Mid-Century Modern Gingerbread House Tutorial
It was supposed to snow last night, and snow it did. The weather reports were predicting all-night flurries, but the sky was still and dry and dark as we peeked out the window in anticipation before tucking into bed.
As an adult, there are few things that get me excited to leave the sweet embrace of sleep anymore, so the possibility of a snow day is a special brand of magic.
Yes, I know it means I have a few digit-freezing hours of shoveling and snowblowing ahead of me, and that traffic will be snarled and dangerous and awful if I have to go out, but theres something magical about closing your eyes, then waking up to a quiet, blissful blanket of white out your window the next morning. Something about a slightly-altered worldview, seeing your normal sights but with the perspective skewed a few degrees, that opens your mind to the possibilities of the day and tickles you with a flutter of excitement.
A snow day is the greatest gift. I roost on our couch, enrobed in a pile of blankets with a whuffling, snoring pug nestled at my right. Jason is on my left sipping coffee and coding on his laptop, safe from the treacherous commute to Boulder. Our small Christmas tree glimmers warmly in the corner.
It’s a good day for building a gingerbread house. Click to download the Mid-Century Modern Gingerbread House Template.
I’ve always wanted to make a gingerbread house from scratch, and after reading about the Kerrygold Gingerbread House contest online, I knew it was time to finally give it a shot! I’ve done the classic box kits a few times before, but really wanted to construct a cool mid-century version like the houses I love so much. After more sweat and effort than I’d like to admit, mine is finally sitting on the counter, draped in white frosting and sparkling sugar, as the snow gently from the sky out the kitchen window in the background.
Taking inspiration from the Cliff May Home Tour I went on a few months back during Modernism Week, I picked a classic example of his clean, modular architecture and used a photo to model a floor plan and design template. The template which you can DOWNLOAD HERE to make your very own mid-century gingerbread house takes all the legwork out of building a house from scratch. You just print and cut out guide pieces to lay on the rolled-out gingerbread dough, then slice the dough using a straight edge ruler and a knife (or Star Trek pizza cutter, if you are so inclined). Then you assemble with royal icing and let your creativity guide the decorating!
With clean lines and a long-and-low profile, the sloped roof and exposed beams of this sweet house make it a textbook example of mid-century architecture only even better, because its totally bedecked in sugar. I tried to keep the base walls of the house clean and spare, letting the building materials speak for themselves a textured stone fireplace made out of Cookies n Creme Hershey bar, blue sugar glass picture and clerestory windows and mint-green licorice candy doors are the main features.
Behind the sleek, horizontal Pocky-slat fence, a single pretzel serves as wall art next to the sugar glass swimming pool, where a dried apricot pool float drifts lazily over the water. Low, structural ramen noodle hedges, classic gumdrop bushes, sugar glass trees and bushes accent the landscape. Tiny dried hot chocolate marshmallows and silver nonpareils fill the architectural flower beds, giving definition to the space and highlighting the cheese cracker stepping stones. A pretzel and fruit roll-up lawn chair underneath long ladyfinger windows is perfect for a relaxing day in the backyard.
Today, the roof looks a lot like ours heavily frosted with snow and laced with icicles! At least I wont have to shovel the driveway of this house anytime soon…
Gingerbread House Tips:
- Decorations: If you don’t have a ton of decorating candy on hand, a great idea is to go to one of those pay-by-the-pound candy stores they have in the mall sometimes. You can get a wide assortment of candies without having huge bags of unused candy afterward, and will have a lot of options to decorate with. Be sure to scavenge through your pantry for things you may have on hand you’ll be surprised what you can find! Unusual shapes and textures such as ramen and crackers make great additions.
- Gingerbread: I know there are structural gingerbread recipes out there, but lets be real, I wanted to be sure I could eat any leftovers. I found this recipe from Cookie and Kate to be just stiff enough to make a great structural wall, but still delicious to eat as a cookie (especially if you make them with flavorful, golden Kerrygold butter)! It holds shape well.
- Royal Icing: I used this recipe for royal icing. It was super thick and dries like concrete, but is also somewhat malleable when first applied, so you can touch-up or press it in as needed for structural support. I never use a pastry bag when I can avoid it, choosing rather to go with disposable ziploc bags but for this recipe, the thickness of the frosting made it difficult to squeeze through the ziploc. It’s technically workable, but I’d advise using a more heavy-duty pastry bag with tip if you have it.
- Straight-edge or Ruler
- Parchment or Silicon Baking Mat
- Bench Scraper
- 3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
- 3 teaspoons ground ginger
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 3/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup butter
- 3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 large egg + 1 egg white
- 3 large egg whites
- 4 3⁄4 cups powdered sugar
- 1⁄2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Download the house template in the post above. Print pdf, then cut out all the pieces.
- Place butter, spices, molasses and brown sugar in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat just until butter is melted. Stir to incorporate the ingredients.
- While the butter cools a bit, pour flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into your mixing bowl.
- Pour the butter mixture into the mixing bowl, then mix on low for a few seconds. Add egg and egg white, then stir just until the mixture forms a dough.
- Form into a disk, then chill in fridge for 30 minutes (important so the dough will hold its shape later!)
- Preheat oven to 350. Take out the dough disk and place on a large, floured surface, such as your counter. Roll the dough out until it forms a square 22 inches wide by 18 inches long, approximately 1/4 inch thick.
- Place your template pieces on the dough with their edges touching to minimize dough waste and extra cutting. Using a straight edge, cut out all the pieces. Do not move them to your cooking sheet until all have been completed.
- When you are finished cutting out your pieces, gently lift them and place them 1 inch apart on a lined baking sheet, reforming as necessary so they keep the template shape - you may have to use 3-4 baking sheets or bake in rotations. NOTE: the window pieces can break easily - I found the best way to do them was to cut the window shapes, but leave the dough in the window holes for transferring. Gently ease both ends of the window pieces up so they are loose, then ease a bench scraper or your fingers underneath the delicate window part with the dough still filling the windows. After the piece has been placed on the baking sheet, use your fingernails or a butter knife to pluck out the window fillings before baking. If the window frames break, don't worry! You can mash them together again, the surface just won't be quite as smooth as the other pieces.
- Bake for 13-15 mins or until no longer soft to the touch. Watch carefully for browning after 13 mins!
- Let the pieces cool for at least 30 minutes or until hard.
- Add all icing ingredients, then beat for 5 mins or until smooth. Transfer to tipped piping bag or ziploc., then squeeze out any excess air.
- Decorate door and chimney front piece. Attach door and and chimney piece to front of main room. (If using a different material for chimney, like I did, I waited to add the chimney until the structure was built.)
- Build the side room walls first using icing to bind the edges. I ice the pieces once on the edge, and then once generously on the inside corner of the structure for stability. Let side room dry for 10 mins or so.
- Build the frame of the main room, attaching gently to the side wall of the side room using the same icing method.
- Center the center beam on the main room, then attach the center beam where it meets the frame of the main room. Ice generously to support the attaching sides of the beam. Let dry for 10 minutes.
- Add the roof to the side room first using icing to bind.
- Generously ice the side walls of the main room (NOT the front and back walls), then generously ice the center edges of the roof pieces. Balance them so they meet over the top edge of the center beam for support. Use gratuitous icing if necessary to secure 🙂
- Make fence piece out of Kit Kats, Pocky sticks, graham crackers or other material. secure an inch away from the front of the house, as pictured in directions.
- Decorate at will!
- 1/2 cup water
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 drop blue food coloring
- Candy thermometer
- Silicon baking mat
- Silicon spatula
- Prepare large pan you can fit your candy pot into with ice water to shock the pot later (I plugged up my metal sink and filled it with cold water).
- Boil all ingredients together over high heat - you want to the sugar to get hot quickly so it doesn't have as much time to brown/caramelize.
- Wipe down edges of mixture periodically with silicon brush dipped in water to help avoid crystallization and keep sugar from burning on sides.
- When temperature reaches 270 degrees F, add food coloring and gently stir only the center of the mixture to blend, careful not to push any mixture up on the edges of the pan.
- As soon as the mixture reaches 290 degrees F, use oven mitts to remove pan from heat and place in shock bath you prepared earlier.
- Cool mixture down to 250 degrees or until thickened. While cooling, place your window gingerbread pieces on the silicon mat with the side you want to show facing down.
- When mixture is cool, either pour or spoon out sugar with spatula into the holes until just full.
- Far from touching the gingerbread, pour sugar into kidney shape for pool.
- Let the mixture cool for a few minutes until you can briefly touch the sugar to touch up the shape the pool or push sugar into the corners of the window. If the sugar spilled out the window forms, you can use a knife or spatula to push edges evenly into the shape of the window.
- If you accidentally let the sugar heat beyond 290 degrees F, don't fret! It will turn the mixture green, but you can use this batch to make sugar trees. To make sugar trees, prepare a large glass of ice water and place next to pot. Using the spatula, scoop up the 290-300 degree F sugar syrup and drizzle into the cup of ice water. The weight of the drizzle will make the syrup twist and turn in the water, making bush or treetop shapes. You can move the spatula back and forth slightly as you drizzle to encourage this. Using a fork, pick tree top out of water and rest on silicon mat or a greased plate (so the sugar doesn't stick). "Accident" trees, just like mine!