Make mine a mansion! Britain’s first ‘gingerbread architect’ recreates buildings including the Palace of Versailles and Castle Howard on a scale that would put Bake Off stars to shame
Did your one attempt to make a Kersfees gingerbread house end up in a humiliating heap of crumbs and soggy icing? Then you might want to look away now. Because these glorious showstoppers put the stars of Bake Off to shame.
From the Palace of Versailles to Castle Howard, there’s no building that Britain’s first ‘gingerbread architect’ can’t recreate.
Every year, Emily Garland creates exquisitely scaled-down models of some of the world’s most beautiful buildings, complete with doric columns, domed roofs and window after window painstakingly piped with royal icing.
And while they’d certainly make a glorious centrepiece for your Christmas table, you’d struggle to fit some of the largest through the door. After ten years honing her cooking and construction techniques, her biggest creation of all was 6ft high.
Though you’d expect her to have learnt in a top patisserie, the 38-year-old — known as ‘the Maid of Gingerbread’ — is self-taught. ‘My mother told me that cooking is a game you can eat,’ says Emily.
Townhouse: Emily made this 6ft creation for the Ideal Home Exhibition, using around 22lb of flour. From the Palace of Versailles to Castle Howard, there’s no building that Britain’s first ‘gingerbread architect’ can’t recreate
‘I have only ever learnt on the job. Egter, I think of myself just as much as an engineer. My materials just happen to be edible.’
It’s easy to sniff out Emily’s studio in a mews in Hackney, Oos-Londen, thanks to the delicious aromas emanating from it.
Inside a cramped room, lined with pots of treacle and a rainbow of food colouring, today she is putting the finishing touches to a 2ft replica of a Georgian townhouse in Central London.
From the edible black brickwork to the ornate cornicing, this is clearly the centrepiece for an elegant Christmas party. So how does she do it?
‘For bigger builds, my first step is to use Google Earth to capture aerial shots,' sy sê. ‘Then I make cardboard models. Once I am happy with it, I dismantle it and use the templates to cut the gingerbread pieces to the right sizes.’
The gingerbread dough is cooked at exactly the right temperature for each piece’s size for maximum strength. Volgende, the edges are filed down with a cheese grater so each segment fits to perfection.
Waldorf Hotel: Emily spent a week making this 3ft x 2ft model for a Christmas display in the hotel’s foyer
The final step is to glue them together with royal icing whipped to the consistency of toothpaste. She often dyes it to the same shade as the gingerbread to create a seamless effect.
I imagine the most nerve-racking part must be transporting her incredible confections. But Emily reveals that bigger buildings are moved in parts then pieced together at their destination.
In any case, Emily’s work is designed to be robust. ‘They always arrive in one piece. I haven’t had an accident yet.’
Her passion for gingerbread houses began as a tot in a family of enthusiastic home bakers near Colchester, Essex.
Entranced by the sight and smell, she was just four when she asked her mother to make her a gingerbread house for her birthday instead of a cake.
Selfs so, baking didn’t seem like a career option and she initially trained as a musician. Maar 11 years ago she was invited to a friend’s circus-themed birthday party and decided to make a gingerbread big top, complete with animals jumping through Party Ring biscuits.
‘Everyone’s reaction was so overwhelming I started to wonder if I could turn it into a business.’
Having left her job in university administration, Emily started selling biscuits, before moving into gingerbread versions of real homes. Oortyd, her constructions became more ambitious.
‘I would make something and then someone would see it and want something bigger.’
108 MARYLEBONE LANE: Emily’s gingerbread version of the chic London brasserie is 2ft across and took her three days to complete
PALACE OF VERSAILLES: Emily works on 6ft x 4ft replica commissioned by the British Museum and big enough to feed 750 mense
The gingerbread dough is cooked at exactly the right temperature for each piece’s size for maximum strength. Volgende, the edges are filed down with a cheese grater so each segment fits to perfection
Castle Howard: Emily took three months over this awesome creation, which includes seven separate buildings and a train
Her favourite part is seeing her clients’ faces when they set eyes on her gingerbread replicas. ‘It doesn’t matter who they are, or how grand the house, when a customer sees their property made out of gingerbread, you can see child-like excitement in their eyes’
Her breakthrough came in 2016 when she got her first large-scale commission to recreate Castle Howard, the Yorkshire stately home famous as the house in TV’s Brideshead Revisited. The 4m by 3m model included seven separate buildings and had a model train. Commission to completion took three months.
Sedertdien, Emily has made copies of iconic buildings including Somerset House, The Waldorf Hotel and Lancaster House.
While prices for her creations can start at just two figures, the most ambitious reach up to four. ‘Each piece is bespoke. Much of it depends on how complicated the building is,’ says Emily.
'Byvoorbeeld, domes aren’t impossible to make, but they do take longer.’
Emily also shares her secrets in online kits available from her website, which includes templates for a range of projects. What most amateur bakers will be clamouring to know is how she keeps all her creations upright. The secret, Emily reveals, is a smooth biscuit, evenly cooked.
‘The best gingerbread recipe is one that doesn’t have any bicarbonate of soda or egg in it, so you get nice flat shapes,' sy sê.
‘To get sharp edges, pop the gingerbread shapes in the freezer before they go in the oven.’ While her creations may look too good to eat, she encourages her work to be broken into bits, often throwing in a free mallet. ‘Gingerbread is more fun and has so much more drama than cake.
‘Smashing something to bits is so much more satisfying than slicing into a sponge.’
Her favourite part is seeing her clients’ faces when they set eyes on her gingerbread replicas. ‘It doesn’t matter who they are, or how grand the house, when a customer sees their property made out of gingerbread, you can see child-like excitement in their eyes.
‘Plus, the aroma of gingerbread is always amazing. After all these years, I still love it.’
To download Emily’s gingerbread-making kit for £5, gaan na maidofgingerbread.com