Embarking on a construction project is certainly not something you want to tackle over your holidays. That is, unless it means building one of the season’s most cherished structures – a gingerbread house!
Creating a gingerbread house can be a fun thing to do on your own, with children or as a group activity among residents in your association. You could even hold a competition for the best gingerbread house in your community! You say you’re not much of a baker? No problem! Anyone from the most oven-challenged to the most experienced builder can create a centerpiece-worthy gingerbread house with the range of options available today.
In the world of real houses, you have modular homes. In the world of confectionery houses, you have gingerbread house kits. Kits vary widely in price and usually come with prebaked gingerbread, as well as icing and candy for decorating. Watch out for those with fully constructed houses. They often break before you can get them home. Here are some of our favorites:
- Candyland Gingerbread House Kit ($9.74). Yes, it’s based on the children’s board game. This kit comes with prebaked gingerbread that you glue together with the icing. Not surprisingly, you also get a nice variety of candy: gummies, stars, sprinkles, jewels and swirls.
- Healthier Gingerbread House Kit ($39.95). With healthy ingredients approved by a registered dietician, the Healthier Gingerbread House Kit has no artificial flavors or colors. Although it does require baking, it comes with the gingerbread and icing mixes, a pastry bag for the icing, cutout shapes and a variety of candy that contains a lower overall sugar content.
- Trader Joe’s Gingerbread House Kit ($25.87). Trader Joe’s variation is a tribute to the authentic German gingerbread house known as a hexenhaus (witch’s house). The German tradition is generally believed to have originated in the early 1800s soon after the release of the Grimm’s fairytales. If you’ve forgotten, the story of Hansel and Gretel is about two children lost in the woods who are lured to a witch’s house made of sweets. Trader Joe’s kit comes with almost everything you need. Just add an egg white and vinegar or lemon juice to the powdered sugar that’s included to make the icing.
If you’re no expert baker, but you feel like you’re cheating with a kit, start with one of these shortcuts:
- Graham crackers. Although we can’t officially call this a “gingerbread” house or the instructions even a “recipe,” building a do-it-yourself graham cracker house is just as much fun as creating the homemade classic. It’s also a great group project to do with kids. As explained with the instructions on both Restless Chipotle and Happiness is Homemade, only Honey Maid brand crackers are up to the task. If you prefer following a visual step-by-step explanation, check out this Crouton Crackerjack video.
- Gingerbread mix. You’ll get the experience of baking without the hassle if you start with a mix. Be aware, however, that not all mixes will work for a house. Betty Crocker’s Limited Edition Gingerbread Cookie Mix (not to be confused with their Gingerbread Cake and Cookie Mix) will do the trick. You’ll need two boxes, and this mix runs out quickly in stores during the short time you can find it on shelves. Some reviewers also say it lacks ginger flavor, so you might want to add a touch of your own ginger spice. Another option is to start with a spice cake mix and add a few of your own ingredients. The Spruce Eats offers a nice recipe that starts with a spice cake mix.
As long as you start with the right dough, your house should be structurally sound, which is the whole point, according to Popular Science – at least if you’re one of their typical readers. Even if you’re not a builder or engineer, you don’t want your house to collapse in a day, so take the magazine’s advice and use a dough recipe made for “structural” gingerbread. In addition, be sure to let your royal icing set for at least an hour when gluing your walls together and up to 2 hours after installing the roof.
- Construction dough. You need your walls to be firm, and many cookie dough recipes have leavening that results in a fluffier texture that won’t hold up as well. Serious Eats offers a construction gingerbread recipe that even Popular Science recommends. (Just ignore the Halloween-style house depicted on their site.)
- Second in importance to the dough consistency is the integrity of your architectural plans. Walls, roof parts, window and door cutouts and chimneys need to all be precisely measured so they fit and work well together. Try this template for a basic house. You can also find a range of template options on Pinterest.If you’re new to construction, keep it simple. You can always graduate to more elaborate home designs next year. If you have a little experience and are looking for a bit more challenge, try a Victorian, chapel or log cabin design.
- Your house is less likely to collapse if you don’t attempt to decorate it once it’s standing. Instead, decorate each wall while it’s laying flat. Allow your decorations to set, and then put the walls together. Apply your own creative touches, or try some of the suggestions offered by Brit + Co or in this video.
- House recipes – soup (cans) to nuts. There’s an endless online supply of recipes and tutorials that explain all the elements of good gingerbread house construction. They include recipes for making the dough and royal icing, templates for creating your structure and step-by-step guidelines for decorating. One of the simplest one’s we’ve seen is from the Food Network. King Arthur Flour also offers a great recipe, although if you’re a beginner, you might want to skip some of the more intricate décor they recommend. Tikkido claims to have the BEST gingerbread house recipe.One trick you’ll see frequently is to place soup cans against the joint between two walls to hold them together while the icing is setting. You’ll also find suggestions on specific items to use for decorating (like a flattened gumdrop to make a wreath or almond slices to make roof shingles). Get more suggestions from CNN.
No matter how you decide to make your gingerbread house, it’s sure to get those creative juices flowing. Plus you’ll be creating some fun for the whole family – or the whole community!