Have you ever made a Holiday Gingerbread House? Here are some tips and tricks for this classic Christmas activity!
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At first, my mom just made simple square houses for my sister and me to decorate. That soon turned into making multiple houses so our friends could come over and decorate them. She’d make the basic houses a couple of days before, and then set up bowls and jars of pretty much every kind of candy imaginable. We had a blast! And some of the candy even made it onto the houses.
That tradition continued for years, and it grew to the point that my mom would make enough houses for our entire grade to decorate. That was 50+ houses…and she’d do it for my grade as well as my sister’s grade. We’d all go into the lunchroom at our elementary school and decorate gingerbread houses. Like I said, gingerbread houses were just part of Christmas for us!
As we got older, my mom stopped making hundreds of little gingerbread houses and began making larger ones to serve as the centerpiece of our holiday table. She made all sorts of different houses. One of the most memorable houses was a replica of the Charleston-style single house where we grew up as kids.
Years later, when I got a job teaching Latin in Baton Rouge, LA, my mom made me a Roman temple gingerbread house. She didn’t tell me she made it, and when I flew up that year for Thanksgiving, she had this temple waiting on me. I hand-carried that bad boy back with me on the plane. The box didn’t fit in the overhead bin or under my feet…but I wasn’t about to check it. Instead, the flight attendant was nice enough to stash it at the bottom of her locker at the front of the plane. I bet that was the first (and last) time she helped transport a Roman temple gingerbread house!
But wait. The gingerbread house story continues! After my sister and I had moved out, my mother helped start a gingerbread house gala in downtown Raleigh. Every December, local restaurants and bakeries would create fantastic gingerbread houses. Some were replicas of iconic local buildings while others were just whimsical in nature. The houses were then displayed at a banquet-style event where folks could make silent bids on them. (The money was all donated to charity.) You guys, some of these houses were incredible! The bakers and chefs and pastry cooks must have spent days creating them.
Needless to say, I’m quite fond of making gingerbread houses. And my mom always used Honey Maid graham crackers for her gingerbread houses. She must have bought hundreds of boxes of graham crackers over the years! In fact, if I ever wanted a snack and it was anytime near Christmas, I could always wander into the kitchen and find some leftover scraps of graham crackers. Delicious!
So this year, I decided to take a stab at making my own holiday gingerbread house. When I was on my weekly grocery store run to Walmart, I grabbed some Honey Maid Graham Crackers and a whole assortment of candy…you know, for decorating purposes only. My mom used to use little milk cartons to provide stability for her houses. In fact, she’d go to our elementary school and collect the cartons from the lunchroom. Milk cartons seem to pretty much be a thing of the past now. So I decided to create this house with no box underneath. Honestly, it wasn’t that hard! I just took my time with making the cuts, and I let each stage dry before moving on. I’ve included a ‘recipe’ below, but here are some of the tips I learned:
Tips for Making a Holiday Gingerbread House
- Take your time. Don’t try to rush the process. Take time to cut the graham crackers. Take time to attach the pieces together. Let the royal icing (aka “gingerbread house glue”) dry before moving onto the next step. Building a fun gingerbread house should be more of a slow job than a sprint!
- Use a serrated knife to cut the graham crackers. I found that using a serrated knife to gently “saw” the graham crackers into the appropriate shapes led to less broken crackers. (That also meant less snacks for the carpenter…)
- Cover the bowl of royal icing with a wet paper towel when not using it. Royal icing hardens quickly. The last thing you need is a whole bowl of rock solid royal icing!
- Know that your house will not come out quite as planned. Be ok with it! I had originally intended to have windows on the roof of my house. I couldn’t get the windows to look right, so I scrapped that idea. (Well, ate that idea is more accurate.) No big deal. I decided to add a front porch instead. Adapt as you go! You may need to redo a certain cut once you begin to build the house. That’s ok!
- And last but not least, have fun. Building a holiday gingerbread house should be a fun activity! Build the house itself one day, and then let the kids help you decorate it the next day. Enjoy the process…and take lots of pictures! Oh, and don’t eat all of the candy before you decorate the house.
Holiday Gingerbread House
For the House
- 1 14.4-oz. box Honey Maid graham crackers
For the Royal Icing
For Decorating House
- red rope candy
- candy cane rods
- frosted shredded wheat cereal
- ice cream cones
- 2 cups green frosting
- 2 10-oz bags Wilton Candy Melts, Bright White
- gum drops
- small pretzel twists
- Sourpatch Kids
- 1 large rectangular cake board or study piece of cardboard
- chocolate candy bar for door
- red and white round candy
To Build House
- Make the Royal Icing by combining all ingredients in a countertop mixer. Beat on medium speed for 8-10 minutes, or until stiff peaks form. (Tip: Keep the royal icing covered with a damp paper towel when not using.)
- Fill a piping bag fitted with a small tip (or a sandwich bag with one corner snipped off) with royal icing.
- To make the side walls, lay two graham crackers lengthwise next to each other. (See right side of prep image in post.) Dab a bit of royal icing on the seam between the crackers and use a broken piece of graham cracker to hold in place. Repeat process to create the second side wall. Set walls aside until icing is dry.
- To make the front of house, lay a graham cracker lengthwise. Break another graham cracker in half. Cut this half into 2 triangles as shown in the center of the prep image. Attach the triangle to the top of the full-length cracker. Repeat this process 3 more times. (Note: The triangle will have to be ‘flipped’ the opposite direction for 2 of these pieces. Just lay the pieces out before cutting and attaching to help plan out the pieces.) Set front/back pieces aside until icing is dry.
- To make the roof of the house, lay a graham cracker lengthwise. Cut another graham cracker in half lengthwise. Attach the half cracker to the full cracker as shown on the left side of the prep image. Repeat to create the roof for the other side of the house. Set roof pieces aside until icing is dry.
- Place sides of house flat on a piece of wax paper. Pipe two windows on each piece with royal icing. Cut 8 pieces of red rope candy to match height of windows. Pipe an extra line of icing on either side of each window and attach 1 piece of red rope candy on each side of the windows. (See photo in post.) Let icing dry completely.
- Place a side wall and a front/back piece at 90° to each other; prop up using a small can or glass. Pipe inside and outside of adjoining seam to attach pieces together. Continue around the house, attaching the appropriate pieces together. Pipe each seam generously with royal icing. (Tip: Use more small cans/glasses to help prop up the walls while you build the house.) Press a candy cane rod into each of the four corner seams. At this point, the house should be standing upright with four sides. Let dry completely before moving on.
- Next, pipe icing along top edges of the house (both horizontal sides and angled front/back pieces). Carefully lay roof pieces in place. Pipe each seam with extra icing for added stability. Press candy cane rods (or straight section of a traditional candy cane) into this icing.
- Finally, build the awning for the front porch by breaking off one “piece” of graham cracker (i.e. ¼ of a full graham cracker). This will be the top of the awning. Cut two triangles out of additional crackers to serve as the sides of the awning. Attach these two sides first, using the top of awning as a guide to measure how far apart to place the side triangles. Let the triangles dry in place (use plenty of icing) before attaching the top. Attach two candy canes under the front corners to support the awning.
To Decorate House
- Spread thin layer of royal icing on roof. Layer roof with toasted shredded wheat cereal, alternating between frosted and unfrosted sides of cereal.
- To create trees, cut tops off of several ice cream cones to create various sizes. Fill a piping bag fitted with a small star tip with green frosting. Pipe rows of small stars around ice cream cones. Set trees aside to dry. (Tip: Leave the very top of the ice cream unfrosted. You can use this to transfer the trees into place and then frost the top of the trees later.)
- Melt the Wilton Candy Melts according to package directions. Using an offset spatula, spread melted chocolate over entire cake board. Gently set house into frosting. Place trees around the house. Create a walkway up to house using Sour Patch Kids. Create a front door to the house using two sections of chocolate candy bar.
- Place gum drops along side of house as bushes.
- Create a fence for house by placing pretzel twists into frosting.
- Decorate top and front of house with red and white round candy and peppermints. Be creative and have fun!
This Holiday Gingerbread House post was sponsored by Honey Maid, but the opinions are entirely my own.
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