A delightful seasonal display of snowy panettone hilltops topped with winter-wonderland gingerbread houses. Fluffy and delicious, this decorative twist on an Italian festive classic contains all the traditional flavours of the season.
Make the dough. Place 30g of the flour and 125ml of the milk in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Stir until thickened and paste-like, then set aside to cool.
Once the flour mixture has cooled, put this plus the remaining flour and milk, along with the yeast, eggs, yolk, vanilla and spices in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix for 8–10 minutes. Add the orange and lemon zests, golden caster sugar and dark agave nectar and mix for a further 5 minutes. Add the cubes of butter a few at a time and continue mixing until fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and glossy.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, then cover the bowl and leave it to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, pour the cider brandy into a bowl and add the chopped dates, mixed peel and cranberries. Give them a stir and leave to soak. Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4.
Make the gingerbread. Place the muscovado sugar, golden syrup and orange juice in a large pan over a low heat and heat for about 5 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla paste, and the butter until melted.
Sift the flour, ginger, salt and mace into the pan, then stir to combine. Bring the mixture together with your hands and knead it into a dough.
Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper until 5mm thick. Using the baking paper, slide the gingerbread onto a baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes, until firm.
Using the gingerbread house cutters, cut 12 small walls, 12 roof pieces, and 12 house-shaped pieces from the sheet of chilled gingerbread, re-rolling the dough as necessary. Chill the cut pieces for 30 minutes. Discard the trimmings (or turn them into biscuits!).
Bake the gingerbread pieces for 10 minutes, until golden brown and firm. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Turn out the risen panettone dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knock back the dough, then drain the fruit, discarding the soaking liquid, and add the fruit to the dough. Knead by hand for 5–8 minutes, until the fruit is evenly distributed.
Divide the dough into 6 equal balls. Roll each ball on a lightly floured surface, stretching and folding the dough to create some tension at the top of the ball. Place each ball into the base of a panettone wrapper sitting within a greased chef’s ring. Place the filled rings on a baking sheet and place the baking sheet into the proving bag. Leave the dough to prove in a warm place for about 1 hour, until you can leave an indentation in the top of the dough when you press with your fingertip. Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4.
Glaze the proved panettone with egg and bake them for 17 minutes, then cover with foil and bake for a further 18 minutes, until the panettone are risen and golden. Lift the panettone from the chefs rings, in their wrappers, and cool them upside-down on a cooling rack.
While the panettone are cooling, construct the gingerbread houses. First, make the ‘glue’. Place the the sugar and 45ml of water in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Warm, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved and formed a light golden brown caramel. Remove from the heat.
To construct the gingerbread houses, carefully dip one end of a small gingerbread wall piece into the caramel and attach it to the back of a house-shaped piece. Repeat with the other small wall on the other edge of the house-shaped piece and leave to set for 1 minute. Now dip the open end of the assembled piece into the caramel and attach another house-shaped piece to the open end. Leave to set for 1 minute. Dip one side of the roof line of the assembled piece into the caramel and attach one of the roof pieces. Leave to set for 1 minute, then repeat with another roof piece on the other side of the house. Place your finished gingerbread house on a wire rack until ready to decorate. Repeat for all the gingerbread house pieces until you have 6 houses altogether. (If the caramel hardens or becomes too tacky, place it over a gentle heat to re-liquefy.)
Once you have made all the gingerbread houses, make the royal icing for decoration. Place the icing sugar, glucose and egg white into a small bowl and whisk together to a thick, but pipeable paste.
Place 1 tablespoon of icing in a small bowl and add a few drops of red food-colouring gel. Mix to combine to an even colour, then spoon into a small piping fitted with a writing nozzle. Cover the end with a damp piece of kitchen paper to stop the icing drying out. Set aside.
Place another tablespoon of icing in a small bowl and add a few drops of green food-colouring gel. Mix to combine, then place in the second small piping bag fitted with a writing nozzle. Cover the end with a damp piece of kitchen paper. Set aside.
Place half the remaining royal icing in the small piping bag fitted with a small round nozzle. Cover the remaining half of the royal icing with a damp piece of kitchen paper.
Using the red and green royal icing, pipe alternating dots around the door frames of each of the gingerbread houses. Use the green to pipe a small circle above the door to make a wreath. Pipe a dot of red at the bottom of each wreath for the bow.
Using the white icing, pipe down the ridge of each roof in a back and forth motion to resemble snow. Then, pipe over the roof sides to create snow-covered tiles. Leave to set.
Uncover the remaining white icing and mix in the cider brandy to loosen. Carefully spoon a little bit of icing on the top edge of each gable end and allow it to drip to resemble icicles. Leave to set.
Turn the cooled panettone the right way up and add a small spoonful of the loosened white royal icing to the top of each. Use this to stick a gingerbread house to the tops.
Pump the silver lustre over the top of each house, if using, and sprinkle with desiccated coconut to finish.