decorative touch that can really make your little gingerbread house come to life.
Or perhaps you're feeling extra creative, in which case you may want to bake sugar cookies in the shape of hearts or little people and place them outside the house to create a festive scene.
If you're making a gingerbread house as a present for a family member or friend, you could even write a Christmas message in icing. Dusting it with icing sugar is a nice finishing touch and creates a snowfall effect.
Why not listen to some Christmas carols as you bake? Even if it takes you a few hours to assemble and decorate your gingerbread house, you'll have the fun and special memories to share with your children for years to come.