using Dancing Deer's Sweet Home Gingerbread House Kit
And, at Simply Recipes, here's an excellent post on constructing Gingerbread Houses.
Never having made a gingerbread house before (or even gingerbread for that matter), taking on this cooking and building project seemed daunting at first. In retrospect, the project divided over a few days was fun. I would gladly take this project on again, as I now have enough experience to avoid the few mishaps next time.
I loved that the house is edible rather than containing PHOs, and that my son and sous chef received an understanding of how the pre-baked kits are made. Plus, Dancing Deer gives 35% of the price of the Sweet Home Gingerbread House Kit directly to help homeless families find jobs and move into homes of their own.
Full Disclosure: Dancing Deer sent us this kit, upon our request, to try it out. Would we buy it? Yes. We can heartily recommend it,- but keep in mind "What we Learned", below.
We did this project over two days. If you have the time, it's best to do it over three days:
Part 1: Make the Gingerbread and Bake
Part 2: Decorate Panels, Glue on Box
Part 3: Full Scale Decoration
The first day we made the Gingerbread and cut it, baked it and did the first level of decoration on individual panels.
The second day we "glued" the panels together, waited a few hours and then did more full scale decoration.
The Sweet Home recipe calls for adding eggs and butter to the supplied mix.
The mixture should look like Wet Sand and form a clump when you press it together.
Then you wrap it and refrigerate it.
After it chills you unwrap it and roll it out.
Then using the box sides as template you cut out the panels...
...and the walls.
Then you add window and door cuts if desired and bake it.
The Baked Panels
Mistakes We Learned From:
1. Our roll outs were not of even thickness, resulting in one wall thicker than the other. (In fact, we didn't roll the gingerbread thinly enough, overall.)
2. We ran out of gingerbread (probably due to #1), and had to re-roll walls more thinly so that we had enough to cut two gingerbread people.
3. We were not that accurate in our cutting, which made life challenging when we had to stick the pieces together (icing filled gaps and a serrated edge bread knife fixed protrusions). Next time I will be more exact.
You can see the big gap and uneven roof...
We made the royal icing to use in first level decoration and to glue the house together.
We took the baked panels and added glazing. The gelatin sheets worked well, but fruit leather did not stay stuck easily and was also difficult to decorate. Fruit leather is great for paths though.
Part 2 - Stage Two:
Ideally waiting a few days before assembling the house is best, as the gingerbread has time to dry out and will be stronger. But perhaps your decorating team will be anxious to get on with it? We waited overnight, but a few hours will probably dry the icing enough that panels won't slip when you add more weight.
I've found that a sheet pan filled with baking muffin cups, or little dishes, is a great way to display the candy decorations for little decorators. It's easy to make up the tray in advance, and it makes it easy to find what you are looking for. It's also a welcoming display for young, eager decorators. Another great alternative is a variety of muffin pans, although teflon-coated pans may take some wear, so you may want to use paper muffin cups as liners.
The first level of decoration on the panels
This was the first time we'd taken on decorating the panels before we assembled the house and it worked well. You will still need to continue decorating after the panels are assembled, but make sure you wait a few hours until the icing sets. Otherwise the panels are likely to slip. We used some skewers, as temporary braces, to keep the roof panels from sliding as they dried. then removed them when they were dry.
Make sure that your icing is very stiff when you glue the panels together. It should be toothpaste-like. If it's thinner, it will cause panels to slip. If panels are too big, you can saw them with a serrated bread knife - but do it carefully, as the gingerbread is still slightly fragile. If you break a piece, just glue it back together on the house and decorate over it. During assembly is also a great time to fix any construction errors, filling gaps with lots of icing.
Part 3 - The Final Decorations
The big gap in the roof I deftly filled with lots of icing. Our roof is lop-sided but I think when we are done, it won't show as much or maybe at all!
The house looked good with the panels assembled, but still needed some decorations to tie the designs together.
Here are some photos of the finished Holiday Gingerbread House:
We made this tree with a cinnamon stick and ALOT of icing.
This one started out as a decorated ice cream cone tree broke a few times and turned out this way as we fixed it. I rather like it!