Food spotlight: In anticipation of the return of “Downton Abbey” to MASTERPIECE on PBS beginning January 4, 2015, Martha Stewart and her team have created a “Gingerbread Abbey”—a stunning likeness of the Grantham family home made entirely of gingerbread.
This year, the PBS network asked her to take on a significant gingerbread construction that you might recognize: a version of the grand home of the Grantham family from the Masterpiece series “Downton Abbey.” Gingerbread Abbey is stunning. It’s a sizable construction — 48 inches wide, 11 inches deep, and 28 inches high. But believe it or not, Martha says this isn’t the largest gingerbread project she’s made; that honor goes to a Baroque church she made a few years ago.
Martha and her team, led by pastry chef and food stylist Jason Schreiber, spent hours making 11 batches of gingerbread and used 16 cups of royal icing. Several pounds of sugar went into the caramel for the 65 ‘glass’ windows that adorn the structure.
The abbey, though, has a special place in her heart; Martha is a fan of “Downton Abbey” and has studied Highclere Castle, the stately home that becomes Downton Abbey for the series. “It’s in the Anglo-Italianate style,” she explains. While the actual house, Martha says, is made of “Bath stone, lots of lead, and finials,” our version has a gingerbread facade, royal icing in place of lead (much tastier), and gum paste finials.
The steps, courtesy of Martha Stewart:
The first step, of course, was making the gingerbread dough. Then came rolling it out: Rubber bands on each end of the rolling pin help measure the size each piece of dough should be (an extra 3/4 inch larger than the template so the piece can be trimmed after baking for a crisp edge). Then the dough was chilled.
Using a craft knife, the template was traced into the rolled-out dough piece. Then the dough was baked and cooled.
While the dough was cooling, the caramel was made, cooled slightly to thicken, and poured onto window shapes marked out on sheets of parchment.
There was a lot of piping. Royal icing was tinted two shades of brown: one to match the gingerbread and one a shade darker. Then the icing was piped in the darker shade to delineate floors and other important sections of the abbey, as well as for drainpipes. The lighter shade, which Martha is piping here, was used for detailing — including the rosettes around windows.
Once cooled, each caramel window was piped with royal icing “glue”; then the template was lowered onto the windows.
Putting it All Together
The team used a lot more royal icing to glue the sections together.
The gingerbread abbey is supported by a foam board armature that design director Anduin Haven created. She installed Christmas lights and wrapped the armature in parchment paper to diffuse the light.
A final step was adding the finials.
To engage Martha’s fans and fans of “Downton Abbey,” Martha is encouraging others to share their Downton-inspired creations throughout the rest of the holiday season using the hashtag #GingerbreadAbbey.
Recipe from Martha! Gingerbread for Gingerbread House Kit
This recipe adapted from “Martha Stewart Living” (December 1995)
Yield: Makes enough for 5 small house kits
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup dark-brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsulfured molasses
6 cups all-purpose flour
1. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder; set aside.
2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt. Beat in eggs and molasses.
3. Add flour mixture; mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. Divide dough into thirds and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 1 hour.
4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes, or using template instructions, if desired. Place dough shapes on ungreased baking sheets; chill until firm, about 15 minutes. Bake 15 minutes, or until gingerbread is firm in the center, but not dark around the edges.
5. Click here for our Gingerbread House template and Gingerbread House Kit instructions.