This time of year brings the yearning for upholding or creating family traditions, from cookie parties and candy making to building and decorating a gingerbread house. But the holiday season is full of demands, too, and most of us were already burning our candles from both ends before they turned red and started smelling of spice and apples. Now we’re just burned out.
Take a breath. You’ve got options.
My family has been making a gingerbread house for the holidays since I was a little girl. My mother used to make the gingerbread from scratch, and we used a stencil template to cut the pieces and bake them ourselves. She made icing from Crisco and confectioners’ sugar, and we decorated it with everything from gumdrops to old-fashioned orange slices.
My, how times have changed. Nowadays, you can buy a gingerbread house kit and do what’s most fun: Decorate. Kits come with houses already put together, or you can buy a kit that has gingerbread pieces and icing in a bag if you’re feeling a little more adventurous. All kits come with various candies for decorating, and they can be bought on the most meager of budgets.
WHERE TO BUY GINGERBREAD HOUSE KITS
The kit I used in these photos was a Wilton kit, purchased at an area Michael’s store. It’s a large house; smaller houses are available. Kits are also available at area Target stores, Walmart and at Cake Art (3744 Lawrenceville Highway, Tucker; 770-493-1305, cakeart.com), as well as other retail outlets.
Kits and related accessories are available online at:
Williams-sonoma.com: The upscale kitchen and lifestyle store sells dandy houses to put together for $29.95, with gumdrops, royal icing and colored icings, as well as a door wreath and gingerbread man.
Amazon.com: Wilton’s Petite Gingerbread House Kit (perfect for a first-house effort), Candyland, and Manischewitz Chanukah House Vanilla Cookie Decorating Kit from $12.95 to $39.50.
Also on Amazon: Gingerbread House Silicone Mold Kit, for you to make from scratch, no stencils needed. A three-piece mold set to create a house, snowman, tree reindeer, Santa and sleigh for $18.99.
Worldmarket.com: When a simple cottage isn’t enough, World Market has a Gingerbread Estate Kit, replete with candies and icing for decorating, and a patented “link and lock” feature that allows you to build without icing, making it a great feature for small children, $19.99.
Beautifulbrinysea.com: Try Magic Unicorn Sprinkles from local artisan dry goods company Beautiful Briny Sea, $20.
Spiceology.com: This chef-driven online spice shop has carbonated sugar and vegetable and fruit powders that can add color and flavor to just about anything.
Looking for some creative inspiration? Check out Lisa Anderson’s “Easy Gingerbread Houses: Twenty-three No-Bake Gingerbread Houses for All Seasons,” (Gibbs Smith, 2018, $14.99).
Use this icing to “glue” together a gingerbread house, or to pipe decorative designs on cakes and cookies. You can also use the recipe in the booklet inside a canister of Wilton meringue powder.
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons meringue powder, such as Wilton brand
6 to 7 tablespoons warm water
With an electric mixer using a whip attachment, whip confectioners’ sugar, meringue powder and water in a bowl until incorporated. Continue beating on medium speed for 7 minutes. Cover the icing with a moist paper towel when not using. Makes about 3 cups.
Per tablespoon: 25 calories (no calories from fat), trace protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, no fiber, no fat, no cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium.
Icing: Most gingerbread house kits will come with an array of candies and either premade icing or a bag of icing to mix yourself. I always make my own icing because the kit’s batch never seems to be enough. Moreover, I like to control the amount of confectioners’ sugar and water in my icing. If you can keep your icing a little on the wet side, your house will last longer through the season and not dry out. Once the icing dries too much, sweet things might start falling off your house, so place it in an area away from heat, drafts and direct sunlight.
Candy: Candies that come with your house will be plentiful, and easy to apply. But remember that the heavier you make your decorations, the more prone your house will be to falling in (don’t worry — it’s happened to the best of us). Little hands will want to place decorations everywhere, so have fun, but make like the third little pig and keep things on the well-built side.
Other decorations: Some of the items my family loves to use that won’t be in your kit:
Triscuits: Triscuits work well for fashioning the tiles on a roof, or to create a “stone” pathway for the outside of your house.
Shredded wheat: If you’re going for a thatched Irish cottage look, mini shredded wheat is the way to go. Simply shingle on the rooftop and dust with confectioners’ sugar using a fine-meshed hand strainer/sifter.
Sliced or whole nuts, raisins and dried fruit: These are great for creating chimney stones; use sliced for shingles, stone pathways.
Pretzels: Create a log cabin look with log pretzels; pretzel squares make terrific windows and fences.
Whole spices: Create wreaths and other decorations with whole peppercorns, juniper and cumin; use whole cinnamon sticks for a “log” pile outside your house.
If your house has a lot of decor and piping, decorating the sides and roof before you put it together is sometimes easier than trying to pipe once it’s vertical.
Icing “icicles”: Let the icing drip from the end of a piping bag and release; pipe icicles after the house has been put together so gravity can do its job and create nice drips.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.