It’s Sunday afternoon and we’re strolling the grocery aisles humming along to Christmas songs while shopping for the week’s meals when Derek notices a DIY Gingerbread House kit. The box came with pre-baked, ready-to-assemble walls with candies and bagged frosting for $14.99. It looked like a fun Christmas activity that neither of us had done before but hesitated with the simple cookie-cutter design. What if we made our own instead? I snagged a recipe from Food Network and Derek made a beeline for the candy aisle for ingredients.
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup light molasses or dark corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 pound (3-3/4 cups) powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy
- 1 to 2 large egg whites
- 1 teaspoon almond extract, vanilla or lemon juice
- Twizzlers Pull N’ Peel Licorice
- Jelly Beans
- Chocolate Chips
- Powdered Sugar
- Candy Fruit Slices
- Gingerbread House: In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and baking soda together until the mixture is smooth. Blend in the flour and water to make a stiff dough. Chill at least 30 minutes or until firm.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Cut out the following paper patterns for the gingerbread house template: Two rectangles, 3 by 5 inches, to make the front and back of the house. Two rectangles, 3 by 5 1/2 inches for the roof. Two pieces for the ends of the house, 3 inches wide at the base, 3 inches to the roof line, and slanted to a peak 5 1/2 inches from the bottom. Four smaller rectangles, 1 1/2 by 1 inch for the roof and sides of the entryway. And one piece, 2 inches wide at the base, 1 1/2 inches to the roof line, and slanted to a peak 2 1/2 inches from the bottom for the front of the entryway.
- Roll gingerbread dough out to edges on a large, rimless cookie sheet. Place paper patterns onto the rolled out dough. With a sharp, straight-edged knife, cut around each of the pieces but leave pieces in place.
- Bake at 375 degrees F for about 15 minutes until dough feels firm.
- Place patterns on top of the gingerbread again and trim shapes, cutting edges with a straight-edged sharp knife. Leave to cool on baking sheet.
- Place royal icing into pastry bag with a writing tip and press out to decorate individual parts of the house, piping on decorations, windows, door, etc., as desired. Let dry until hardened.
- Glue sides, front and back of house together at corners using royal icing. Place an object against the pieces to prop up until icing is dry (it only takes a few minutes).
- Glue the two roof pieces to the pitched roofline of the house. Then, similarly, glue the sides and roof of the entryway together with icing. Attach the entryway to the front of the house.
- Continue decorating the house, gluing on gumdrops, licorice, and peppermint, as desired.
- Mix all of the ingredients together using an electric hand mixer, until the icing is smooth and thin enough to be pressed through a pastry bag with a writing tip. Add more lemon juice, if necessary.
My husband was the official blender of the evening, operating the electric mixer for the gingerbread dough and homemade icing. The gingerbread was supposed to stick together but was crumbling apart so I used my hands to knead the dough and pat it together into a brick shape. The icing was much too thick with the above recipe so we added another 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a Tablespoon of water to loosen it up. The dough had to chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes to stiffen so we researched our gingerbread ideas and created a template.
In honor of our love for camping and hiking trails, we decided to create a Gingerbread Tepee Tent and drew a paper template that was 3 inches wide by 5 inches tall. The dough was then ready to be kneaded and rolled out on a cookie sheet. I traced five sides for the tent with 1 side cut out with an open door with enough dough leftover for some experimental creations like a sleeping bag, fishing pole, logs for a fire, and our cat, Sprout.
The gingerbread creations were placed on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and baked for roughly 15-20 minutes. We let them sit on the counter for about 5 minutes until they were cool enough to touch. Unfortunately, the cat, sleeping bag, and fishing pole didn’t quite bake in the shapes we had sculpted but the tepee sides came out perfectly. Thin, flat objects like our logs for the fire worked best.
Placing the pieces together was a bit tricky at first but with two pairs of hands, anything can be done. I spread the icing on the edges of two pieces and Derek held them together. Note: I ended up taking it apart and chopping off the top of my tepee sides to create a flat edge on top of the triangles because they didn’t fit together well. We also only needed to use 5 sides for the tent instead of the 6 we had baked. As more pieces were added and the icing began to harden, this process became easier. We filled in the seams and base edges with a layer of icing on the cookie sheet for support. Once the tepee could stand on its own, we set about decorating with the icing acting as a glue.
Some of our unique features included the campfire pit, a candy sliced canoe docked on the edge of an M&M lake, a trail lined with of chocolate chips, a snow angel in the powdered sugar snow, and the top of the gingerbread tent marked in licorice with A+D for Ashley & Derek, like couples carve into trees all over the world. It is the candy version of our winter wonderland in the woods.
The entire baking process took just over 90 minutes but lasted an entire evening of holiday cheer with Sprout sniffing around our toes as we decorated. If you have a choice between a pre-assembled kit or baking homemade gingerbread, the Jagers believe that it’s worth the extra effort to build a Candyland paradise of your own.