Gingerbread Houses


Icicles hang from a snowy rooftop, brightly colored bulbs shimmer from frosty eaves and candy cane decorations line a curving sidewalk. This isn’t a scene from a holiday greeting card — it’s what you can create with a good gingerbread recipe and a touch of creativity.


For centuries European bakeries have turned out gingerbread houses using molds created by master craftsmen. In France, a special guild was formed for these bakers of “pain d’epices,” and an annual fair ran for 800 years to celebrate their special breads. But it was the Grimm Brothers’ story of Hansel and Gretel that earned these sweet houses their spot in history.

“They were very popular in Switzerland, where I grew up,” explains Guido Landoldt, the executive pastry chef at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. “We used beautiful molds that were hundreds and hundreds of years old and carved into hard wood.”

Those antique molds are no longer available, but don’t let that stifle your creativity. There are many other ways to make this tasty seasonal centerpiece.

The most traditional way is first to bake the gingerbread that will become the walls, doors, chimney and roof. After the gingerbread cools, decorate the exterior walls while they are flat on a work surface, but be sure to frost the interior as well as exterior corners for added strength when you assemble the cottage.

Landoldt suggests royal frosting as the best glue and claims it’s stronger than liquid nails. Mix three egg whites, 1 pound powdered sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar together gently.

“Use a paddle instead of a whisk and mix slowly for seven to 10 minutes to avoid incorporating any air molecules,” he suggests.

Cover your icing with a damp towel until you are ready to begin gluing and decorating your project. Be sure to have plenty of pastry bags and frosting tips on hand to create different textures.


If baking isn’t your forte, start with a kit. John and Janet D’Orsi have been making this possible since 1981 at the Gingerbread Construction Co. in New England <>. They ship undecorated kit houses as well as fully finished houses anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States.

Don Granger, a retired construction worker in New Auburn, Wis., appreciates the particulars of construction and enjoys building gingerbread kit houses with his grandchildren.

“Making a gingerbread house with youngsters gives them an experience they couldn’t have without an adult,” says Granger, “and at the same time it teaches them where things go and why.”

Granger’s experience has taught him that creativity in decoration is part of the fun. He has used green frosting on overturned ice cream cones for trees, cotton candy for smoke and jelly beans for festive lights. To create a landscape, he covers a board with foil and paints it with diluted royal frosting. A path of chocolate bars lined with candy canes finishes the scene.


Not up to building an entire house? Consider the Betty Crocker recipe for gingerbread cookies from <>. These take less time and are delicious to eat. Frosting can still drip from eaves, shredded wheat can line the roof and peppermints can adorn the front door.


Very young children might not have the skills or patience to make a gingerbread house, but that doesn’t need to stop them. Beverly Cavanaugh, coordinator of the Early Childhood Center at Joliet (Ill.) Junior College offers this kid-friendly tip.

Use empty half-pint milk cartons to create a base for a graham cracker “gingerbread” house. Adhere crackers to the sides and top of the cleaned milk carton with royal frosting. Horizontally place graham cracker sticks for a log cabin effect, and make shingles from colorful gum or flat nuts.

To create a special gift, leave the spine of the container poking up between the graham cracker roof pieces.

“If you punch a hole in the ridge, you can hang it as an ornament,” suggests Cavanaugh. “Pipe more royal icing around the hole to look like snow on the roof.”

A picture slipped into the door or window can appear to peek out of the ornament which is easily preserved with a layer of shellac or a light wash of glue.

“After the frosting sets up, mix some craft glue and a few drops of water to make a thin wash for the child to paint onto the ornament,” directs Cavanaugh. “Embellish after the glue wash with iridescent sequins or other decorations for added sparkle.”

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