Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How To Construct a Gingerbread House: Part 1

Every Christmas, my daughter and I construct a gingerbread house. Then we bring it to school to my daughter's class where it will be on display for a few weeks before Christmas. It gets raffled off on the last day of school before the Christmas break to a lucky child in the class. We enjoy the time together while we construct the house over a few days, and gives my daughter a sense of accomplishment. It also teaches her about giving and sharing the joy.
     Over the next few blog posts, I will take you step by step in the construction of the gingerbread house, and hopefully be able to share with you my tips and secrets. Our houses have come a long way and are getting more detailed and elaborate. This year we are going to attempt a bridge for our rustic cabin in the woods.
     Over the years, I have collected many photos and blue prints of gingerbread houses. I keep them all in a binder so we stay neat and organized. If you search the Internet, you can find many free patterns and directions. When I find a free one, I download it and put it in my binder. I have amassed a large collection, you will be surprised with what is out there.
     The key to making the process fun and enjoyable is preparation. I can't stress that enough. I gather what I need over a period of time. If I am at the candy store, I will check out the selection and see if there is anything that may work with my design, purchase it and put it away until needed. Before I begin baking, I make sure I have all the ingredients in the house the day before. I also put my board together and make some decorations ahead of time, namely the trees.
     First, determine what design or style of house you are going to construct. As I said, this year, my daughter chose a rustic cabin in the woods. I have a pattern for the cabin, having found it on the Internet a few years ago. I enlarged the pattern pieces on my printer to the size I thought would work for us. I printed them out on heavy card stock because I like to save them for future use. You can use regular paper but they would only be good for one use.
ribbon on the side of cake drum
     Next, based on the design and size, prepare your board that the gingerbread house will sit on. I have seen some suggestions to use heavy cardboard. I strongly do not recommend that as I find it can easily collapse with the weight of the house and landscaping. A piece of plywood would work, most of the big box stores will cut it to size for you. I use a cake drum that you can get in any cake decorating supply store or craft store like Michaels or AC Moore. Hint, use the coupons that are always in the newspaper and the drums aren't expensive. I am using a 16 inch square drum because I like to have lots of room for my landscape and house. The top is silver on most drums but that won't matter as you won't see the top when you are done as you can landscape with "snow", covering the entire board. You can also leave part of the silver showing to mimic water but we will get to that later. To dress up the sides of the board, I cover the sides with ribbon, using double sided tape. I found a red and green plaid ribbon and used that for the sides.
     Now on to the other things that can be done ahead of time, namely some landscaping ideas. This year we are attempting  a bridge over water. I bought some small pieces of mirror at the craft store that we will use for the stream. Last year we did a pond and used blue tinted piping gel. We wanted to try something different this year. Now onto the trees which are probably the most labor intensive.

2 different styles of trees
     As I said preparation is key and I like to do as much as possible ahead of time. Since we are doing a cabin in the woods, we need lots of trees. They can be time consuming so before Thanksgiving, my daughter and I made our forest of trees. We bought a box of ice cream cones and a bag of pretzel rods. We made some royal icing and tinted it greens. We also had a bowl of multi colored dragees nearby for decorations. Some trees were going to sit flat on the ground and some were going to be on long trunks. Those that were going to have long trunks must first be filled with royal icing and a pretzels rod inserted into the icing and allowed to dry for a few hours. I used different lengths of pretzels rods to make the trees different sizes. I used a Styrofoam block to hold them upside down or you can use a glass or cup. I used some left over royal icing in various colors to use as the glue since you won't see the underside. Nothing goes to waste in my house. While the trees with trunks were drying, my daughter and I started piping the ice cream cones. I used a leaf tip but even a star one would work. Since my daughter is only 8, her piping skills left a little to be desired but that is the charm of the trees. Nothing in nature is perfect and if there were some big spaces, we just filled in with dragees. Start at the bottom rim of the cone where it is the widest and start piping around and around, working your way up. When you are done with one tree, sprinkle with the dragees while the icing is still wet so they will adhere. You can also leave off the dragees or use whatever you want for decorations. Leave aside to dry. We did the entire box of ice cream cones, but did it over a few days as it can be tiresome to pipe them all at once.
     That is far as we got so far but preparation is the key. Tomorrow we are ready to bake and then actual construction, which should be a breeze. Next time I will go over the mechanics of cutting and baking your pieces so that fit together well. Stay tuned.
     If you would like to see more of our creations, visit my website,

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