Like a Brick House (If All Goes Well)
December 10, 2010 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Help me build an awesome gingerbread house.

The office has divided into two teams for work purposes and we decided that since we were already on teams we should stage a gingerbread house contest pitting one team against the other. I'm in charge of one team (about 11 people total) and I'd like to build a great house. Each team has $100 to spend on supplies. We're also allowed to use a small amount of non-edible items.


I am an adequate baker and I am happy to bake gingerbread walls if that's what will work best. I've never done it. Any pointers? I don't need to the walls to smell/taste like gingerbread so any recipe that will make strong walls is fine.

I want to cut windows into the walls to fancy up our house a bit. Is that a terrible idea? Any tips?

I'm not totally sure what the theme of our house will be, but I strongly suspect the other team will decorate their house with Lego men and Lego trees, so we definitely want to avoid anything along those lines. Any suggestions?

If it matters, the winner of the contest will be determined by a vote of our readers (we run/publish several websites). They will be looking at pictures and maybe video; no one will see them in person.

I'm in downtown Toronto and I'd like to buy my supplies this weekend. If you have any Toronto-specific shopping suggestions, let me know.

posted by kate blank to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
not martha has an excellent tutorial here on making sturdy, awesome gingerbread constructions. I haven't used it myself, but her how-tos are legit. I'd definitely use her recipe if I were going to build a gingerbread house. I think it would do just fine with a window or two.

You should definitely go with a theme. Maybe Star Wars or something, but I'm not sure how you'd construct a gingerbread Death Star. We can dream, though!
posted by phunniemee at 3:43 PM on December 10, 2010

As for ideas, here is someone who copied prominent buildings from their town for a shop window.
posted by Namlit at 3:51 PM on December 10, 2010

windows are fine with small walls. I don't know how they'd work with a giant house. You can fill them with crushed hard-boiled candy, and then bake. When it cools, the windows look like stained glass.

A theme sounds like a great idea.

One further tip: some gingerbread house recipes are designed for dry climates - if you are somewhere more humid, you might find the gingerbread gets soggy within a few days. Maybe you could spray it with some sort of varnish if it doesn't have to be edible.
posted by lollusc at 3:55 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well... lots of people have done amazing, amazing things with gingerbread. I would look around a lot at the internet and print lots of color pictures.
Then you can bring them to the team and brainstorm how to bring your favorite parts together in a cohesive way.
Check out Martha Stewart for one. Also I would go to the best candy store you have and buy lots of samples of what they offer.
posted by beccaj at 4:06 PM on December 10, 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Gingerbread.

I am going to try the gingerbread house recipe from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, and plan to use a six-pack carrier for the base (instant support for the roof, woot!). What appealed to me was that the recipe for sticky icing is included. Perhaps others here have tried this particular set of instructions?
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:43 PM on December 10, 2010

many years ago, my brother won our highschool gingerbread house competition largely because of an awesome blue jello lake feature. Just throwing it out there!
posted by just_ducky at 5:07 PM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

I did a gingerbread house with cutout windows and smashed candy as lollusc describes and it turned out really beautifully. We put a light inside it so it would glow and show off the windows.

Try to make your walls on the thick side, 1 cm or more. This will help keep it sturdy. You will require a LOT of gingerbread dough even for a small house. Be prepared to commit a couple of days to this.
posted by contessa at 5:35 PM on December 10, 2010

Best answer: I used to run a gingerbread house competition every year.

The best houses were made of very, very stiff and hard dough. Not really for eating kinda dough. However, the smell was one of the beauties of the product, so it may be worth it to find a recipe that uses copious cinnamon and ginger.

Definitely build a pattern for your house first, out of cardboard. Get it all measured and fit together, then bake the house walls. The best houses had pretty thick walls. Thin walls break easily and can't support much weight on top. For windows in flat walls, some people baked the walls and then used an X-Acto blade to cut windows. I think that might be superior than trying to bake in windows and details. Some people baked whole large sheets and cut all the house planes from the large sheets.

If not doing the sheet strategy, you can mold rounded-edge, thick pieces and decorate them before baking - as for shingles, bark, or hobbit-type dwellings. I've seen a lighthouse made like that, with hundreds of individual shingles, that was pretty mindblowing.

Get a super sturdy base. Cut a 2x2 piece of plywood or similar - don't mess around with baking sheets, cardboard, and that stuff - much too weak, which then undermines the structural integrity of the house and causes collapse. Use every inch of the base as part of the theme and decor. If you're incorporating lights, music, or animation (consider it!), attach a couple 1 x1s to your base, drill some holes through, and run your power thru there. Cords coming out the back of the house looks amatuerish.

There are two ways to make a winning house: the first is precision and cleanness, the second is charming/whimsical detail. It's hard to have both. The precise kind of house is a marvel in its neatness and fineness of work. The whimsical kind is the type people ooh and ah over, looking for small scenes in the windows, witty little characters roasting marshmallows over campfires or putting stars on Christmas trees, etc. Maybe make a choice as to which kind of awesome you're going for. Each year, I saw beautiful workmanship battle it out with creative, fun ideas. Since you are going to have people vote via web, I think maybe for you theme/whimsical will win the day. Some that I remember were: "Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse" which was the interior of a mousehole, with stocking hung and mice asleep in bed under a fondant cover; the aforementioned working lighthouse, Santa in a gingerbread big rig truck, Snoopy's Christmas, Hogwarts Christmas, a tree house...

Voters definitely preferred scenes made with all edibles. Using plastic toys or cutouts seemed to draw critique. Scenes made with a really wide variety of candy and food were always charmers. Go walk up and down the candy aisle and think imaginatively about what you can use things for. Root beer barrels, cinnamon red hots, Twizzlers, etc...lots of possibilities. Also, think beyond candy. People who were really inventive and used nuts, cereals, rice, pretzels, fruit leather, spices and other more random items tended to do better.

Google around . It's unbelievable how many tips'n'tricks gingerbread websites there are. There are also a buttload of contests, which might give you theme ideas.
posted by Miko at 6:27 PM on December 10, 2010 [14 favorites]

Be prepared to commit a couple of days to this.

Seconded! Also a fair amount of money.
posted by Miko at 6:28 PM on December 10, 2010

Also, Eleven pretty much looks like he's made of cookies already.

Basically I am saying a Dr Who theme would be rad.
posted by elizardbits at 7:12 PM on December 10, 2010

Try to get hold of the Time Life Cooking of Germany. It has the most amazing gingerbread house instructions. I have made about 10 of these houses.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 9:36 PM on December 10, 2010

It would be fun to re-create a well-known scene from a movie happening around the house. Make the actors and props out of gingerbreadmen and candy. The first scene tht comes to mind is the woodchipper scene from fargo - which would be hilariously greusome made out of candy! Be sure to use lots of red sprinkles on white icing to simulate the blood splatter on snow.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:40 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I made gingerbread houses last year and for the impatient, using toffee (ie. melted sugar) to glue pieces together is much faster than waiting for icing 'cement' to set firm.
posted by AnnaRat at 11:41 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you want any ideas for theme, you could look at a gingerbread contest for architects.
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:18 AM on December 11, 2010

Response by poster: Update: thanks for all the tips and tricks! We won the contest by substantial margin. For posterity I'll note that I ended up using this Structural Gingerbread House Dough (plus about 1/2 cup of ginger and cinnamon combined) and it was really, really easy to work with. The resulting walls were super-strong, too!
posted by kate blank at 6:47 PM on December 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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