The Palace of Versailles: A vanilla and green tea biscuit showstopper for The British Museum
versailles-gardens.jpg

As you might expect, being a Gingerbread Engineer I have a 'wish list' of dream buildings I would love to make in biscuit form.  The Palace of Versailles has been on that list for a long while, so when I received a commission to build it by The British Museum I was so excited!  The Château is just one of the most famous and stunning buildings in the world; what an amazing challenge to recreate it as a biscuit centrepiece.

Making the Biscuit Palace of Versailles

I suggested using vanilla biscuit as a light, summery alternative to gingerbread (and to better match the pale stonework of the real building), along with matcha green tea biscuits for the surrounding gardens; the natural colour and flavour of the matcha lends itself perfectly to edible greenery.  

Prep work

As with most large scale projects, I started by working out the rough dimensions and then produced a 3D cardboard model of the whole building, from which I made all the templates for the biscuits.  It always looks really messy at this stage, but I really enjoy the process of working out which pieces of the building to incorporate and how to make everything fit together.

versailles cardboard.jpg

Once all the cardboard engineering is complete, I destroy the 3D model (!) and produce a really detailed plan so that once all the biscuits are baked I know how it all fits back together.  For this project I'd divided the main palace into 3 separate buildings which I joined up during the installation on site.

Construction of the Palace

As well icing all the individual details onto each component part, I baked lots of internal support components to ensure every bit of the building stayed perfectly in place.

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It's my favourite part of any project when it gets to the stage where you can see how the finished building will look.  For the Château, one of these moments was recreating the iconic main courtyard.  I used pastillage to make all the delicate architectural features, along with lots of edible metallic paint to bring it to life.

biscuit palace of versailles edible metallic paint

The gardens

The Château de Versailles would just not be complete without its beautiful gardens.  I chose Japanese matcha green tea biscuits for these, so they would have a really natural look and a deliciously fresh taste.  Over 750 individual green tea biscuits in lots of different shapes went to make up the forest-like gardens that surround the palace, each arranged in an ornate pattern around a central courtyard decorated with chocolate sprinkles.  I also created a series of formal gardens using flat biscuits intricately decorated with piped icing, inspired by the stunning Versailles Orangery.

versailles gardens
making of versailles green tea gardens

Installation

The completed palace and gardens were installed in the absolutely stunning venue that is the Great Hall of The British Museum as the centrepiece for their annual Summer Party.  Even though this is one of the biggest installations I've made it was totally dwarfed by the surrounding architecture!  It was such a joy to make and I loved setting it up amongst their incredible floral decorations.

palace of versailles in british museum
Things to do in the summer with gingerbread

Summertime is creeping in so I wanted to share with you some ways to enjoy the summer in all its biscuity goodness. I mentioned last week about how gingerbread isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for all year round. There is a plethora of uses for gingerbread aside from building gingerbread houses and decorating them in snow 'icing' - although, let’s be honest, that’s fun too.

Being a gingerbread connoisseur, I love to experiment with what I can make, taking my biscuit building to the next level. I’ve made 3D installations for shop windows and recreated ancient tombs as well as producing replicas of existing buildings in delicious biscuit form.

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But I always feel like there’s more that can be done with gingerbread. Despite its lack of bendiness it’s actually a really versatile building material and can hold its own in almost any shape you can imagine. So with the summer just around the corner, I wanted to inspire you to get baking no matter the weather outside. So, with that said, here are some ideas to help you celebrate and enjoy biscuity goodness all year-round.

Things to do in the summer with gingerbread (that isn’t baking a gingerbread house!)

Creative wedding favour ideas

Weddings can sometimes be a little bit awkward for guests. If you get sat next to someone you don’t know it can be hard to strike up a conversation or feel comfortable at your table. Group wedding favours can kill two birds with one stone! And if you can make that wedding favour edible you’ll have some very happy guests. A 3D gingerbread table centrepiece will encourage everyone to talk and band together, break into the biscuits and provide a really fun after dinner treat. Try it and see how it brings out the inner child in your guests! It can also save you a lot of money on buying individual wedding favours.  If you’re feeling really brave why not try baking your own?

Edible piñatas

Piñatas are great for outdoor summer parties, for adults and kids alike. They are social, fun, silly and great to get people up and active at a party. But a fully edible piñata? You’d be surprised how much more excited people are about getting involved! I created a gingerbread fiesta llama piñata recently, which featured hand-piped royal icing ruffles and was filled to the brim with rainbow sweets. 

gingerbread llama pinata.jpg

The great thing about edible piñatas is there’s no mess left behind because every element is edible, so you don’t have to worry about clearing up and disposing of lots of rubbish at the end of the day.

Edible bunting for your summer BBQ

It might sound like a crazy idea, but stick with me. Gingerbread is perfect for an outdoor summer party. Try baking a tray of gingerbread men, or birds, or triangles for traditional bunting. In fact, it could be anything to match the theme of your party. Just punch a hole in them just before you place them in the oven, decorate them sparingly with royal icing and you’ll have yourself the start of a perfect row of bunting! Thread some ribbon through each piece - make sure it’s thick ribbon to support the weight of the bunting - and hang it up, perhaps in the trees if you’re in a park or around the windows of a gazebo. The best thing is, you can finish your BBQ and turn to the decorations for your dessert.

Alternative wedding cake

Wedding season is starting - although, of course, people have weddings all year round, we just seem to love the sunshine - and the past few years have seen a rise in people opting for an alternative wedding. They might not want a white dress, or a first dance, or a traditional wedding cake. I’ve had many requests over the years to make alternative wedding cakes. One of my favourites was this recreation of a ruined tomb I made for a couple who were both archaeologists.

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They both preferred biscuits to cake but still wanted something spectacular to be the centrepiece for their wedding. Gingerbread is a great alternative to a wedding cake because you can make a display of individual pieces or an impressive structure in the shape of almost anything you love. It can be decorated just as much as you can decorate a cake, so it’s guaranteed to look spectacular, and because it's hollow you can include a whole host of delicious surprises inside it too!

Picnic centrepiece

There’s something about the summer heat that makes us Brits turn alfresco and many of us love to have big celebrations outdoors, whether it’s a birthday, wedding, engagement party or family reunion. A centrepiece at an outdoor party can make it feel special but cakes are not the best items to leave out in the sun for hours. Biscuits, on the other hand, are great. They won’t go soggy or begin to melt, you don’t need to worry about keeping them on ice or in the shade. If you want to bake something really special, try making a vanilla biscuit box filled with your favourite treats and decorated with edible flowers: delicious summery perfection!

So here are five ideas for summer biscuits, but there’s so much more you could do! Gingerbread is a great building tool, and it’s possible to build anything you can imagine. What about you? What’s the strangest thing you’ve used gingerbread for and will you be trying anything new with biscuits this summer?

The Story of Maid of Gingerbread

Emily here, Maid of Maid of Gingerbread, alternative wedding cake baker and unique party ideas
maker extraordinaire. With the summer creeping in (almost) and our thoughts turning to the year
ahead, I thought it was about time I told you about how I got into 3D gingerbread construction and why I love it so much (aside from the fact that it’s super fun and delicious!). Here’s a little interview with me about why I love making bespoke event centrepieces.

Maid of Gingerbread came to life because of a rebellion against cakes and the circus…

I first came up with the idea of Maid of Gingerbread in 2010. My friend hosts a big fancy dress party every year and in 2010 the theme was the circus. I wanted to bake a cake to bring to the party but I couldn’t think of a cool enough cake design. I knew it had to be spectacular. I went back home to Colchester in Essex to visit my parents and I came across our old gingerbread house templates. We used to really enjoy baking gingerbread homes and would bake them every year. It was this that gave me the idea to build a gingerbread circus big top - because, believe it or not, gingerbread doesn’t always have to be in the shape of a house or person. I adapted the old gingerbread templates and the circus top came to life.

The great thing about building with gingerbread is that it’s hollow so I was able to create an entire circus to put inside the circus top construction. I added Cadbury’s animal biscuit lions and made them jump through party rings. The making process really brought out my inner child. My friends loved it and were really impressed and I enjoyed making it. At the time, I didn’t really think about it as creating an event centrepiece, but I guess that’s what it was.

When I had to leave my job that summer due to health reasons - I had RSI in my wrists and had to avoid computer work - I decided it was time to give full-time baking a go. And so, Maid of Gingerbread was born.

The hurdles I’ve had to jump

The biggest challenge I’ve had to face so far in my baking career is building a 3D gingerbread model of Castle Howard in Yorkshire. In fact, it’s been my biggest project to date.

The project involved making the main house and seven of its surrounding buildings and monuments and creating a winter wonderland installation in intricate detail. Not only did I have to copy the architectural plans of each building and translate them into tasty gingerbread, hand-piped royal icing, edible metallic paint and pastillage, I also had to make sure the tall obelisk structures stayed upright - no easy feat!

gingerbread castle howard with working gingerbread train

Creating an edible, moving train was my next challenge, which nearly broke me, but it worked in the end and looked great. I created a gingerbread train that worked and weaved its way through the frosty landscape. To top it all off, after I’d made a tasty, edible structure that held together, I still had to transport it in a van all the way from London to Yorkshire. With thanks to good driving and a spot of good luck, it made it in one piece.

I love recreating real-life objects and translating them into gingerbread. My other favourite projects include creating a Temple of Gingerbread and a personal favourite of mine, creating an edible DeLorean (see pictures). To me, these are projects that prove gingerbread is for life, not just for Christmas.

gingerbread temple
gingerbread back to the future delorean

Why I love gingerbread

I've always loved building things and I love food. Gingerbread is the perfect material to combine these two passions. The first time I tried gingerbread was at my 4th birthday party thanks to a house my mum made for me and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.

About my gingerbread making technique

Traditional gingerbread houses tend to use a puffy gingerbread mixture which includes bicarbonate of soda and a thick, gloopy icing to snow over the joints. Although this technique works to keep the structure together, in my opinion, the end results are sometimes messy and scrappy looking. I wanted to create a mixture that would not only tastes delicious but look professional and give a cleaner, sharper edge to allow me to build modern designs.

I decided to adapt a sugar cookie recipe for the gingerbread and file down the joints using a Microplane zester (one many utensils used as 'tools' in my toolbox). This means the edges fit together perfectly and hide most of the icing on the inside of the structure, creating the clean, smooth looking structure you can see in my finished products.

What’s next for Maid of Gingerbread?

I have dreams to spread the gingerbread love even further by writing a book about gingerbread construction. In fact, I would love to do a gingerbread tour of Europe to explore all the different traditions of spiced bread. It took me a while to refine my unique and top secret spice recipe!

Call me ambitious, but I want to make even bigger, bolder and brighter constructions! I want to spread the love of gingerbread making by encouraging more people to experiment with 3D biscuit building using my BISC KITS and joining me on one of my construction workshops to learn how to do it yourself.