When we heard about this awesome tradition from our dear friend Tricia, we knew we wanted her to share it with all of you. So go ahead and read this while I run to the store to get all the goods to make my gingerbread house!
I grew up in a pretty mellow family. Sure, we had our quirks, but there weren’t many things that we’d get dramatic about. Except Christmas. And at the top of our must-do list was the annual Lund family gingerbread house making day. And yes, it was a whole day. It started as a fun project for the young grandkids. But as the grandkids grew, so did the stakes. Now we’re building castles, trains and even iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Eiffel Tower. Last year my cousin and her husband drew plans on draft paper beforehand. This is good news for you because it means that this is an activity that appeals to every age. So I am here to give you some tips and tricks to make your gingerbread fun as easy as can be.
To start, you’ll need to pick your building materials. Our go-to is graham crackers because you can let your imagination flow. But I have also had a lot of success with the pre-made kits from the store. Personally, I’ve never made the gingerbread myself because that sounded too intense. But I’m sure that making your own is the way to go if you’re looking for the best flavor. And if you’re looking for a simplified version, you can bake up some dough into a 2 dimensional house, perfect for class or church parties.
Tip #1: If you do go with graham crackers, be warned that the off-brands are not the same size as HoneyMaid and don’t work as well as they break really easily so you’ll be happier in the end if you spend a little extra for the brand name. While you’re at the store, you’ll probably want to pick up your candy. The side note with pre-made kits is that the candy is lame, in my opinion. There are so many fun candy choices out there, but here are a few of our favorites: Nerd ropes make a fast, easy string of “Christmas lights” for your roof; mini candy canes (Tip #2: use a cupcake wrapper to make two candy canes into Santa’s sleigh); gingerbread people cookies make a fun addition so your house has a family; marshmallows or sugar cubes can be used for so many things like snow forts, igloos or snowmen; Pull & Peel Twizzlers; sprinkles! and, fruit stripe gum is my favorite for shingles. Don’t forget the waffle cones! They are really fun to decorate as a Christmas tree or to add on a castle roof. Before you can build, you need to find a solid base. If you’re just doing a simple graham cracker house with four walls and a roof, a sturdy paper plate is great. However if you want to get fancy and make a bigger structure, like a castle, I recommend looking around the house for something strong and then covering it with aluminum foil. Cookie sheets or Rubbermaid bin lids are awesome.
Now it’s time to make the glue – royal icing. Our favorite recipe is 3 cups of powdered sugar, 2 egg whites, beaten and ½ tsp. cream of tartar. If you’re worried about salmonella, you can buy pasteurized egg whites at the store. It is really important when you are planning a gingerbread activity to know that royal icing takes a while to really dry. Although most sites recommend up to 4 hours of drying, you need a minimum of 1 hour between construction and decoration. This is one of the reasons why the Lund Gingerbread Extravaganza takes a whole day. We build our structures and then take a break for lunch and our annual talent show. When I make little houses for our local playdate activity, I make them the night before so the kids don’t have their houses falling apart. No more tears, people. That’s the goal.
Tip #3: So here’s some undiluted honesty for you. One time I forgot to make the houses the night before and I used a hot glue gun 10 minutes before everyone came. It does work, just in case you’re desperate. And now it’s time to build. If this is your family’s first time, I suggest you do a quick internet search and print out some of your favorite pictures for reference. There are so many things you can do, just let your imagination run free!
Tip #4: The Wilton Frosting Gun is my favorite. I own two and we use them all the time. My girls and their cousins love this tradition so much that we’ve started doing haunted gingerbread houses at Halloween because once a year just isn’t enough. Really though, you can make gingerbread houses for any occasion because they are so fun. The most important thing is to have fun with your family and friends and enjoy the sugar high. I mean, enjoy the time you have together! Merry Christmas!