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Five steps to build a successful gingerbread house

You may think you know everything there is to know about gingerbread houses, but you don't. Especially if this is the first time you've built one. So make sure the first thing you do when you open that box is read and follow the directions.

A prefab gingerbread house So, you’ve bought your pre-fabricated gingerbread house kit, gotten all the necessary permits, purchased your heavy moving equipment, and you are now ready for construction. Not so fast, bucko! Even though you think you’re an expert gingerbread house builder, because you built that ramshackle fort in your backyard when you were 7-years-old, you may not be equipped to build a gingerbread house; especially if this is your first time constructing one.

To help you out, and not embarrass yourself in front of your wife/kids/church group, here are some simple tips that will help you and your assistants produce a gingerbread house that would make even Scrooge cry.

1. Read the Directions — Like I said, you may think you know everything there is to know about gingerbread house construction, but you don’t. So make sure the first thing you do when you open that box is read and follow the directions.  If they say to mix 5 tablespoons and one teaspoon of warm water into the icing mix, you darn well better do it! Else, it’ll be too thick to spread, or so thin that the home inspectors will declare the structure unsafe for living.

2. Foundation is the key — If real-life houses are good enough for foundations, which keep the walls from falling down around you so people don’t see you in the bathroom, why not gingerbread houses? Sure, you’re not building a foundation of sugar cubes to lay the house upon, but you need something solid you can attach the four (or more) walls to.

In the package I bought it was a simple piece of cardboard that was used. All I did was put some icing down where the walls were going to stand, and stuck them in place. In a few minutes, the house was pretty sturdy. Which brings me to my next point….

3. Set that icing, dammit! — Don’t think that you can put the house together, let it stand for a few seconds, then move ahead to decoration. That isn’t going to happen. Basically, the icing is going to act like an adhesive. Like any adhesive you’re going to need to wait a few minutes until the walls set and the icing gets hard. Same thing goes for when you decorate your house with the various candies provided in whatever kit you purchase. So, regardless of how impatient your kids are (translation: how impatient you are), you’re going to need to hold everything together for a few minutes.

4. The roof, the roof, the roof gets decorated before going up — I know I said you should follow the directions whenever building a gingerbread house from a kit, but there’s one modification that should be made… decorate the roof first. Most directions will say to attach the root panels first, let dry, then decorate. However, with a combination of angle, set time for icing, and general impatience, when you begin to cover the panels with icing you tend to have a collapsing structure on your hands.

When I did this with my kids I decided the best thing to do was to have them  frost and decorate the roof panels first, Then, once the walls of the house were set, I placed both panels on. The result was a steadier house and one less step to accomplish.

5. Let the kids at it — While you may think that you’re the next I.M. Pei, you have to realize the purpose for buying and building the gingerbread house in the first place was for your kids. So, once the initial construction phase is complete, let the kids at it. It may not be pretty — they’re not exterior designers at this age — but it will give them the satisfaction of doing it for themselves. As well as allow them to lick the icing from their hands and eat the leftover candy.

Photo Credit: Rich Keller/CliqueClack

3 Responses to “Five steps to build a successful gingerbread house”

December 21, 2009 at 3:53 PM

Have you tried using those little compressed air cans that are for cleaning keyboards and electronics? They use them all the time on the Food Network Challenge shows to help set the icing.

December 23, 2009 at 9:32 AM

If the house turns out badly, perhaps someone will come and do an “EXTREME MAKEOVER: GINGERBREAD HOUSE EDITION”.

December 23, 2009 at 9:43 AM

That would also be called “Kids, chow down!” Followed by, “Kids, the toilet is this way.”