Holiday Houses: Ideas to make the simple Gingerbread house so much more

Decorating gingerbread houses has been a favorite Christmas tradition for many families, sometimes passed down through generations. Like a snowflake or your own luxury custom built home, no two gingerbread houses are alike (unless, of course, it was bought in a box), as the true spirit of creating a holiday gingerbread house should result in anything but cookie cutter.

Ginger was first cultivated in ancient China and was commonly used for medicinal purposes. Through the Silk Road, ginger made its way to Europe and used as one of the spices to disguise the taste of aged meat or produce. The first gingerbread houses originated in Germany in the 16th century, made from their popular ginger cookies, lebkuchen. They were elaborately decorated with gold foil leaf and soon became associated with Christmas. The idea was popularized throughout Europe following the publishing of Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel story, and was brought to America with the early colonists. The first gingerbread men originated in the court of Elizabeth I, as she fashioned the men to resemble visiting dignitaries.

If this tradition is new to you, or if you are looking for inspiration to try new materials and designs, consider the following ideas to help get you started.

Before deciding on design or materials, consider the following 2 important factors:

  1. The age, skill level and attention span of participants. A simple project with your children may not suit a fairly ambitious re-creation of your own custom built home, as time and patience are required. If children are involved, consider giving them ownership of a simple house design that will create more immediate rewards and allow them the freedom to experiment with the candy.
  2. Edible or non-edible? Many families have the tradition of breaking apart the house after Christmas dinner and sharing for dessert. “Pre-fab” homes are not very tasty, nor are many ingredients that may be used to enhance the design of the home.

Traditional gingerbread homes are constructed with the baked cookie dough that was pre-cut prior to baking according to a desired template. A sampling of the desired recipe(s) prior to construction allows for the builder to sample taste, desired thickness and the right bake time to yield the best construction material for the frame of the house. Perhaps the most important ingredient for the project is the frosting; royal frosting, which is made with meringue powder, water and confectioner’s sugar, acts like cement to seal the walls, roof, edge of eaves, door, etc. The frosting hardens and is edible, as well as very stable to hold in place the embellishments. Royal frosting can also be used as the “cement” for the simple graham cracker substitute, a go-to for those looking for an easier and quicker custom built home project.

Nearly every cooking website offer recipes and even templates for gingerbread houses. It is also fairly easy to design your own template if your plan is to create a unique design or a replica of your own dream home. Unlike basic décor rules, more can actually be more, as extra candy embellishments for roofs, chimneys, doors, sidewalks, porches and windows add to the festive appeal to your creation. However, some of the most striking designs do have a certain symmetry with patterns and colors, rather than just haphazard additions.

Aside from the ingredients needed to make the gingerbread dough and royal icing, the following are some basic sweets that make great embellishments to your creation:

  • Necco wafers
  • M&Ms
  • Peppermint candies and candy canes
  • Spice gumdrops
  • Nilla wafers or mini Oreos
  • Cereal (such as Mini-Wheats, Fruit Loops and Cheerios)
  • Licorice whips
  • Marshmallows (also good for snowmen)
  • Chocolate or pastel non-pareils
  • Coconut flakes (for snow)

Check out Colby Construction’s Pinterest page on Gingerbread houses for inspiration on building your own custom home: