When I was a kid, my cousin Jaclyn and I would build gingerbread houses at Christmas time. But not just any gingerbread houses — these were works of art! Or so we thought. Inspired by our hero, Martha Stewart, we would crank up the Mariah Carey Christmas classic, “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and bake and decorate into the night.
We loved this Martha Stewart holiday special when she baked her impossibly beautiful gingerbread house with Miss Piggy.
Fast forward 15 years and I decided to make a gingerbread house as part of a story for the November 2010 issue of House & Home. Next to Martha’s pale blue mansion, mine looks pathetic, but I guess it still holds some charm. Like Martha, I made my house to look like a federal farmhouse, just like the ones I love in Maine (above).
Making gingerbread houses is a long tradition with Jaclyn and I. Here’s how we go about making ours:
To begin, make a batch of your favourite gingerbread recipe (or try House & Home’s). Make sure you chill the dough so that it rolls out well and doesn’t get all flimsy and sticky. Okay, now on to the fun part!
1. First I make a cardboard template for the house. Each piece you see here is used twice so that you have four walls and two roof pieces.
2. Next I cut out a sheet of parchment paper and dust it with flour. This makes transferring your big cookie cutouts to a sheet pan MUCH easier — trust me!
3. Roll out the dough — I always get stressed out at this point because the dough seems to crack and shift and not make a nice rectangle. But you will get the hang of it. Be sure not to roll the dough out too thin — it needs to be sturdy to build your house!
4. Next I use the cardboard templates and a paring knife to cut out the shape of the walls and roof. Making your own gingerbread allows you to cut out windows. If you tried to do this with a pre-baked kit, the walls would probably crack.
5. Once you’ve removed the excess dough, just pick up the edges of your parchment paper and transfer onto a baking sheet.
6. For the rear wall of the house, I use the same template, but skip cutting out all of the windows. Instead I use a teacup (or bowl) to cut out a round hole. This is so you can reach in and place a tealight inside the house when it’s all done.
7. Bake your gingerbread according to the recipe. Here’s a baked wall now — looking cute already! It helps to bake the pieces a little longer on a lower heat level so that the pieces will be crisp and strong enough to stand. This would depend on your recipe, though.
8. Here’s how I make the candy windows — I crush up Life Savers! For this house, I only used white and yellow ones for an amber glass effect, but usually I use all the colours for a stained glass look. Just crush ‘em up with a hammer on another piece of parchment paper. Oh, and use a cutting board because it might damage your counter.
9. Arrange little rectangles of crushed candies on the parchment paper that are a little bigger than the size of your windows. Then pop them into a preheated 350°F oven and watch them like a hawk. When they’ve melted into puddles, you can take them out. Peel them off the parchment paper as soon as they’ve hardened. Leaving them on too long will darken the colours. Set windows aside.
10. Whip up some royal icing — the ‘glue’ that holds gingerbread houses together, and also what you use to decorate the house. Make up lots — you’re going to need it! Use some icing to attach the windows to the back of the front gingerbread wall.
11. Assemble the walls of the house and let dry before loading it up with candies. If you make the walls (and especially the roof) too heavy too soon, the house might collapse! You can even assemble the house and leave it overnight before decorating, if you like. I usually can’t wait that long, though!
Here is the final product that appeared in the magazine:
For this house, I didn’t use a ton of candy because I wanted it to feel grown up, but usually I’m quite generous with the decorating: a Hershey’s bar for the door, Smarties as shingles, little mint leaf gummies for trees…
The roof tiles on this house are little mint candies and I love the colour! The decorations were kept to icing only, and little silver dragées (which are the tiny silver balls on the corners of the windows). Because the decorations were so light, I chose to decorate the walls and windows before I assembled the house. That was a lot easier than decorating the walls in an upright position.
The house was shot by Virginia Macdonald, and she really made it shine! Oh, and speaking of shine, I lit the tealight inside the house for that glowy window effect. I have it on good authority that Jaclyn reads House & Home in B.C. — I hope she approves!
For another fun gingerbread project, try crafting these Holiday Gingerbread Boxes to wrap up gifts.