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Maid of Gingerbread

By Bake Club

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We raved about gingerbread a few months ago in our Chocolate and Ginger special and now that it’s winter we feel we have to rave some more! This is the season of adorable gingerbread houses, which are enjoyed best with a cup of hot chocolate. Emily Garland, founder of Maid of Gingerbread, may have began her gingerbread journey making gingerbread houses but today also creates other interesting bakes, cakes and constructions from gingerbread, which can be devoured throughout the year!

Emily takes inspiration from the everyday and her attention to detail means her creations are beautiful and unique. This coupled with Emily’s passion for woodwork and construction ensures her creations are also sturdy! Emily agreed to answer Bake Club’s questions about her fascination with gingerbread and we can’t wait to try out some of her tips…

How did you begin your business?

My mum used to make gingerbread houses with me and my brother when we were little and a few years ago I was visiting my parents while trying to come up with a cake design for a friend's circus-themed party. Looking through books for inspiration I came across our old house templates and realised they could be adapted to make a gingerbread circus big top. I made some new templates and experimented a bit and came up with a big top filled with a circus scene, complete with animal biscuits jumping through party rings!

I enjoyed designing and making it so much that I continued building gingerbread objects in my spare time for friends and family and gradually built up the business to where it is today.

What do you find similar and different between building with gingerbread and your passion for woodwork and construction?

There's a surprising amount of crossover - I’ve always thought of my kitchen equipment as versions of woodworking tools i.e. sawing with a sharp bread knife, sanding and filing with microplane graters, drilling with the tip of a chopstick etc.

I spend quite a bit of time making sure edges fit together perfectly by filing them down to 45-degree angles, and have even used a mortise & tenon (a technique usually used to join wood together) while making a miniature gingerbread hammer!  Gingerbread definitely has the same sort of feel as working with something far more solid, as opposed to making cake sculptures for example, which I do enjoy, but that involves quite a different approach.

The main difference is the temporary nature of gingerbread as a material. I really like the fact that the things I'm working on are destined to be eaten, though - the impermanence of it means you can have more fun with the construction as the only real aim is to make people smile when they see it (and taste it)!

What’s the trickiest thing you’ve constructed from gingerbread?

I used to think the bigger the pieces the harder they’d be to construct, but in fact it’s usually the smaller builds that turn out to be the trickiest. I made the DeLorean out of gingerbread for Back To The Future day in October and wanted to have the doors open, which was pretty tricky to achieve – working against gravity is never easy! I had to adjust the angle quite a few times before they’d stay in position and fixed them using hot caramel, which is the 'superglue' of gingerbread building (it sets solid almost immediately so it's a great way of attaching awkward pieces but you only have one shot to get it in precisely the right place!)

How long does it usually take you to complete a project?

It depends on the complexity of the project.  For some things I need to build a 3D cardboard mock up to work from, others only require paper templates. It can take anything from a few hours to a few days. On average, including design & template making time most things take around 2-3 days in total. 

Tell us about your favourite project…

I think my favourite has to be my entirely edible tea set.  It’s one of the most popular designs and I’ve made a range of different versions of it over the years.  The edible cake stand is especially fun to make (mainly because once it’s built I get to make more cake just to put on top of it!)

Where do you find inspiration? Your coal plate cakes are a lovely idea!

Thanks – I find that inspiration can come from anywhere, including pavements in central London! I’ve always been drawn to symmetry and repeating patterns; I’m constantly taking photos of interesting pieces of patterned tiling or wallpaper for potential future use.  Nowadays there’s so much inspiring work on Pinterest/Instagram etc. and I love checking out what’s happening in the cake world at large, but I tend to work best with ideas found closer to home. For example, incorporating colours I found on the front of a book or creating an icing pattern in the style of the trim on my duvet cover. Since I began making things out of gingerbread it's rare that I look at an object without thinking about how I'd attempt an edible replica!

Do you have any tips for at-home bakers who are beginners when it comes to gingerbread?

I’d recommend starting out with a gingerbread gift box or a classic house design because they’re lots of fun to make and a simple structure means there’s not too much that can go wrong. Once you've built something like that you'll have the skills to attempt more complicated designs. I’d recommend using royal icing to stick everything together rather than caramel as you can adjust pieces as you go. (It’s also perfect for piping over any cracks or imperfections.)

Finally, here are few top tips for building with gingerbread:

  • Have lots of jars or tins to hand as you can use them to prop up pieces during construction of different parts
  • Invest in a flexible mini pointed spatula; I use mine for everything from mixing icing, plastering walls, cleaning up joints and smoothing edges. They are so useful and cost around £4 online!
  • Once you’ve cut out your gingerbread pieces, put the whole baking sheet into the freezer for 15 minutes then move them straight into a pre-heated oven. This helps prevent the pieces from spreading for cleaner edges.

Don’t forget to share your gingerbread creations with us! Use #bakeclublive and @bakeclublive to be featured on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.