As the holidays approach, many people are planning out their holiday activities. Putting together gingerbread houses is a family favorite and there are so many different creative gingerbread house ideas so you can change it up each year. It’s an activity that involves food and creativity and is perfect for the whole family to get involved and have some fun.
We are going to cover a brief history of gingerbread houses, the supplies you’ll need, some tips to make the process easier, and some unique gingerbread house ideas that your family can try out. You’ll end up with some great snacks and a beautiful holiday decoration.
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A Brief History of Gingerbread Houses
Gingerbread dates back to Ancient Greece with the ginger root being a popular ingredient in many different recipes for centuries. In China, it was used as a medicinal treatment. By way of the Silk Road, it made its way to medieval Europe where gingerbread cookies were created. These cookies were popular year-round at different festivals and were decorated with gold leaf.
The Brothers Grimm story, Hansel and Gretel, helped make the treat even more popular with the reference to the entire house made of treats. The Christmas tradition grew and is still continued in many different countries today. In fact, there are full festivals and celebrations featuring gingerbread creations today including a beautiful display of amazing gingerbread houses at Asheville’s Biltmore Estate.
While the tradition continues, more and more people are trying new and fun ways to use gingerbread and other ingredients to create holiday decorations. It’s a fun way to get the whole family involved in a holiday activity that has been around for centuries.
The Process to Build Your Own Gingerbread House
Step 1 – Shop for Everything You Need
Make a list and head to the grocery store. The two major options are to cook your own dough or purchase a premade kit. There are many great Christmas gingerbread house recipes. Most recipes, like the popular Joy of Cooking recipe, will have ground ginger, cinnamon, and molasses for flavor. You’ll also want to purchase a variety of different candies, the supplies to make royal icing, parchment paper, cookie sheets, sharp knives and tools for cutting and shaping the pieces, and any other items you may need to decorate.
Step 2 – Make the Dough and Cut Out the Pieces
It’s good to make the dough ahead of time. You can mix everything together and then store the dough. You can also cut out the pieces in advance so the pieces are ready on a cookie sheet for the baking process. Getting this part done ahead of time will help make the building and decorating process easier for the whole family. Many people use a different recipe for gingerbread men vs. houses, so check to see what will do better.
Step 3 – Bake the Dough and Gather Tools
You can bake the pieces of your house the day before you decorate or the day of. Set up a space for the decorating process where everyone in the family has a spot to get a little messy and creative. It’s best to cover your table because there will be frosting that gets on everything. Newspaper works great to cover your workspace. Lay out all the necessary tools and supplies that you will need. Once the dough is baked and the workspace is created, you’ll be ready to call in the whole family to join in.
Step 4 – Decorate and Create Your Masterpiece
If you bought the premade collections, you will be to skip right to this step. Decorating is the fun part, so take your time, put on some holiday music, and build your gingerbread houses. Take pictures and enjoy the process. Make sure to sample a few of the treats while you’re decorating.
Tips to Help You Make the Best Gingerbread House
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when prepping, building, and decorating your gingerbread houses to make it a successful endeavor. These might not always apply to your project, but they will help you build strong and long-lasting structures to last until Christmas.
Less is More with the Icing
When building your house, you’ll probably be using royal icing as your “glue.” It might seem like the more you use, the better things will stay together, but the opposite is true. Less is more, so just put a single line to start, and then once your building has four walls, you can a little more icing to the inside corners. Too much icing can make everything slide around more than you want. You can also try fondant instead of royal icing, but that can be much harder to work with if you have no previous experience.
Decorate Before You Build
If you have a specific decoration strategy that involves lots of details, decorate the walls before you put them together. Working on them while they lay flat will allow you to have a little more control and you won’t have to worry about holding the walls up while applying candies and frosting details.
Keep the Edges Very Straight
The edges of the walls and different pieces of your buildings need to be very straight so they can be connected with frosting. Another trick is to use a cheese grater to rough up those straight edges a little so the frosting has something to grip. Use a sharp knife and try to mark the outlines with a ruler to get the straightest lines you can on each piece and you will have an easier time getting them to stay together.
Mark Windows to Cut Out After Baking
Baked goods tend to puff up a bit when they are in the oven, so if you cut out windows and doors beforehand they won’t have clean lines. The best way to do it is to plan them out ahead of time with outlines and then cut them out once the dough has been in the oven. Using a sharp knife, you’ll be able to cut the lines you marked before baking. X-Acto blades can work really well for cutting these pieces out as well.
Be Patient During the Build
You’ll have to wait some time between building your houses and decorating them because the icing needs to dry and set. If you try and put pressure on it too early, it can all fall apart. One way to deal with this is to build the houses and then do the decorating of the yard and surrounding areas while the houses dry. You can also use a box inside the house and glue the pieces to the box if you need a little extra support.
Cover It to Make It Last
Gingerbread houses can last for weeks, but they need to be kept somewhere cool and dry. You don’t want anything to melt in the sunlight. It’s recommended to cover them at night to protect them from moisture and anything that might want to eat them.
Be careful if you have any pets who could possibly get to them. Covering them might work, but it’s important to make sure they are out of reach so no curious noses find the treats while you aren’t home.
Change Up the Ingredients for Creative Gingerbread House Decorating Ideas
So, now you have the basics. Let’s cover some of the fun and creative ways that you can switch it up and do something a little different. The classic candy options for decorating include M&Ms, peppermint candy canes, sprinkles, and gumdrops on the shingles. But there are so many ways you can use different ingredients to do something a little different.
Use Noncandy Options like Pretzels and Cereal
Candy is a popular choice, but you’ll get some great shapes and looks from pretzel sticks and different kinds of cereal. Cornflakes make great shingles if you want a natural look. Pretzels can make up fences or window frames.
Turn It Into a Winter Wonderland with Ice Cream
Obviously, ice cream won’t last a few weeks, but it would be a fun addition for a photo and maybe even a party snack. You can use scoops of ice cream for snow piles or maybe make an ice cream pool in the backyard. Make a snowman and then make sure to eat him before he melts.
Satisfy Savory Snackers with Meat and Cheese
If you are not a sweet tooth, you can absolutely create holiday villages with non-cookie options like crackers. Decorate your house or village with different meats and cheese and it can double as a charcuterie board for your holiday party. You’ll probably have to remind people to snack away if it’s too pretty to eat. It’s a great way to participate in the holiday activity without a sugar overload.
Swap Gingerbread for Graham Crackers or Other Unique Building Blocks
Gingerbread is not a flavor that everyone loves, plus it can be a little overwhelming to do all the baking and prep work for some families. The good news is that there are many different options that you can use. There are zero rules, so anything that is in the shapes you are looking for will work. Graham crackers are a popular choice because you can break them down into different sizes and they are pretty sturdy.
Consider Building a Healthy Vegetable House for a Party Appetizer
If you are on a healthy kick and want to avoid sweets during the holiday season, you can have a lot of fun building a house of different vegetables and fruits. Use larger fruits for the house itself and then add in decorations using colorful veggies and fruits. A watermelon house with a fence made of carrots and some tomatoes in the yard will be very colorful. You can find so many bright colors to use. Like the meat and cheese decoration, this would make a great appetizer for your holiday party. Build it and then invite people to take it apart and eat it.
Make it Snow with Powdered Sugar
Turn your gingerbread house into a winter wonderland by adding some powdered sugar to the top when you’re all done so it looks like there was a fresh layer of snow. You can use sprinkles too, but powdered sugar looks like the most realistic.
Challenge Your Family to Make Everything Out of Chocolate
If you want a challenge, think about doing a themed house where all the ingredients have something in common. Chocolate is a popular choice because it’s a crowd favorite. You can use chocolate bars to build the walls, chocolate frosting to hold things together and a huge selection of chocolate candies to decorate. Hershey kisses, chocolate chips, brownies, and other chocolate favorites can make this is dangerous endeavor because it’s hard to resist snacking on all those candies the entire time. But the good news is that you could eat these, where traditional gingerbread houses aren’t really made to eat.
12 Creative DIY Gingerbread House Ideas
We’ve covered fun and unique ingredients, but that’s just half of the project. Deciding what to construct is the other half of the fun. Traditional and classic gingerbread houses are just simple homes with windows, doors, and a roof that gets decorated, but you can make anything you want. We’ve got some ideas to help you brainstorm.
1. Construct a Holiday Train Set and Station
Trains are a fun holiday decoration item, so why not try and build your own version of the Polar Express? You could even play the movie while you build and decorate your train. The easiest option is to add gingerbread to an existing train using a template. This way you can actually lay down tracks and have the train move. It’s a fun way to mix two holiday classics. Add Santa to the train if you want.
2. Get Trendy with a Midcentury Modern Home
Midcentury modern has been a huge trend in the last few years. If you aren’t able to find your Frank Lloyd Weight dream house, you can always take a page from Mike Brady’s book and build your own. The clean lines and fun little architectural details give you lots of room to be creative. Epicurious has an example of a mid-century modern cookie house that is covered in sparkles and glitter.
You can simplify a little with an A-frame design instead. That will allow you to have a different house shape without having to plan out your designs as much beforehand. A-frames are incredibly simple for younger children too because the two sides just balance on each other.
3. Build a Country Estate Complete with a Gingerbread Barn
Set your holiday scene on a country farm with a barn made out of gingerbread. Have fun with cookie cutters to make the animals with sugar cookies. The barn can be a bigger structure than the traditional house, so it’s good for a larger group to work on. You can utilize toys that your kids have laying around like tractors or small animals figurines to add a little something extra.
4. Recreate Your Favorite Landmarks
Do you miss traveling or have a place that you’ve always wanted to see at Christmas time? If you can’t make it there this year, bring the special place to you by creating famous landmarks out of gingerbread. The Eiffel Tower is fun to make and can be a challenge getting everything to balance correctly. The Empire State Building is another fun option. You could make an entire miniature city by building replicas of your favorite buildings in the skyline.
To get a little more inspiration, Food & Wine put together ten different landmarks built out of cookies. How creative can you get? Is there a way to build the Seattle Space Needle or the Golden Gate Bridge? Have fun with it and you’ll almost forget that you are home.
5. Get Away From Traditional Colors with a Pink Gingerbread House
Try out something different than the traditional green and red for your creation this year. Go with pastels for your palette or pick one color and go all out. Thanks to all the different options for icing and sprinkles, you can choose just about anything. Make your entire holiday scene pink and sparkling or have a Blue Christmas-themed display.
6. Create a Replica of a Famous Christmas Location
The North Pole is one great scene you can build with gingerbread and other materials. You can make igloos out of sugar cubes and use candy canes at street signs or light posts throughout the display.
Another popular Christmas scene is the Nativity scene with the manager and the different animals. Use a sparkly frosted star-shaped cookie at the top to represent the star. The animals and people can be made out of cake, cookies, or even something a little abstract like marshmallows.
7. Set a Forest Scene with a Log Cabin
Log cabins are fun to create using edible items because you can get the kids involved with the building similar to playing with Lincoln Logs. You can use breadsticks, pretzels, or anything else that you can stack like logs. Have some fun decorating the outside to look rustic. You can make edible trees using upside-down ice cream cones covered in green frosting to really make it look like it’s deep in the forest.
8. Build Miniature Movie Sets
Like the famous landmarks, you can also have fun recreating some of your favorite movie sets. If your family is watching Christmas movies, you could pick a scene from one of your favorites. The Home Alone house or the house from A Christmas Story are beautiful options. You could also do something funny like Cousin Eddie’s RV from Christmas Vacation.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be a wintery scene either. If your kids are really into Harry Potter, you can try and build the Weasly’s funky cottage or a miniature version of Hogwarts. Hobbit houses from Lord of the Rings is another fun and unique house you can make. Include the family in the decision-making process and you might come up with something that has never been done before. The creative and design process could easily take up another evening as a family.
9. Add Landscaping and Yard Decor
All the attention usually goes to the house and the decorations for the walls and roof, but don’t forget about the surrounding space. Create a yard for your house and add some plant life or holiday decorations. Try using cupcakes as bushes. Put some trees around the house and add different candies to make them look like Christmas trees covered in tinsel and ornaments. String some candies on a string and drape it along a fence line to look like Christmas lights. If you’ve been wanting to go crazy on your own outdoor decorations but can’t for any reason, use this as your creative outlet.
10. Hit the Slopes with a Ski Chalet Design
Get inspiration from Swiss ski chalets and lodges and bring the ski mountains to your dining room table. In addition to the lodges, you can build a ramp to represent the ski hill and put some tiny skiers on the slopes. There are many different ways to do this, so have some fun with it and definitely use online inspiration to help you come up with your perfect ski resort.
11. Set Up a Campsite with a Camper and S’Mores
Does your family love camping in the summertime? Recreate your favorite campsite using your gingerbread house materials. You can build a camper or tent that matches the one you use. You can make edible trees and other plants. Don’t forget a tiny bonfire with s’mores being made nearby. This would also work if you have a cabin that you use in warmer weather. It’s a fun way to work together to build a place that is special to your whole family.
12. Build an Entire Gingerbread Village
Don’t just stop at one house or building. Have each person make their own and connect them all to make a village with sidewalks and streets. You can add other important buildings like a candy store, post office, or school. Use this as an excuse to try out a few different methods and see which works the best. This would be a fun party idea as well because there’s no limit to how big you make the village. Plus, you could ask each attendee to bring a few different candies to use as decorations and the whole group will have access to more options.
Time to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing
Whether you’re putting together a gingerbread house kit or you’re baking everything from scratch, the holiday season is here. So make your plans, put a list together, and get to the grocery store to stock up on everything you need for a fun family night.
Frequently Asked Questions
Building gingerbread houses is a popular family tradition because the whole family can get involved in the fun. Try some creative gingerbread house ideas to add a different twist each year!
There are plenty of “gingerbread” house ideas that utilize other ingredients. Decorate with savory snacks like nuts and pretzels or leave processed sugar out and build a village using vegetables and fruits.
The holiday season is filled with activities! Build gingerbread houses, go ice skating or sledding, or try out some of the activities included in Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition.