There’s only really one answer when one of your favourite craft breweries one day asks if you’d like to make a beer out of your gingerbread, and - spoiler alert - the answer isn’t usually no. When the guys at Affinity Brew Co. asked whether I’d be up for it, I obviously said yes with bells on, hopped (geddit) down to their brewery in Bermondsey, and got started on crafting my very own gingerbread beer, which is now available to drink and buy around the country. What a dream come true!
Ok - deep breaths, people. Today, I can reveal something I’ve been squirrelling away on for a very long time: I’m adding fortune cookies to the list of biscuit brilliance I can offer my customers! HOOOOORAAAAAY! HURRAAAAAH! YAAAAAY! (Imagine confetti streaming from the ceiling, a trumpet fanfare going off, the Queen nodding in approval, people weeping at the magnificence of the news – you know the drill).
Confetti streamers and HRH aside, I am SUPER excited to be launching beautifully decorated fortune cookies to the Maid of Gingerbread roster. Uniquely combining my three faves: unbeatable biscuit, unmissable fun and unbelievable decoration, they’re the perfect alternative addition to a gift, a project, or an event.
Before you ask; no, they’re not made of gingerbread, but they’re not the same old lame fortune cookies you’re used to either. Oh no no no! Instead of transparent, unidentifiable (and often questionable) dough, mine are proudly made of delicious, crisp buttery vanilla biscuit, and decorated to look just as divine. Though that seems like a good enough reason already, here’s why fortune cookies are so BLOOMIN’ BRILLIANT and why you’ll feel fortunate (geddit!) to have them in your life:
The main drive behind my baking has always been making people smile, and encouraging people to have fun and interact with food. (That’s why I started making fully edible biscuit piñatas – I genuinely love watching people smashing into the gingerbread centrepieces I’ve made them). Fortune cookies are the same for me – they’re playful pockets of edible fun that make people smile. But over and above making me happy, I LOVE that they can make other people happy too. It’s safe to say that the world is awfully depressing at the minute, and people relish little bits of positivity in their lives now more than ever. Opening a fortune cookie gives you the same lovely mini buzz that you get from opening a gift, with the added bonus of the message being something supportive and empowering in a time of need. They’re a great little pick-me-up (both positive vibes wise and, of course, sugar wise!)
So instead of the generic nonsense fortunes you usually get in fortune cookies, you can completely customise the message that goes inside them. This super high level of personalisation makes them ideal gifts to send to someone special – they’re perfect for Congratulations, Get Well Soons, I Love Yous and Will You Marry Me?s – and also for larger crowds at corporate events. You could even have them form a Willy Wonka-esque Golden Ticket style draw, with all of the cookies having an on-brand message inside bar one and a different message for the lucky winner!
And let’s not forget the outside too! Their gorgeous intricate decorations, with the ability to match any colour swatch, makes them perfect personalised wedding favours. They’ll be going on sale in my online shop this time next week! (Tue 4th June)
My top 9 inspiring women for International Women’s Day 2019
To celebrate International Women’s Day I’m reflecting on the women who most inspire me. I was originally just going to talk about other female bakers, but then when I sat down to write this I realised I’m inspired by amazing women all across the board, so I decided to focus on three (rhyming, naturally!) categories: Bakers, Makers, and Movers/Shakers. Even then it was SO tough to narrow it down; it turns out there are dozens of women inspiring me every day (woop!). So, here are just a few of the awesome ladies who make me feel empowered and encourage me to keep going and keep creating.
Top of this list for me has to be the ever-awesome Lily Vanilli who makes running a full-time bespoke bakery and a weekly cafe look totally effortless. I’ve always admired her stylish (and always delicious) baking, as well as her approach to business - Lily actively supports others which has led to her being one of the most loved people in this industry. She really helped me when I was starting out and I’m loving watching Vanilli’s go global - she just opened a whole other bakery, in Georgia!
Next up is Reshmi Bennett of Anges de Sucre, not just for her world-renowned cake designs (which goes without saying), but also as a source of encouragement and knowledge. I absolutely love Reshmi’s positive approach to business challenges (her responses to requests for freebies are AMAZING!) and I’ve shared her blog post on ‘Copy Cat Cakes’ numerous times as it perfectly captures a really tricky issue, explains it in a way that everyone can understand, and encourages people to prevent Intellectual Property theft in the industry. Reshmi is an absolute force for good!
Finally, a massive shout-out to the total goddesses of ‘girl power’, Meringue Girls who are always pushing forwards with their business and have taken the humble meringue to a totally insane level! I have so much respect for them and their amazing team. It’s so encouraging to work in an industry being led by such phenomenal business women.
First up in this category is a fellow musician-turned-maker, the inimitable Kat Flint whose insanely intricate lino print artworks went stratospheric last year and she’s finally getting the credit she always deserved. I’ve been an admirer (and proud friend!) of her since the beginning and her beautiful story-filled designs and distinctive style are a constant source of inspiration and joy.
Next, the original official Queen Of Biscuits, Nikki McWilliams who not only creates the most sought-after biscuit themed merch in the world, but is also an absolute visionary in the making community. She’s constantly learning and teaching new things and providing endless encouragement to makers everywhere. I finally met Nikki briefly last year when we were both judges on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas - I can’t wait to see more of her on screen in the future!
Finally, in the ‘makers’ category, is Emily Alston - aka Emily Forgot - who I first came across when she spoke at Reasons To a couple of years back. Emily’s work is just incredible and I totally love her eye for colours and materials. I am now full-on obsessed with her wooden architectural assemblages (I have a print of one of my faves in my studio and fantasise about creating biscuit versions of them!); her new work is a source of constant inspiration and if you ever feel stuck in a creative rut, head over to Muse & Maker where she features endlessly intriguing objects and artworks.
This category is for those amazing women juggling multiple endeavours and who are always focused on changing stuff for the better. Super inspirational!
Top of this list is one of my favourite women, Genia Mineeva, founder of BEEN London. Aside from being an all-round fab human being, Genia is an absolute inspiration in setting up and running a brand. Having gone back to uni to study sustainability, she discovered a technology that reconstructs leather from waste trimmings (normally destined for landfill) and has gone on to create BEEN, which turns this material into gorgeous bags and accessories all made in London. She’s taken it from a Kickstarter campaign to a fully fledged business in record time and I’m so proud and excited to see what she’ll do next - totally awe-inspiring!
Next, another Emily, Emily Coxhead of The Happy Newspaper, which celebrates all the good news from around the world. Her boundless positivity and drive to bring smiles to as many people as possible is a source of constant inspiration and something that is much needed in the world right now! I also admire her openness about running a business (definitely check out her Instagram stories) and the way she incorporates her personality into all aspects of her brand.
Last, but by no means least, is Ellie Kime aka The Enthusiast. Ellie is another wonderful beacon of positivity! She’s constantly creating new ways of bringing enthusiasm to the masses, spreading the message of “caring is cool” via her excellent T shirts and “Happy To Move For You” badges to help people with invisible disabilities get a seat on the tube, as well as running multiple side hustles including a new podcast for the wedding industry, The Business Proposal. Just awesome.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading all about my Top Nine! I feel totally honoured to be surrounded by so many inspirational women. Happy International Women’s Day!
When you’re in the business of gingerbread architecture, your gingerbread has to do more than just taste divine - it has to face many an issue of construction too! That means you need an essential toolkit of all the instruments you rely on to make your gingerbread buildings. If you’ve ever looked in your utensils drawer and thought “What tools do I need to make the perfect gingerbread?” well, pals, this is for you. This week I I’m taking you through my toolkit to show you what each bit is and what it does!
Just as Michael Bublé thaws out in November to start cracking out those velvety Christmas tunes we all love, you may think that I only make festive gingerbread around Christmastime. However, I make gingerbread and biscuity bits ALL year round, and 2018 was my favourite year yet in terms of huge gingerbread buildings, projects, and partnerships!
I thought I’d look back at some of my favourite projects of 2018 - and look forward at some of the super exciting bits I’ve got coming up this year too - to hopefully excite and inspire you…
Just as a dog is for life and not just for Christmas, so is biscuit - and that’s why it makes such a fantastic addition to weddings. Gingerbread is so versatile and so much can be done with it to fit your theme that it’s ideal whether you’re having a winter or summer wedding. ‘Out there’ enough that it’ll totally enthrall guests, but traditional enough that people will want to dive in, it’s the perfect alternative wedding cake idea. I also do biscuit cakes too, if you’re more of a custard cream kind of person (I don’t judge.) Here’s a few of the options as some inspiration for ya, but as everything is handmade by me in East London, you can have essentially whatever you most desire!
This recipe is the icing on the cake - or, should I say, the gingerbread. Getting the perfect icing is crucial to all of my bakes and builds, as not only is it how I make all of the bespoke details and patterns in my designs, but it’s also how I stick all of my pieces together! This means I need an icing that’s robust and dependable, but also malleable enough for me to be able to colour it, manipulate it, and perfect tiny finishing touches with it. Too watery, and my builds would fall apart; too thick, and I wouldn’t be able to decorate anything.
You may think it’s an impossible balance to strike but it’s actually really easy to make. No secret tricks, no crazy ingredients - just the right ratios and a steady hand! See my recipe below, and watch the video above to watch it in action.
Last week, I shared my Construction Gingerbread recipe with you - the one I use for all of my building projects to give you the most delicious gingerbread building ever. This week, I’m sharing all the tips and tricks of construction with you to make sure your build is totally structurally sound, too! Check out the video above and my top tips below for all the insider secrets on perfect gingerbread!
The clue is in the title: this gingerbread was born to build. It’s the perfect gingerbread recipe for building sturdy Christmas gingerbread houses, or something slightly bigger. It’s the exact recipe I’ve used for all of my wonderful and wacky projects over the years! It’s also the ideal gingerbread to eat, because I never compromise on flavour. What would be the point on making everything out of gingerbread if it couldn’t be eaten at the end?
If you know anything about Maid of Gingerbread, you’ll know two things: 1. I love making gingerbread and 2. I LOVE making gingerbread replicas of real life buildings. It’s one of my favourite bits of my job, taking a brief of a beautiful, awe-inspiring structure and translating it into gingerbread format. I thought it’d be a great idea to take you behind the scenes of the process, and explain just how I take giant designs from brief to bake to build. Hopefully it’ll kickstart some inspiration in you and get you thinking about what I can make you out of gingerbread - if you have any ideas head to the bottom of the blog to find out more about the ordering process!
I know it doesn’t bear thinking about the C word right now, but today I wanted to throw back to one of my favourite projects to date; a giant Christmassy gingerbread replica of Castle Howard. And when I say giant, I do mean giant – it was over 3 and a half metres wide, and 2 and a half metres deep!
The brief - an event centrepiece
The gingerbread build was in collaboration with Bompas & Parr, who are some of my industry heroes: what they do with food is beyond belief, so when I heard I’d be working with them I literally jumped for joy! They wanted a Winter Wonderland version of Castle Howard, a beautiful stately home just outside of York, as well as the estate’s other buildings and monuments to be displayed as the event centrepiece of their epic Christmas decorations. Gingerbread is perfect all year round – but especially at Christmas, obviously…
In the end, I made 8 gingerbread buildings: Castle Howard, the Ray Wood Reservoir, Temple of the Four Winds, Mausoleum, Carmirre Gate, Carlisle’s Obelisk, the train station, and the Earl’s Monument. The top of the Earl’s Monument is a highly detailed gold filigree piece – it was so fiddly (and with a four and a half hour journey, nerve-wracking) but a fun challenge!
I started with reference images for each of these buildings, to begin the process of working out how to make each one in gingerbread format. Once I’d worked out the template, I made it from cardboard and assembled it to ensure it was structurally sound (I didn’t want to be the one responsible for destroying Castle Howard now, did I?). After that, I used the cardboard templates to build the gingerbread versions. To retain the fine, delicate details of the buildings, I also used icing and pastillage (a kind of super-strong, super-thin, porcelain-like icing) to decorate. As the main house was going to have interior lighting, we also had proper window detailing in there.
To add to the winter wonderland effect, I made a real working train for the set by taking apart a real Hornby set and replacing the chassis with gingerbread and icing. It required a lot of playing in the studio to ensure it worked, but sometimes you’ve got to make sacrifices for work, right?! When there’s a will, there’s a gingerbread way – the words I live by…
Now, I know what you’re thinking – I’m based in Hackney, and Castle Howard is in York. Was that not the most nerve-wracking install ever? And the answer, my friends, is yes, yes it was. After 2 months of designing and making everything, I then had to drive the buildings up to Yorkshire to install (that’s a four and a half hour drive each way!). Once there, I worked with Bompas & Parr on the install, as they’d created the landscaping that the gingerbread was to sit on. It took three of us just to carry the main house in, and I had to take lots of spares of every component in case stuff broke! In the end though, it arrived in perfect condition.
Once set up, the gingerbread Castle Howard was displayed for month in the lead up to Christmas 2016. It’s one of the many things I love about gingerbread– and believe me, there are many – but once it’s there, it stays there!
Do you fancy a large scale build or event centrepiece made entirely from gingerbread? If you do, get in touch with me here - I’d love to hear from you!
All photo credits: Bompas & Parr
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!
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.
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.