Gingerbread houses: Not just for Christmas anymore

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Ahhh, the first breezes of spring are beginning to blow, and the hazy, crazy days of the holiday season are beginning to fade into memory. I think I’ve found the last of the ornament hooks that fell off the tree, and the gift cards are nearly all used up.

Despite being happy to be moving on with my year there are things from the season, I’m missing it already. I think  roast turkey with gravy is perfection; I really do love holiday music; and I didn’t get to make a gingerbread house again this year.

Years before I came to King Arthur, I was teaching kindergarten/pre-school, and had plenty of vacation time during the holidays. As you can expect, here at King Arthur the holiday season is our busiest time of year. And more often than not, we’re all working overtime to get your goodies to you in time. So little things like gingerbread houses can fall by the wayside.

BUT WAIT! Thanks to my local library, a couple of handy gingerbread kits, and a trip to the dollar store for candy, my gingerbread fantasies have come true this year.

First, let me give inspirational credit to two great books. One is “How to Build a Gingerbread House,” by Christina Banner; the other is “Gingerbread Houses,” by Christa Currie. Ms. Banner’s book has wonderful photos for gingerbread houses year-round; and Ms. Currie’s book has delightful illustrations with an Old World feel to them. Both offer detailed information on planning, making, baking, and decorating gingerbread houses. And both will want to make you run right out and start baking houses.

While I do love to bake, things are still busy here at KAF, so I snagged a few gingerbread kits from our store (on sale, to boot! ) and headed out to buy candy. Back when my daughter Shannon was little, my sister-in-law and I would make houses with the kids on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. To make sure we still had money left over from our Black Friday shopping, we’d each bring rolls of change to pay for the candy. It was a great way to get the kids involved, as they sorted and rolled coins. And we felt that $10-$15 worth was PLENTY of candy to cover two huge houses, with some left over for snacking.

In your candy hunt, be sure to check out the local convenience store. They often have small packages of candy on a 2/$1 rack, and the selection is often quite varied and unusual. If you’re shopping with kids, this is the ideal place to let everyone pick their favorite for decorating and sharing.

Other than candy, the only other changes I made to the kits were to hot-glue the houses together (they need to travel quite a bit and no one will eat them); attach them to cardboard bases; and I made an extra batch of royal icing. You can never have too much icing when making gingerbread houses.

basic house

Here’s the basic house.

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All this candy, the icing, and the gingerbread folks come with each kit. Keep an eye open for how I use them in unusual ways.

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First, work on the sides of the house. Here are some window boxes made from mini-Charleston Chews, green tinted icing, and hard candies. Scoring the chocolate coating gives the impression of individual bricks.

Have no idea…

Taffy makes an excellent, pliable putty that can be molded and shaped. If you choose to soften it in the microwave use EXTREME caution, as the candy can get very hot. Here the taffy was softened and flattened to make a round window. The candy confetti can be placed onto the taffy to make “stained glass.”

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Twizzlers are so flexible, literally, they can be bent to make doors and arches and cut to fit your plans. You do need to hold them in place until the icing dries a bit.

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Green Twizzler pieces make great flower stems with lots of texture. They’re easily cut with scissors, a great job for young baker/decorators.

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Before beginning the roof, let’s cover the chimney. A flat dish of candy pieces, and a healthy swirl of icing…

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Press the icing into the candy and voilà! Tiny “stones” give your chimney a realistic look, while the colors keep the house bright and cheerful. Once the first side dries, repeat with the second side to fully cover the chimney.

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Once your side walls are done, you can begin on the roof. For our spring house, only a thatched roof will do. Triscuits make perfect thatch, and are easy to handle. Begin at the bottom edge of the roof and pipe a thick line of icing. Lay the roof tiles and press into the icing.

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Continue piping icing and laying roof tiles until you reach the roof peak. If you want to offset the tiles, you can use a half tile to begin the second row and break tiles as needed to follow the pattern. Cover the peak with icing and small pieces to mask any gap.

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Apply trim to the roof and decorate the edges of the peaks. The “stained glass” is attached with a dollop of icing, and the edges trimmed with icing for a finished look.

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Time for some spring flowers. Pipe a swag of icing across one row of roof tiles. Working quickly, press sugar flowers or small candies into the icing.

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Continue until you reach the bottom edge, then repeat on the other side of the roof.

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Trim the top of the roof. Now is a good time to take a small break and let the roof decorations harden a bit. As the house becomes more elaborate, moving it is more difficult; having drier decorations helps. Nothing is more frustrating than sticking your finger into your just completed icing decoration!

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For spring grass with texture, try tinting coconut with food coloring. Add a few drops, and squish and squeeze in the bag until the coconut is evenly coated.

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MMMmmm, fresh green grass, and it’s completely edible.

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When I began the spring house, I knew I had to make lollipop trees. This sugar shaker is perfect as a drying rack.

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Cover the pop in green icing, and coat with the coconut. Shake off any excess over the bag.

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After drying for 10 to 15 minutes, use small dabs of icing to add flowers or decorations to your trees. Let the trees dry for at least an hour or two, and place them on your scenery last. They’re the hardest decorations to work around, so adding them last saves you untold hassles.

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To create a base and yard for your house, cardboard cake bases are excellent. You can also use recycled cardboard, Styrofoam or even wood. Some folks choose to use fabric, or fancy wrapping paper. I like to spread on a nice thick layer of icing. For a grassy look, you can sprinkle with the coconut.

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Our bunny and carrot decos were perfect for adding a garden in front of the house. Just a dab of icing will hold them where you want.

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If it’s spring in New England, there must be worms in the garden! Another new use for chow mein noodles. You’ll be surprised at the new and different ways you begin to view your pantry when you start creating gingerbread houses.

Add a final few personal touches, and your spring house is ready to ring in the new season.

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I couldn’t really stop once I started, so let’s take a peek at the Beach House. I’ll just give you the highlights as the techniques are quite similar to the spring house.

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Fruit slices are colorful and flexible, and can be cut or rolled, flattened or squeezed into your desired shapes. These green slices were cut lengthwise into thirds. Wetting your scissors, or a spritz of cooking spray helps with the stickiness.

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Arrange 3 “leaves” together to make the palm fronds. Cocoa Puffs cereal makes excellent coconuts. Attach with a dab of icing.

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Use a healthy amount of icing to attach the palms to the pretzel rod roof. The rods were attached the same way as the Triscuit thatch, working from the bottom up. Remember, use plenty of icing.

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For the sides, pretzel sticks made great bamboo shutters. Demerara sugar makes great sand too!

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What’s a groovin’ beach shack without a tiki head? There are those mini Charleston Chews again. The eyes are gumdrops slices and a jelly bean nose completes the idol. Can you feel the power of the idol!?

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The path for this house is made of chocolate rocks. Yep, chocolate rocks. They are similar to M&M’s with milk chocolate on the inside and a candy coating shell. You can often find them in upscale chocolate shops, or the bulk candy section of a candy shop.

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Remember the gingerbread folks and chimney pieces included with your kit? Try seeing them in new ways, like cutting off the chimney base…

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And icing it gray. Perfect shark fin! For my fellow Parrotheads (fans of the singer Jimmy Buffet) you can hum a few bars of “Fins” as you work. Or at least the theme from Jaws. Da dum, Da dum….

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The gingerbread kid included in the kit got a tropical makeover. The leftover coconut from the spring house makes a pretty good grass skirt. Gotta love those Cocoa Puffs.

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After finishing the house, it traveled with me to KAF and faired the trip well. Unfortunately, just day or two before the photo shoot, it suffered some damage from Hurricane Jim (aka web team member Jim Taylor) so I spent a few minutes at my desk repairing the beach chairs, and anchoring the drinks to the table. No fancy tools, just a bag of icing and a butter knife.

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Last but not least, I wanted to try out the train. I was running low on candy so decided to use just white icing. The contrast on the dark gingerbread is stunning.

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Oreos with the cream centers removed made cute wheels for the boxcar.

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Simple dots and swirls can make an empressive little engine. I know you can… I know you can….

I hope you will find yourself inspired to think outside the holiday box, and try a gingerbread house anytime of year. Have fun!

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Kasia

    Gingerbread creations have a way of bringing a sense of wonder and inspiration to young and old alike. These are the most delightful gingerbread creations I have ever seen! How terrifically fun and completely unexpected to see gingerbread set in a spring theme. These joyous creations are worthy of a new, and everlasting spring tradition. Thanks for the smile and most excellent idea to share with my family.
    Hi Kasia,
    Thanks for the lovely compliment. I hope you and your family have a wonderful time this spring, and for many springs to come. I’d love to see pictures of your masterpieces! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  2. Sugar Duchess

    Those. are cool. What a great excuse to be able to make gingerbread houses any time of the year. They’re so fun, I always hate waiting until Christmas! :)
    Thanks Sugar. Another baker suggested a “sugar shack” (maple sugaring, that is). Looks like I’m back to the drawing board, unless you beat me to it. ~MaryJane

    Reply
  3. Marion

    you all are having WAY too much fun!
    Hi Marion,
    There’s no such thing as too much fun! It really was a blast making the houses though. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. Kim

    I LOVE the Cocoa Puffs!!! That gives me an idea…I might have to borrow that idea. I love the beach house, too.

    I used to bake my own gingerbread houses, but then decided if I bought a kit, I could have all the fun without all the work!
    Hi Kim,
    I agree 100% about the kits. You can get straight to the fun decorating without heating up the kitchen. Wouldn’t it be fun to keep a kit around for rainy summer days?
    I’m wondering just how you’re going to use those Puffs. Gonna share any hints?? ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  5. Fran

    That is soooo adorable! What fun. I love the little roof tiles and the pretzle walls – so creative! The little train’s precious too.
    Thanks Fran. :) ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  6. Colleen

    I wish I had heard about using hot glue to hold the house pieces together back around Christmas! I made my first non-graham cracker/milk carton gingerbread house this past holiday, and it sloooooooowly collapsed all day. It’s not like we intended to eat it, so why not? Next year! Thanks!
    Hi Colleen,
    I agree, getting the house to stay straight can be pretty tricky. If I am using icing, I try to make the house one day, let dry overnight, and decorate the next day. It helps a lot with the structure. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  7. Elaine

    You were right! I love the beach shack. “Fins to the left….fins to the right…” – all this detail reminds me of our “cut and paste” parties in college to prep for your student teaching. Maybe I’ll try a house for Easter – always have to try to out-do the sisters in law! As always, fabulous job. E

    Only two weeks left to build the perfect Easter treat! Can you keep the construction under wraps? Or maybe you will have a whole village for the holiday? Irene at KAF

    Reply
  8. Kim

    I have bikini & swim trunks cookie cutters. They’re much bigger than the gingerbread cookie cutters I have so I can’t use them together, but I could make some bikinis/trunks cookies and some gingerbread people and give some coconut tops with “grass” skirts and some with trunks.

    I used the bikini & trunk cookie cutters as a joke for a recent bridal shower. I decorated the bikini cookies in all white and decorated one pair of trunks to look like a tux. The shower was for my cousin who wears bikinis. They were a hit!

    What a great idea for shower treats! We’ll never be satisfied with finger sandwiches and cake again! Irene at KAF

    Reply
  9. Debbie

    Your work is beautiful! I am glad I’m not the only one who makes off-season gingerbread houses. I usually do a Valentine’s Day house this year and didn’t get to it. I was going to toss the kit–but now I’m inspired! Thank you!

    Reply
  10. Karen

    Oh those are hysterical! I love them and what a great and resourceful way to use those kits! Perfect for Easter or keeping the kids home while on break

    Reply
  11. judy stickney

    I am going to suggest a contest between the scout troops to see who can
    be the most creative, original, humorous etc. Don’t take my idea but I want to create a log cabin with the fat pretzels.
    HI Judy,
    What a terrific idea to inspire young kids to be creative! When we have kids gingerbread classes here, I am always amazed at the new and different ideas each child comes up with, even when they are using the same materials. P.S. for your log cabin, short stacks of pretzel rods make great woodpiles. Have fun and feel free to share pictures. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  12. Teresa

    Thanks for the photo series. All the ideas are great fun. I too love the beach shack with the pretzel roof. So cute. Once again I am envious of your job!!

    Reply
  13. justine

    what a cute idea. I only thought of gingerbread houses for x-mas!
    Me too, until this year. I’m so happy to have new inspirations for the other 364 days of the year! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  14. Jeannie

    You make me want to abandon all other projects and make all things gingerbread. I believe there are subliminal messages hidden in your products and site KAF! :) So creative!! Lollipop trees? Candy rocks? Love it.
    Hi Jeannie,
    I’m so glad you are inspired to play with gingerbread. No secret messages, but we are so happy to connect with other bakers and share the joy! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  15. connie

    Wow, was surprise tio find this cottage or say Ginger Bread house for Easter project so sent it to my granddaughter to give it a try, Thanks Love the thoughts and ideals that went with the project
    HI Connie,
    Hope your granddaughter has a great time. Feel free to share pics with us! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  16. Deb

    Those are just adorable! Thanks for the detailed photo sequence. I LOVE the bunnies, carrots, and lollipop trees. Also the beach house brought a big smile. I missed our crafty ladies session with gingerbread houses before Christmas but noow I can have a second chance to make one with my grandchildren for Easter! Hope I can still find the kits – that is a perfect shortcut – along with the hot glue. Thanks so much!

    Hi Deb,
    Glad you will get a chance to make a spring house. We still have some kits in stock, so give a jingle and we’ll be happy to help you out. I was thinking yesterday some of the red Swedish fish would have been fun on the beach house. Guess that will have to wait for next year. Enjoy! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  17. Barbara Yanik

    I absolutly LOVE these ideas! While looking at the beach house, I thought, no palm trees? Haven’t tried it, but pretzel rods with the gumdrop fronds and Cocoa Puffs coconuts would be neat!
    Thanks!
    Hi Barbara,
    I did think about the palm trees with the pretzel rods, but the gumdrop fruit slices were quite heavy, and I thought they might keep falling off. If you can work it out, they would be great scenery. Send pics if you do! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  18. JavaLady

    WOW ! I love love love your ideas! I am gonna whip out my gingerbread templates and bake up some pieces. I think we’ll do an Easter Cottage when all the relatives are here in just over a week. I won’t do the hot glue though as we always break the house & scenery apart to munch on while we play board games and card games with our huge family. Thanks for the NEW Inspiration !! I am also seeing visions of a Little Red School House for August and “back to school” season….

    What a great idea for back to school! It would make a nice gift for a special teacher too at the end of the year. Thank YOU for the inspiration! ~MaryJane

    Reply
  19. Allie

    I got my kits in the mail today–they really do have everything in them. I got some M&Ms that are speckled like eggs to use as well, and I plan some spiky green frosting for grass all around.

    Reply
  20. Bernice Hill

    All the way from Australia! I just loved your step by step pictorial instructions. A Spring gingerbread house, just perfect.

    Reply

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