Liz Druce - Behind the scenes with The Gingerbread House baker
- Credit: Dave Burton
Christmas is the sweetest of seasons for baker Liz Druce who creates tasty gingerbread houses
Liz Druce’s cottage sits on a steep Yorkshire hillside where the rain can be relentless and the wind whistles and rattles under the doors on a cold wintry day.
But step inside and you are struck by two things: The warmth and cosiness of her two-bedroom cottage and the mouth-watering smell of gingerbread which pervades every part of the house.
For Liz is passionate about baking – more specifically Christmas gingerbread houses - which she designs and creates from a tiny back kitchen barely big enough for her mixing bowls, cooling rack and oven.
In this tiny space, which she kitted out shortly after moving to the cottage in October 2019, Liz weighs, mixes, bakes and builds a whole range of delicious mini properties that fly out of the door as fast as she can make them. Think Hansel and Gretel meets The Gingerbread Man in the picturesque North Yorkshire moors.
‘I started making gingerbread for friends and that developed into gingerbread houses,’ says Liz. ‘Then my friends started asking me to make them for other people and it grew like Topsy. This was 15 years ago and, at that time, hardly anyone else was doing it, so I found quite a niche.’
Liz’s path to the gingerbread door was not, however, paved with confectionary. Growing up in a village near Thirsk, in North Yorkshire, Liz studied Fine Art at Loughbrough University, then lived on a narrow boat for a year, where she started growing a mini garden on the boat roof.
‘People would stop and admire the garden and ask if I did gardening for other people. I began by helping out older people who could no longer take care of their gardens on their own, and it gradually developed into a full blown business which I ran for the next 20 years,’ she says. To relax during her days off, Liz baked. ‘I’ve always loved making and baking,’ she says. ‘I remember going home and making loads of bread and cakes at the dining room table. It started out as a hobby but – rather like the gardening - as demand increased I decided to turn it into a full time business.’
Liz’s clients are based largely in Yorkshire, including wholesalers and award-winning eateries, but her gingerbread house self-assembly kits are posted out all over the UK. She also runs pop-up gingerbread shops at festivals and country events during the summer before the orders kick in during the run-up to Christmas, when she can literally make thousands of her mouth-watering fairy-tale products for a gingerbread house-hungry market.
From September onwards Liz’s tiny cottage kitchen is a hive of one-woman activity as her festive houses fly out the door almost faster than she can make them. It’s not unusual for her to be baking 15 hours a day for a six week stretch during the festive season, but Liz is in her element.
‘I absolutely love making something special from just a small amount of ingredients,’ says Liz. ‘The houses are quite sculptural and three dimensional, and every one is different. I can adapt them for any occasion. One of my specialities is sweet windows – sweets that are melted into cut-outs in the gingerbread so that they set like glass. It’s a technique I discovered in a 30-year-old gingerbread book I bought from a junk shop.’
Liz will do everything in her power to deliver her gingerbread houses in time for Christmas. One particularly severe winter she walked a mile through snow and back, every day for three weeks, to get her good to the post office.
‘I carried the packs – up to 30 at a time – in rucksacks strapped to my front and back,’ she says. ‘It was quite a feat, but everyone got their gingerbread kits in time.’
Liz was also commissioned to make a huge gingerbread cake for a couple’s wedding day. The cake big and heavy and she had to meet the couple in a car park so the cake could be transferred from one vehicle to another. ‘They had the tiniest car I’d ever seen – to this day I don’t know how we managed to get it inside,’ says Liz. ‘I could hardly bear to look.’
This Christmas is likely to be just as busy as the last for Liz , but she is determined to keep it as a cottage industry rather than something which will grow beyond her control.
‘I like the personal touch it brings between me and my customers,’ she says. ‘There is nothing more satisfying than spending a long day baking and creating, knowing that the houses I make will bring a lot of joy to people over the Christmas season. My whole life revolves around gingerbread at this time of year. In fact, I’m thinking of renaming my home Gingerbread Cottage!’
Gingerbread Biscuit recipe
175g dark brown sugar
85g golden syrup
350g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
I tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 beaten egg
Heat oven to 200C (180 C fan oven).
Grease or line with baking parchment two baking trays
Melt the sugar, butter and syrup in a saucepan. While it is cooling combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, add the warm liquids and stir together. Knead the mixture in the bowl until it is smooth and well blended.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to around 1mm thickness.
Using festive cutter shapes, cut out the shapes for your gingerbread biscuits. If you are making a house, use a knife to cut out the shapes of the walls and roof. Re-roll any surplus and create more shapes until the dough is all used.
Using a slice, gently lift the biscuit shapes onto the baking trays and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes, turning half way through. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Once they are cold and crisp, decorate the biscuits with ready make icing or use the icing to glue together the sides and roof of gingerbread house sections. Decorate with piped icing, sweets and chocolate buttons.
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