The celebrity pastry chef, tv personality Adriano Zumbo was asked to bring a taste of Christmas to Westfield Parramatta – and to think big! He has always made small gingerbread houses for his Zumbo stores, and he created a really difficult gingerbread house as a finals challenge for MasterChef in 2011. Adriano has become the gingerbread house go-to guy. Westfield told him the scale they wanted and he just went for it. Prepare to be amazed!
What can visitors expect to see at Westfield Parramatta?
The house is huge – it’s 3 metres tall at the peak of the roof and 1.8m square. It’s made of more than 900 hand-cut gingerbread bricks that took two days to bake and nine hours to lay in place with icing. That was just the blank canvas.
Woolworths came on board and gave me free rein in their confectionary and biscuit aisles. I used 1,356 bags or packages of various lollies, chocolates and biscuits and a few pastry items, like rows of finger buns on the roof ridge cap. Every sweet treat you can possibly think of is on the walls and roof of that house. We even made pizza-sized chocolate freckles for the roof tiles, using jelly beans instead of hundreds and thousands for scale.
And it was all glued into place with icing and finished with dollops of white icing snow – we used 450 kilos of icing all up.
“I used 1,356 bags or packages of various lollies, chocolates and biscuits and a few pastry items, like rows of finger buns on the roof ridge cap.”
Why is gingerbread so inherently Christmas, even here in Australia?
I think it’s the magic of the spice in the gingerbread. The scent of cinnamon and cloves always says Christmas, even in Australia – look at the ingredients Aussie home cooks use to glaze their Christmas hams. Another big part of it is the way gingerbread can connect kids with food at Christmas – they love decorating gingerbread treats, whether little biscuits or full houses, and it’s become a fun school holiday activity.
What is the secret to the perfect gingerbread?
Add cinnamon and ground cloves to the ginger dough to elevate the flavour; remember, it’s not all about the decorating – the gingerbread’s for eating too. Whether you’re making panels for a house or just gingerbread shapes, trim them while still warm then let them dry out for decorating.
“Start on the roof and work your way down, and don’t be afraid to get creative – there are no rules!”
How do you plan out your gingerbread house? Are there any architectural tips you can share with us?
It’s all about strength, particularly the wall panels that support the roof. Make sure you don’t roll the dough out too thinly or overbake it – this will make the gingerbread too brittle. Gingerbread has a high sugar content which means it’s quite a robust dough – if you’ve made a mistake, it can cope with a few re-rolling sessions.
Royal icing is perfect to glue the wall and roof panels together – it will bind everything and keep it in place – but be sure to let each join dry and set properly before you start decorating.
What are your go-to lollies for your gingerbread house?
Absolutely anything – the only limit is your imagination. Go crazy with colour to make your gingerbread house stand out. Try adding texture with marshmallows, biscuits, chocolate coins and jellied sweets – we made some amazing flowers creeping up the walls of the Westfield Parramatta house using spearmint leaves and fruit jellies.
Can you share your top three tips for first-time gingerbread house builders?
- Allow time for the bake – I would recommend baking the gingerbread wall and roof panels at least the day before you start decorating, so they can dry and firm up.
- If you have leftover dough, try sculpting it into window shutters and a front door or chimney – you’re creating your dream house, after all.
- Start on the roof and work your way down, and don’t be afraid to get creative – there are no rules!
“Add cinnamon and ground cloves to the ginger dough to elevate the flavour; remember, it’s not all about the decorating – the gingerbread’s for eating too.”
What other desserts will be whipped up in the Zumbo kitchen this Christmas?
At Zumbo, we’ll be making Christmas puddings, fruit mince tarts and, this year, we’ve created a twist on the German Christmas stollen. We mix it up with cinnamon, cloves, all spice, cherries, hazelnuts and macadamias and it’s bursting with an oozy chocolate centre. Also, my pastry elves have created a cheeky gingerbread likeness of me, a Zumbobread Man!
Do you have a speciality? Something you’re relied on to bring on Christmas Day, like the trifle or mince pies?
Mum and my sisters have always taken care of the trifle. My specialty is my Gingerbread Man-misu – it’s a twist on tiramisu made with layers of mascarpone and spiced liquor-soaked gingerbread men.
What is your favourite part of Christmas?
Family and food! Christmas is about being with loved ones and eating together.
Zumbo’s giant Gingerbread House is on display in Westfield Parramatta Centre Court until Christmas Eve.