When is a gingerbread house not a house? When it’s a train station (complete with train), of course! Briony’s unique take on the festive classic will take a bit of time to construct, but use the templates to help you and make it a fun family activity in the run-up to Christmas. You can even personalise the engine. All aboard!
Download and print the Santa’s train templates (PDF, 785kb). You will need more than one of some parts, as indicated in the template references.
Make the gingerbread (you will need to make this in two batches – so halve the ingredients and follow the method twice). In a large pan over a low–medium heat, melt together the butter, sugar, syrups, treacle and stem ginger until smooth and combined.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, all the spices and the salt. Pour the melted mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix to form a stiff dough. Wrap in cling film and set aside. (Repeat for the second batch of dough.)
Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/Gas 6. Divide each batch of dough in half to give you 4 equal portions. Working with 1 portion of dough at a time (keep the others under a tea towel to prevent them drying out), roll out the dough on sheets of baking paper to 3mm thick, then use the templates to cut out all the component parts of the station.
For each station side wall and the back and front of the station, press the brick-effect silicone mat (if using) into the dough. Cut out two 5 x 5cm windows in each side wall to give 4 windows. Lay these pieces on the baking trays and bake for 8 minutes, then remove the side walls from the oven and place a boiled sweet into each window. Bake for a further 4–5 minutes until the sweets have melted and all the parts are just turning golden brown at the edges. Leave to cool completely on the baking trays.
For the train engine, wrap the 4 baking rings in foil so that they form a neat tube, and lay it on a baking tray. Scrunch up two little foil sausages and place these either side of the tube, to prevent it rolling. Use the template to cut out the body of the train engine from the remaining dough sheets and place this piece over the tube. Re-rolling the dough trimmings, if necessary (on sheets of baking paper), use the templates to cut out all the remaining components of the train.
Slide the dough shapes onto the lined baking trays. Bake the biscuits for 8 minutes, then add a boiled sweet to the rectangular window in the front of the train carriage (crush it and sprinkle it in, if necessary) and return the biscuits to the oven for a further 4–5 minutes, until firm and just beginning to turn a darker golden brown on the edges. (You may need to bake the biscuits in batches.) Once baked, remove from the oven and trim to neaten straight away, if necessary. Transfer all but the carriage front (with the glazed window, which needs to harden) to wire rack to cool.
Make the royal icing. Place the egg whites in stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. With the whisk running on medium speed, gradually add the icing sugar and lemon juice, mixing until you have a very stiff consistency. Place the icing in a bowl and cover with a damp tea towel.
Start construction. Transfer one third of the royal icing into a large piping bag and cut off a 1cm tip. Build the train station. Pipe a line of royal icing on the cake board where you want the rear gabled end wall of the station to sit. Place this wall piece on top of the line to fix it. Pipe icing up one side of the wall and attach a rectangular side wall. Use a mug or glass to hold it in place. Attach the front gabled end (with the cut-out opening) and the remaining side wall with icing in the same way, supporting on both sides. Leave for 15 minutes to set slightly.
Pipe icing along the top of all the walls, then place one side of the roof on top. Place something underneath the bottom ridge to support it. Pipe icing along the top ridge, then place the other roof panel on top, again supporting it underneath. Leave to set completely before removing the supports.
Build the train. Stack 3 base pieces on top of each other, piping icing between them to stick them together. Remove the cylindrical engine body from the metal rings and place it on top of the stacked base at one end, gluing it in place with icing (make sure you leave enough space for the front of the train to attach). Attach the two-thirds circle to the front of the engine cylinder as the front of the train. Attach the rectangle name plate to the front of the stacked bases.
At the end of the stacked base, build the train carriage. First, stick the piece with the cut rectangular window to the open end of the engine cylinder. Attach the two sides with the curved openings, using them to join the train neatly to the open wall of the station. Place the tea lights inside the station and carriage, then attach the carriage roof. Stick the chimney pieces together and fix the chimney on top of the train engine. Set everything aside to set while you make the marzipan.
Mix all the marzipan ingredients together to make a stiff dough and knead it briefly until smooth and evenly coloured. Roll out the marzipan very thinly and cut it into 3cm-wide strips. Slice along the strips to create ‘tiles’. Spread the roof thinly with royal icing and attach the marzipan tiles, one by one, a row at a time, beginning at the bottom edge of each side of the roof and overlapping each row with the one below as you work upwards to the rooftop.
Place the remaining royal icing in the piping bag with a thick writing nozzle. Using the photograph as a guide, pipe royal-icing detail on the roof of the station and of the carriage, around the edges of the windows and chimney and on the front and top of the engine. Personalise the train by piping a specific name on the name plate, if you like. Pipe the train wheels and then use little blobs of icing to stick these to the sides of the engine and carriage. Sprinkle the board with coconut and dust the roof with icing sugar to look like snow.