Sunday, December 6, 2009

2009 Gingerbread House Goes Color Crazy!

Welcome to another edition of Metamorphosis Monday hosted by Susan over at Between Naps On The Porch.  Join the many other bloggers and check out all the wonderful ideas and creative endeavors listed for today's party!

Main Entry: metamorphosis
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: conversion, transformation
Synonyms: alteration, change, changeover, evolution, mutation, rebirth, transfiguration, transfigurement, translation, transmogrification, transmutation, transubstantiation

My project for today's Met Monday is something I tackle almost every year, although some years I have gotten lazy and I always regret not having the making of a gingerbread house at the top of my list of must do's..  One year I tried to pass off this facade as a "house" ..... my family was not amused.

The metamorphosis begins.  To make a gingerbread house you take this:

And you turn it into something like this, which my grandkids helped decorate in 2002

Or like this one I did for Christmas 2008, which was in honor of two new Fiesta colors, Chocolate and Ivory.

If you were following my blog around Halloween, you may recognize this house and how its metamorphosis / transformation was documented for another Met Monday. Before, In Between and After

I've been making gingerbread houses since I was about 6 years old, admittedly with some help in those first few years. I received my first gingerbread house on our first Christmas in Germany. It was a gift from some German friends of the family and is still one of the favorite gifts I have ever received. The house was a 3 dimensional Advent Calendar in the shape of a gingerbread house, with each day's window/door opened to reveal another gingerbread or pfeffernussen confection.

The gingerbread house and the tale of Hansel and Gretel are long standing traditions for the Christmas season in Germany. Each year many productions of the opera and the story itself are presented around the holidays. The Brothers Grimm story was based on tales of children actually being discarded during the centuries that famine and plague swept the continent. The stuff of nightmares for some children. The implications of parents leaving you in the woods, with the mother or stepmother being the main perpetrator of getting rid of the children gave me nightmares as a kid. The version of the story with the stepmother being the villain was thought to lessen the evil at work in the story.

Was the mother/stepmother really the witch in the woods that fattened up little children and then roasted them before devouring them? Really makes you wonder about this lovely tradition of building a gingerbread house. The tradition of including gingerbread men in the creation of the house is based on the happy ending where all the gingerbread characters that decorate the witch's yard come back to life when Hansel and Gretel kill the witch.

The opera was written in Frankfurt am Main c. 1891 by Engelbert Humperdinck and was first performed in Weimar Dec 23, 1893. His sister had written some songs for her children for Christmas based on the various versions of the story Hänsel and Gretel. Hänsel und Gretel has been associated with Christmas since its earliest performances, and it is often performed at Christmas time. Even though it is most often considered a children's opera, its adult themes and the academic studies of the interpretations of the story make it appealing to adults too.

The pattern for the house is the same one my family has been using for 50+ years. Over the years I have designed some other houses to replicate houses we had designed and built. They usually turned out to be accurate depictions, but didn't really make the grade in the gingerbread category.  When designing your house, think small!  Some larger houses tend to end up looking like barns or self-destruct because of the weight of the decorations.

***If you would like a copy of the pattern that I have used all these years, just become a follower (if you aren't already!) and leave a comment on THIS thread by Sunday evening Dec 13th.***

I lay out the pieces of the pattern prior to starting, so I know how the pieces fit best. Because the peaks of the front and rear walls and the opening around the door are the most fragile, I always make sure those pieces are placed well away from the edges of the pan where the gingerbread sometimes get too crispy while baking.

1.  The tried and true “recipe” for the house is 1 - 2 boxes (depending on the size of your house) of gingerbread mix with just enough water to hold it together. It is then kneaded with a generous amount of flour until it is no longer sticky.

2.  LIGHTLY grease your cookie sheets with something like Pam w/flour.  Roll the dough on large cookie sheets. (My house requires one large cookie sheet, and just enough dough on an additional sheet for one side of the roof.) Take your time with this step, it takes some elbow grease to roll it flat and even.  The dough will be very thin.  Use that rolling pin with no handles and make sure there are no holes or thin spots in your dough.

3.  Bake at 350F for 10 minutes, remove from oven.

4. Gently run a rolling pin over the dough to flatten it and get all the air out of it. (Using a rolling pin with no handles makes this easier.) Gently cut around the patterns for your house with a sharp knife (best to use a fine tipped paring knife that is very sharp) being careful to make sure all cuts are complete and accurate, especially at the corners. The excess dough around the edges can be cut into small logs for firewood – the witch needs lots of firewood for roasting children! Or into fence railings for the yardscape.
Windows and Doors - remember to make the cuts for any windows/doors at this stage also, leaving them in place for the next stage of baking.

5..  Return to the oven with heat reduced to 300F for 15 minutes.

6.  Remove from oven, allow to cool for just a couple minutes and gently remove the pieces of the house to a completely flat surface, like a kitchen counter. Allow to cool completely. If the pieces still retain a lot of moisture, the construction process will be difficult and the walls may bend and bow. The pieces can be brittle and must be handled carefully at this point.  Once the house is built and dry, they are very strong.

Carefully lift out the pieces for any windows/doors.  Window cut-outs can be cut in half and used for shutters.

Now the fun part begins!

Do not be intimidated with the construction or decorating.  There is no "right" way to decorate your house and frosting will cover a wide spectrum of  "boo-boos."  Kids love to decorate these houses and like any other artistic adventure, let them decorate it to their taste, not as a "perfect" specimen.  The actual construction of the base, walls and roof should be done by and/or supervised by an adult or older child to avoid breakage of the walls and the tears and sobbing that will surely follow.

General Notes On Building Techniques

1. The foundation on which your house sits can be anything from a cardboard box (must be sturdy or your house will sink!), to a piece of plywood, or what I've used for the last few years is a mirror. (There are "craft" grade mirrors for cheap at places like Michael's). Sorry about the reflections on the mirror, I wasn't paying attention!

2. Add an interior light (night lights work well), it looks nice and helps to keep any moisture from the house, it is a gingerbread house dehumidifier! Secure it with tape, use a NEW light bulb, and test it before closing all the walls in around it!

3. Until the last couple of years, I always used frosting for all the "snow" to cover the yard and the roof of the house.  Humidity can be an issue with the frosting and some candy dyes will bleed into the "snow" no matter how carful you are. I tried using ready to roll fondant for the first time last year and it is so much better for this purpose.  You can still add a bit of frosting here and there and use it for icicles, but the fondant in my opinion is just the best solution to the "aging" of the frosting that takes place over the life of the house. So where ever I say "fondant", it is interchangable with "frosting."

Cover your foundation with "snow" = fondant or frosting

If you want a skating pond or other water feature for your yard, cut it freehand with a sharp knife before the fondant hardens.

4.  The “glue” that holds the house together is confectioner's sugar with an egg white(s) beaten into it. Different levels of thickness allow you to use this basic glue to create the mortar to hold the walls together, icing for the roof, icicles, snow-covered lawn, etc

 Saran wrap windows (placed on the inside of the walls before they are glued together! Please note that I again didn't follow this tip and had to put them in after the walls were up.), and any other decorative touches that make it special to you. Flat stiff clear plastic packaging material actually works better than Saran wrap, you know the kind of stuff kids toys and printer cartridges are packaged in that is nearly impossible to remove.

Put the door in its frame before the roof goes on.

Add a chimney from the scrap pieces (or if you are smart, pre-cut the chimney pieces while it is in the baking stage!)

Traditionally the longer piece of my roof shelters the wood pile and is placed on the side of the house with no window.  This year I chose to add another door to the blank side of the house, so this year's woodpile is under the window.

The rest of the process is to create your own magical house.  Here's how I started this one ....... especially for my 4 year old granddaughter, whose favorite colors are pink and purple.  It was decorated just to her liking.

And here it is when it was finished.  This witch's house has a garden in her side yard where she grows Fiesta! And a skating pond and licorice covered paths.

Witchie and Hansel and Gretel are among the story book dolls that I will be posting about on Show and Tell Friday.  The little Harlequin Nut Dishes are filled with chocolate candies made in JoJo's favorite colors too!

Take a bite, it even tastes good! Just listen closely for the voice of the witch,

"Nibble, nibble, little mouse, Who is nibbling at my house?"

The story of Hansel and Gretel is disturbing. Think about some of the other tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, all pretty scary! A good read if you are interested in this subject is The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales, by Sheldon Cashdan.

And what about the story of Snow White ..... young girl goes to live with 7 strange little men!  I  just loved books and stories and never thought much about these things as a kid (except the being left in the woods and eaten!)

You may wonder why I had nightmares as a kid about forests and witches ..... yes my parents did take my brother and me into the forest where we met some elves and I did worry about witches and gypsies that spirited little children away.

They did come back and get us.


  1. wow thanks for all the good ideas, love the gingerbread houses they are just so darned cute and you have made it so easy to make one, thanks for all your help, I will give it a try..

  2. Wow you are a brave woman! I bought the Walmart pre-made one. Now I wish I had your guts to make from scratch!

  3. WOW!!! What an effort!

    So charming!!! I love all the info you added too!! Thank-you!

    Well done!

    Stop by...

    love, kelee

  4. WOW! What a post! I have never attempted a gingerbread house before, but I should because I collect gingerbread men! What a great job!

  5. That is great! My sister loves to make gingerbread houses. I will have to tell her, too. Thanks so much.

  6. I'm so glad you all enjoyed this little house and Witchie appreciates it too. She is very proud of her magical little cottage. None of you asked for the pattern, but should you decide you want one, just let me know here or via email.

  7. Hello. I enjoyed the Gingerbread house tutorial very much. I went to Ireland last June and saw some many wonderful little cottages, I might try to make one that resembles one of those. I am going as a tour escort next June on the same 9 day trip. Looking for people to join my group. There's a website with pictures of the trip, little cottages are there. if you'd care to check them out. Laurel Hart


Thank you for your lovely comments.

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