I think it's probably because of my lack of cookie decorating skills that I knew I had to make this gingerbread house giant for it to be impressive... but I must say, IT. IS. IMPRESSIVE. I would have made it bigger, but I needed a place to keep it all season and the largest surface I had that would be out of the way was on top of the bar cart. So I took measurements and got to work!
Another consideration to take before you begin is- how big is your largest cookie sheet? I knew my front and back walls had to be 11x17 because that was the size of my biggest cookie sheet so that also motivated my design.
Step 1: Build the House
I decided to build a 'frame' for my house so that I wouldn't be relying on the cookies to hold so much weight. I had a design in mind and started with the simplest parts first. I tried to use only right angles so that it didn't get too complicated.
I adhered the pieces together with hot glue and then also adhered the whole house to the bottom board. This was all made from sturdy piece of cardboard that came in a box with my husband's new desk. Good quality moving boxes would also work well!
Step 2: Make the Gingerbread
Before making the gingerbread recipe, I used wax paper to create templates of each surface of my house. This was necessary because there were definitely some imperfections that needed to be accounted for such as my crooked chimney. Each face had it's own template so that I knew I made the right amount of gingerbread.
I used this gingerbread recipe and I doubled it. (It nearly spilled out of my stand mixer!) I had just enough so it worked out great! I rolled out gingerbread onto a piece of parchment paper that was cut to the size of my cookie sheet. I then started with the biggest and simplest templates first. I found it easiest to roll out the gingerbread, transfer the whole rectangle + parchment onto the baking sheet, cut out the templates, and then remove the access.
You can also see in the very top of the photo above the I cut out DOZENS of little rounds to build of my columns. I used a bottle cap to cut them out and punched a hole in the middle with a toothpick so that I could stack them on a skewer.
***PRO TIP*** This recipes does spread slightly which is not good since we need to apply it to our already built house. Luckily it is still super soft when it comes out of the oven so I simply used a sharp paring knife to trim up the edges as soon as it came out of the oven. One thing I wish I had done was to re-apply my template before doing this trimming but it worked out okay.
One mistake that I made that I hope you will avoid is that I accidentally left the wax paper template on one of my sides as it baked. Honestly I was just doing a million things and the wax paper kind of 'melts' into the cookie and disappears a little bit so I just didn't even notice. It wasn't the end of the world, but it did make the surface of my cookie super rough which showed through the icing.
Step 3: Icing your Cookies
I let my cookies cool overnight before icing them and I just used royal icing that was purchased from Walmart. I had 3 tubs because that's all they had at the time and I really needed 4 but I made it work. While I am super happy with my mossy green roof, I am so disappointed in the bubble gum pink walls! I wanted them to be the slightest blush and I accidentally took it too far. If you are using gel food color, practice more patience than me and only do one tiny drop at a time! I used disposable piping bags without a tip (don't zoom in on my details!) and spent several hours flooding these cookies. Props to all my cookie friends - y'all are the real MVPs.
Step 4: Assembly
At this point I was getting really stressed out because so far I had put about 12 hours of work into this gingerbread house and I was not super confident in its ability to stay together.
I whipped up a batch of easy royal icing in my stand mixer: 8 egg whites + 10 cups of powdered sugar. I let the egg whites get REALLY fluffy and added about 3 cups of powdered sugar in the stand mixer but I added the rest 1 cup at a time and stirred by hand because I wanted to make sure I had the right consistency.
There is one thing about this gingerbread recipe that turned out to be a good thing and a bad thing. Even after the cookies are cooled, they are still a bit flexible. This was a good thing because I could form it around my cardboard house and ensure that it made contact over the whole surface. In addition, one of my templates was cut upside down leaving one side a little too large to fit around my 'patio' but because it was so soft, I was able to easily cut it to fit around.
The bad thing about this flexibility is it is kind of hard to pick up an 11"x17" piece of gingerbread with two hands and not have it bend and mess up the royal icing. It turned out to be okay and my only issue was with the front roof which had a really narrow piece in the center. You can see in the photo above that it broke in the middle and I just covered it with royal icing.
Here is how I actually attached the pieces of ginger bread to the house. I flipped the whole piece over onto a cooling rack (the royal icing was hard enough to handle this after sitting overnight) and used an offset spatula to spread icing all over the back. I made sure that it wasn't so thick that it would take forever to dry out. I then carefully placed the piece up against the house and pressed firmly over the whole surface. I did the 4 walls first, followed by the front and back roof, then the chimney and last the patio.
To assemble the columns, I simply slid several circle cookies onto a skewer until it was tall enough to fit snuggly underneath the patio cover. I added dollops of icing at the top and bottom to hold it in place.
Once all of my pieces were adhered to the building, I put the remainder of my icing into a piping bag fitted with a star tip. I used every single ounce of icing that I had made, and by this point, I was just too exhausted to make more. You may think this gingerbread house is lacking in its decoration but I think that the 16 hours that went into this DIY were perfectly sufficient. It has sat on our bar cart since Thanksgiving and is still standing perfectly! We've even had several fires in the fireplace right next to it and it is totally fine.
Since I've been able to enjoy the elegant simplicity of this gingerbread house all season (and since I know how sturdy it is) I think I will get some candies and let the kids decorate it however they want right before Christmas.
So what do you think, am I a mad person for spending 16 hours building a gingerbread mansion that I never intended to let anyone eat? You be the judge.
I have had so much fun sharing these DIYs with you all over the past 12 days! Don't forget to follow me on IG @carlyrhill and tag me if you and your family try out any of these fun holiday crafts this year! Merry Christmas everyone!!!