The last time I constructed a gingerbread house, my dog polished it off, right down to the box that housed its pre-fab walls. Twenty years later, I re-embraced the holiday spirit and ventured forth to build a new one—from scratch. At first, I thought it would be cool to make a loft or an industrial candy warehouse. Turns out, alternative architecture requires more time and skills than I’ll ever have. I recruited my boyfriend’s mom to help with the process since she’s a whiz in the kitchen. We turned to the Food Network as our guide. There are plenty of other resources online, though, providing easy-to-follow recipes and templates, whether you choose to use a kit or not. Be sure to search “gingerbread house” rather than simply “gingerbread,” as regular cookie dough isn’t stiff enough to form a structurally sound home.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
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
assorted candies and Royal Icing (see below) for decorating
1 pound powdered sugar
1 to 2 large egg whites
1/4 cup water (more if needed)
Be advised: It takes 15 minutes to bake the gingerbread, but the overall process can easily take much longer (in our case—four hours. Seriously). We made the dough first, chilled it for 30 minutes in the fridge and then rolled it out on the counter using a sprinkling of flour. With the help of measuring tape, we cut out walls based on the recipe’s prescribed dimensions—much smaller than we’d expected—ultimately easier to handle. Who was I kidding with the “alternative loft/warehouse” idea?
Once the gingerbread had cooked and cooled, we decorated each piece before assembling—or rather, attempting to assemble (this is the tricky part). Our icing, while tasty, turned out to be too thin to serve as caulking. So we placed a small jewelry box inside the home to keep the walls from caving in and slathered the house in sugary goo. In the end, it actually looked, well, festive. Dressed in mini M&Ms, red hots, gum drops, gummy bears, peppermints and colored glitter (salvaged from an old Bay Area Safeway sprinkles bottle circa 1985), it’s actually a pretty sweet centerpiece for our holiday celebrations.
To build a house for yourself or to give to others, several local craft stores/bakeries, including any Roberts Arts & Crafts location, sell reasonably priced kits complete with gingerbread, frosting and candy.