Project Gingerbread Nativity

Christmas in the Belfast Clutterbuck household has a very strong emphasis upon nativity sets.

Long-term friends and readers will be aware that for some time, my mother has been collecting nativity sets from around the world. She receives them as gifts, and we’re always on the lookout for interesting new ones. I haven’t counted them (yet) this year, but we must be approaching 60.

This year, one of the new nativity acquisitions (there have been several), was a Nativity Gingerbread set. I can’t remember which of us discovered it via Twitter, but it was a set of biscuit cutters from (of all places) Urban Outfitters [it’s now out of stock and I can’t find it anywhere else online]. The basic premise is simple, you make dough, cut out nativity themed biscuits, and assemble.

We decided it would be a fun activity for Christmas Eve – Mim and I would take over the college kitchen (leaving our Mum with the house kitchen in which to complete important Christmas food preparations) and within a few hours our project would be complete. It didn’t quite turn out like that. Sure, the gingerbread making was simple, as was the cutting out and baking. Where things got tricky was with the decoration and the assembly…

Project Gingerbread in action

Unlike a gingerbread house, there was no structure to hold together with royal icing [incidentally, my first attempt at making this substance was a triumph] – according to the box, the stable and figures were simply meant to stand around, stuck down with the icing. This, you can imagine, is rather tricky. Fortunately, while cutting the dough, I had an inspired idea. Two inspired ideas in fact:
1. That the manger ought to be three dimensional, in order to facilitate the placing of the baby Jesus within it.
2. That the stable needed doors. We had a cutter for the back of the stable. Cutting out a second, and cutting it in half, and sticking it to the back created an area in which to place the figures.

This meant that when things got tricky with the royal icing and gingerbread magi/shepherds, we could simply prop them up. Genius team work. Here’s the result:

Project Gingerbread Nativity

The method was simple – we used Mary Berry’s recipe for a Gingerbread House, recently demonstrated on the GBBO Christmas Special. We used half the quantities for the gingerbread, and had more than enough. For the royal icing we used a third of the quantity needed for the house, but might have needed more than that, had we chosen a more elaborate form of decoration for the figures. As for the colour, it’s fondant icing, conveniently packaged in a pack of the ready-made variety. And it’s all brought together on a bread board.

Obviously, in the picture above, a key piece of any nativity is missing. Have no fear, we were not going to let that state of affairs persist come Christmas Day. (No nativity should include Jesus prior to that date.) With our creative manger, there was scope for a creative Jesus – so we went for marzipan. Voila, an almond paste deity:

Marzipan Jesus

It was a fun activity, but perhaps could do with being spread out over a couple of days, rather than crammed into Christmas Eve. It was also lacking a few key features – including a Jesus cutter and an angel. We created our own angels (though the addition of them to the scene would have compromised its structural integrity); found a pig cutter (for extra livestock); and attempted to create a sheep via a combination of the pig cutter and a scone cutter (unsurprisingly, this did not work).

Perusing Google image results for ‘gingerbread nativity’, it would appear that there are other kits on the market, so it may be possible to find your own next year…

[In case you’re wondering, it’ll be dismantled at my parent’s ‘Kings Feast’ on the eve of Epiphany.]

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