These are great fun for young bakers to help make for a Halloween party. A simple melt-and-mix gingerbread sponge to be baked, white fondant icing to be mixed, black ready-made icing to be rolled, squares measured and cut, and the houses assembled and decorated. For a spooky effect, put LED flickering tea lights amongst the haunted houses and turn off the other lights…
Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, mixed spice, ginger and salt into a mixing bowl.
Gently melt the butter with the syrup, treacle and sugar in a small pan. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Heat the milk in another small pan until lukewarm, then pour into the flour mixture, followed by the butter mixture and the beaten egg. Mix well with a wooden spoon to make a thick, sticky, lump-free mixture.
Scrape into the prepared tin and spread evenly so the corners are filled. Bake in the heated oven for 12–15 minutes until firm to the touch. Set the tin on a wire rack. Run a round-bladed knife around the inside of the tin to loosen the sponge, then leave to cool.
When the sponge is cold, turn it out onto a cutting board. Put the black ready-to-roll icing between 2 sheets of clingfilm and roll out to a thin rectangle just slightly larger than the base of the cake tin. Peel off the top sheet of clingfilm.
Put the fondant icing sugar into a bowl, add the cold water and stir to make a smooth icing with the consistency of double cream. Spread a thin layer of this white fondant icing over the top of the cake. Slip your hands under the clingfilm beneath the black icing and flip it over on to the cake. Peel off the clingfilm and gently press the black icing smoothly onto the top surface of the cake.
With a large knife and a ruler, neatly trim the sides of the cake to make a 20 x 25cm rectangle. Now cut into 20 equal squares, using the ruler to help. Cut 6 of the squares in half diagonally – these will be the 12 roofs. You need 12 squares for the houses (you will have 2 squares left over – cook’s perk to enjoy).
Place one house square (black-icing-side up) on the worktop in front of you. Spread some white fondant icing thickly in a strip across one horizontal side of the house square. Press the long edge of a roof triangle onto this strip of white icing so the roof is attached to the house – be sure to place the triangle black-icing-side up, so the iced sides of the house and roof are facing in the same direction. The roof triangle will extend beyond the sides of the house square like eaves. Repeat with the other 11 houses and roofs. Leave the shapes flat on the board for now (don’t try to stand them up).
Spoon the remaining white icing into the piping bag and snip off the tip to make a fine-writing opening. Pipe a rectangular door and 2 windows onto the black-icing side of each house – save the remaining white fondant icing. Leave until set, then turn the houses upright and arrange on a board or large serving plate (if necessary, use a good dab of fondant icing to ‘glue’ the base of each house to the board or plate).
Fix a liquorice sweet ‘chimney’ onto each roof with a dab of icing. You could use the rest of the icing to pipe thin strands of ‘cobwebs’ between the houses. Leave to set. Best eaten the same or the next day.
If you’re not having a Halloween party, finish the cake with a lemon water-icing instead: sift 65g icing sugar into a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice to make a smooth, runny icing (like thin cream). Drizzle over the cake, then decorate with thin slices of stem ginger (from a jar) or crystallised ginger.