When I was about 10 years old, I received a wonderful gingerbread house kit… and my lifelong love of gingerbread houses was firmly cemented with Royal Icing! Since that very first attempt, I’ve created dozens of houses, from cozy log cabins, to Tara-inspired southern mansions, to an entire tiny town of naked houses, which were then decorated by children at my daughter’s December birthday party.
Although gingerbread houses are now a ubiquitous sign of Christmas, the history of the confection is actually not as old as you might imagine. According to author Tori Avey in The History of Gingerbread (PBS), “Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel , in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest.”
Over the years, I’ve developed a few tips and tricks to make the process of creating the perfect gingerbread house a bit easier (and a lot more fun):
- A sturdy base is essential. And, gravity defying houses need some structural support. Purists may disagree, but I use cardboard boxes and apply my cookies, candy, etc. Nothing is worse than watching all of your hard work crumble due to structural issues!
- Think outside the box. A gingerbread house needn’t be a traditional house at all. Craft what inspires you – a church, a carousel, a boat, an RV, a barn… the options are limitless.
- Baking endless sheets of gingerbread, only to cover them with candy and frosting, is one task you can easily fake. Store bought graham crackers are easy to work with and you can saw them to exact dimensions using a serrated knife. Plus, they still have a wonderful, spicy aroma.
- Building a house requires some strong construction materials. And, for a gingerbread house, that means Royal Icing. There are many recipes, but for the sturdiest, I like one I found on Serious Eats. To get the recipe, click here.
- You can never have too much Royal Icing. And occasionally, I fail to plan and run out of powdered sugar mid-construction! But, you can make your own powdered sugar using a blender. Simply pour granulated sugar into your Vitamix or Blendtec and pulse until the sugar is the required consistency (give it a moment to settle or clouds of sugar will escape).
- When it comes to candy, more is more. Vary the colors and sizes for the most visual interest. Some of my personal faves include traditional starlite mints, bright gumdrops, and charming nonpareils.
- Add additional elements for depth and interest. Craft a cottage roof from mini Shredded Wheat. Install log cabin walls using pretzel logs. Or, build a stone façade using broken, irregularly shaped gingersnap cookies and chocolate bars with Royal Frosting mortar.
- Don’t forget to decorate your base. A brick path made from red licorice is always charming. Flower pots are simple to craft using hollowed out marshmallows. And of course, don’t forget mounds and mounds of Royal Icing snow!
- Details make the difference. I like to create a forest of trees to surround my house using inverted ice cream cones covered in fondant or piped frosting.
- Light it up! Christmas lights are a fast, simple way to add color and dimension to a display.
Are you making a gingerbread house this holiday season? If so, I would love to see it. So, please share your photos with me on Facebook.
Susan Said… WHAT?! is your guide to real style for the way you live. From fabulous fashion and accessories, to gorgeous gardens and stunning interiors, plus the latest products and tips for throwing parties, weddings, and events of all kinds.
DISCLAIMER: No financial compensation or product samples were received in exchange for this gingerbread house post. Regardless, I only recommend products or services that I believe will be good for my readers.