I have made this before. I came up with the template years ago, and do love to whip it out to make an impressive, yet time consuming gift for someone special. This year I made it for my Dad and his wife. I was very excited about it.
For many years, my Dad was ordained as a Deacon in the Anglican Church. He is trained as a bioethicist, and believes that is his calling. He is very good at it, and I believe it to be a noble pursuit. There are many different ethical frameworks used to keep medical practitioners of all descriptions in check. For many people, religion is their ethical framework of choice. Recently he decided to leave the Anglicans for the Catholics, who hold medical ethics in much higher esteem. I have had many spiritual and wondrous moments in various churches with my father, and I hope he will find his place in the Catholic Ordinariate.
I was poor in finances this Christmas, but had the time to make an appropriate gift. I wanted to make him this cathedral as a way of offering my support to his recent choices in the church. I had hoped he may have his new Catholic priest over for tea one morning, and be able to show off my creation. But I’m not sure it will have made it past Christmas Day Mark II, with my great uncle in Sydney. I am not at all sad about that.
I am very excited about the prospect of having my template for this cathedral, made into a set of cookie cutters by the tinsmiths of Soho Foundry at the historic Sovereign Hill, in Ballarat, Victoria. I recently visited for the first time in 15 years. I had just as much fun as the last time I went, and was again awed by the craftsmanship on show. I made enquiries about having them make such a set, and they seemed more than accommodating. A cookie cutter set would make creating one of these a lot easier.
The stained glass windows contribute part of the overall effect of the cathedral, but in many ways they are the easiest part to make. Having cut out the shapes for the walls, I merely remove the portions for the windows and place some hard boiled sweets in the gap. As the gingerbread bakes, the sweets melt down to form the stained glass. You do need to make sure you have enough sweets though, it is easy to underestimate how much will be required to fill the space. I find it hard to find boiled sweets in the stores these days. I have used Double D sugar free fruit drops the previous two times I’ve made this. They’ve worked a treat. They are available in some mainstream supermarkets.
The tricky part is the culinary architecture of assembling the thing. I start with a short and long wall. I use royal icing to cement the walls to the floor and each other. When that is set, I reinforce them both with a lot more icing. Then I add the other long wall, first attaching, then reinforcing once its set (this is a patter you see, one that is worth taking the time to follow). I do the sections of short wall that will be either side of the bell tower, and then let them set, reinforce and set. Then one needs to apply the roof. This is a tricky affair. I am undecided if it’s best to do both sections together, or one at a time. I did one section at a time this year, carefully checking how it would sit against the other, before setting it in place, then reinforcing. Once the roof is on and reinforced, you need to trim, and arrange the bell tower. The sides that sit astride the roof will need to be trimmed (to account for the rise in gingerbread. I affix those sides first (checking the complete length will fit between them), setting and then reinforcing them, before adding the complete side and the short section that sits entirely atop the roof. Once they are both reinforced add the door ajar. It is tricky arranging the four sections of the roof of the belltower. I do them in twos, making sure each pair sits at right angles, before reinforcing the pair. Then join the pairs, and reinforce, before securing the bell. When all that’s set, fix it to the top of the bell tower with yet more icing.
Once it’s set, all you have to do is add icicles to all the overhanging parts (and ‘windowsills’). Of course a couple of Cadbury Curly Wurly make the perfect churchyard fence. One year I made a tree from peppermint leaves, but this year, I made a chocolate biscuit tree with a series of consecutively sized stars. Sprinkle over some icing sugar ‘snow’ and you’ll have a lovely village churchyard. If you remember, place a tea-light candle inside the cathedral as you’re assembling it, leaving it close enough to the door to light on Christmas day, and the light will glow through the stained glass windows to great effect.