Today I’m sharing a stunning design for a gingerbread village cake, just in time for Christmas. I had so much fun creating this cake, and I just love how it turned out. Now, I didn’t actually use gingerbread cookies, but rather my favorite recipe for soft chocolate shortbread cookies, that I embossed before baking, and then iced with vanilla glaze to highlight the details.
The chocolate shortbread houses encircle a fluffy white velvet cake with vanilla buttercream. And the snowy buttercream trees and snow drifts bring the cake to life. Looking at this cake, I feel like I just stepped into the magical world of Harry Potter, strolling the streets of Hogsmeade in wintertime, on my way to enjoy a mug of butter beer at the pub.
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Best Cookie Dough for Gingerbread Cookies
So, the obvious choice for a gingerbread village cake would be… gingerbread cookies. But, really, you just need a darker colored dough so that there’s a nice contrast between the color of the dough and icing, so that you can clearly see the details on the houses.
Gingerbread Cookie Dough.
Most gingerbread cookie recipes are heavily spiced, so they smell amazing. They tend to spread a little as they bake, and emerge from the oven still soft. So it’s important to trim the edges of your cookies with a sharp knife as soon as you take them out of the oven, and before the cookies cool and harden.
Chocolate Shortbread Cookie Dough.
I decided to go with chocolate shortbread for my houses. The color is beautiful, they taste deliciously chocolatey, and they stay soft for days. And, very importantly, mine is a no spread shortbread cookie recipe. Since the cookies don’t spread, they hold their shape perfectly, and the stamped design is beautifully preserved as they bake.
Decorating Gingerbread Cookies without Royal Icing
This gingerbread village cake actually began with my experimenting with ways to decorate Christmas cookies without royal icing. Royal icing isn’t one of my strongest skills, as I’m guessing is the case for many people. So I’ve been looking for ways to make beautiful Christmas cookies without trying to pipe all those tiny details in icing.
Stamped Shortbread Cookies
Using cookie stamps to press shortbread cookie dough, and then glaze with icing is one way to make beautiful cookies for the holidays. They’re easy to make and they look simply gorgeous. I made these stamped chocolate shortbread cookies using the Nordic Ware Starry Nights cookie stamps, and I just love them.
Embossed Shortbread Cookies
I used mini cookie cutters such as squares, rectangles and stars, as well as some fondant tools, to create the doors and windows. The end of a piping tip pressed along the roof line created a pretty scalloped effect. But if you don’t have these tools, you can be creative and use whatever you have. The tines of a fork, a piece of jewelry, the end of a chopstick, etc, can all be used to create unique and interesting patterns on the dough.
What really brings the details to life, though, is the icing. When you brush the icing onto the warm cookies, the thin glaze fills all the cracks and crevices, while remaining fairly translucent over the cookies. And as the glaze dries and turns whiter, all those embossed details really pop.
The cake flavor doesn’t matter, of course. I baked my light and fluffy white velvet cake, and it was simply delicious with the iced chocolate shortbread cookies, like cookies and cream. A spice cake would be beautiful and festive, too, and especially good paired with gingerbread cookies.
Since I didn’t want my assembled cake to be too big, I baked my recipe for white velvet cake in six 6-inch cake pans, but only used three of the layers, freezing the other layers for another cake. The smaller size is perfect for this gingerbread village cake, and the houses arranged on top of the cake look like a second cake tier.
You’ll need a fluffy white buttercream for this cake, one that holds its shape when piped, so that you can pipe the trees and swirly snow drifts. My Perfect American Buttercream recipe has everything you need to know about making the best buttercream you’ve ever tasted and decorated a cake with.
Instructions and Assembly
There are a few steps to making this cake, but you can make each element of the cake a day or two in advance, and then take your time with the decorating the next day. Your friends and family will be so impressed when you serve them this gorgeous Christmas cake!
Make the Cookie Dough
A day or two ahead of time, you should make the cookies so they’re done when you’re ready to decorate your cake. First, make my recipe for chocolate shortbread cookie dough. You can wrap the dough and refrigerate it for several days until needed.
Roll, Cut and Emboss the Cookie Houses
Roll out the chocolate shortbread cookie dough, cut out the houses, and use whatever tools you have to emboss the cookies. You can keep them simple, or make them as fancy and elaborate as you like! Be sure to chill the embossed cookies before baking, to ensure they don’t spread.
Bake and Ice the Cookies
Now bake your cookies, make the icing, and brush the icing onto the warm cookies. Your embossed designs will look simply beautiful as the glaze dries. After the glaze is completely set, store your cookies in an airtight container until you’re ready to decorate your gingerbread village cake.
As the icing dries harder, you may see white spots appear, which is just the sugar concentrating. It doesn’t affect the taste of the icing at all, and as for the appearance, it looks very pretty on these cookies, like scattered snowflakes falling down.
Bake and Frost the Cake
I prefer a smaller 6-inch cake for this design, but an 8-inch cake would look beautiful, too. Bake and cool your cake, and if you’re not using the cake immediately, wrap each layer in plastic and freeze the cake layers until needed.
Make a batch of vanilla buttercream, and be sure to make extra for all the decorative piping on the cake.
Stack, fill and frost your cake, and get ready to decorate your Christmas cake!
Decorating this pretty Christmas village cake is the most fun part! You’ll just love seeing how it all comes together into a gorgeous, edible work of art.
Start by arranging four of the chocolate shortbread houses on top of the cake, in a square. Press them gently into the buttercream, and use a little buttercream at the seams, to help them stay in place. Then arrange the remaining cookie houses around the side of the cake.
Now you can add all the lovely details that make this cake so beautiful. Fit a piping bag with a small star tip and fill with vanilla buttercream. Pipe snowy trees between each of the houses and around the back of the cake. Switch to a round tip, and pipe swirly snow drifts around the base of the houses and along the roof tops.
To serve the cake, cut pieces by slicing between the houses. If those are too big, the cookies are soft enough that with a sharp knife, you can easily cut through them for smaller cake slices.
While this cake looks beautiful, it tastes incredible, too. Because if you’re going to put forth this much effort to decorate a cake, it better taste damn good. The combination of the snowy white velvet cake with vanilla buttercream and soft, buttery chocolate shortbread cookies is just fantastic.
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Did you love today’s recipe? Please rate the recipe and let me know in the comments what you thought! Also, be sure to follow Curly Girl Kitchen on Instagram, and tag me when you try one of my recipes so I can see all your delicious creations!
Gingerbread Village Cake with Chocolate Shortbread
- 1 3-layer, 6-inch cake, frosted with vanilla buttercream
- 2 cups extra vanilla buttercream
- 1 batch chocolate shortbread cookie dough + icing
- 1 pastry bag + coupler
- piping tips, #12, #22, #18
- bench scraper
- various mini shapes fondant/cookie cutters and tools, for impressing the design on the houses
- DOUGH:You'll need 1 batch of Chocolate Shortbread Dough. Prepare the dough, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 minutes before rolling and cutting your houses.
- HOUSE TEMPLATE:Draw and cut a template on a piece of card stock. First, cut a rectangle measuring 2 1/4 inches x 4 1/2 inches. Then, cut off two corners at the top to make the roof line.
- CUTTING THE HOUSES:Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, to between 1/4-1/8 inch thick. Set your paper template onto the dough, and lightly score the outline of the houses. Keep the houses right next to each other, so you use your dough as efficiently as possible.Use a bench scraper and/or a sharp knife to cut the dough. Gather up the scraps, roll again, and cut as many houses as you can. You should be able to cut 11-12 houses. Place the houses 1 inch apart on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- EMBOSSING THE HOUSE DETAILS:It's helpful if you have some small shapes cutters, or other tools to use to make impressions on the houses. For example, squares, rectangles, circles, stars, hearts, etc, all work well for impressing designs on the dough. For the roof line, you can use the end of a piping tip to impress a scalloped pattern. Be creative, look around your house for little things you can use to impress interesting patterns and designs. Everything you stamp onto your dough will be highlighted when you ice your cookies. Try to do a variety of designs on the cookies, to keep them different and interesting.When embossing your dough, press the cutters and tools (blunt side against the dough) deep enough to leave an impression, but not deep enough to cut through the dough.Once you're satisfied with your designs, set the pan in the refrigerator and chill for 1 hour before baking. Chilling the dough ensures your pattern will be preserved, and the dough won't spread while baking.
- BAKE THE COOKIE HOUSES:Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the chilled cookies for 11-12 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for exactly 5 minutes, then gently transfer to a cooling rack. Immediately brush the warm cookies with the icing (recipe follows).
- ICE THE WARM COOKIE HOUSES:Icing Ingredients:1/2 cup powdered sugar1 tbsp melted butter1/4 tsp vanilla extract3 tbsp warm waterAs soon as the cookies come out of the oven, you can quickly make the icing. In a bowl, whisk together all ingredients until smooth. The glaze should be thin, with a consistency like warm honey. After cooling the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, gently transfer to a cooling rack. Use a pastry brush to immediately and quickly brush the icing over the warm cookies, getting it into all the crevices, and letting it drip over the edges.Once you've finished a cookie, don't brush over it again or touch it until the glaze sets completely. The glaze will crust over and set quickly, in about 30 minutes. Let cool and set completely for several hours. Then store in a single layer, or stacked with sheets of wax paper between each layer, in an airtight container, until ready to decorate your cake.The cookies can be baked and iced 1 day in advance.
- FLAVOR:You can bake any flavor cake you like, but I chose my White Velvet Cake with vanilla buttercream recipe. The white cake was simply delicious with the chocolate cookies.
- SIZE:I made a small 6-inch 3-layer cake, but you can certainly make yours an 8-inch 3-layer cake.
- GETTING READY:Bake, cool and frost your cake. Smooth out the sides of the cake, but it doesn't have to look perfect, since it will be covered up with cookies.
- HOUSES:Arrange 4 of the houses on top of the cake, so that they form a square, pressing them gently into the frosting. Spread or pipe a little buttercream at the seams to help hold them in place. If needed, you can support them by inserting a popsicle stick into the cake behind each.Arrange the remaining houses around the side of the cake, pressing them gently against the buttercream. It's okay if there aren't enough houses to go all the way around the cake.
- TREES:Fit a piping bag with one of the star tips, and fill with buttercream. Pipe trees between each of the houses, and around the back of the cake. Use both sizes of tips to make some trees bigger and some smaller.
- SNOW DRIFTS:Switch to the round tip, and pipe swirls of buttercream at the base of each of the houses, and along the roof tops.