How to build a house in a day — a gingerbread house, that is.

I don’t know what got into me (perhaps I was spurred on by the success of my second annual pumpkin carving party) but as soon as December drew near I got it into my head that I wanted to invite a bunch of people over to build gingerbread houses in spite of the fact that I couldn’t remember ever building one and had no idea how to do it. Oh, and I planned to have all the gingerbread house pieces baked before the party and maybe even have them cemented together with frosting so they’d be ready to decorate when everyone arrived. Ahaha.

Having google at my fingertips emboldened me. So did the large displays of store-bought gingerbread house kits. If worst came to worst, I could order the party guests to stop by Target and get themselves a kit. I figured the internet hasn’t failed me yet and all in all, it went pretty smoothly. This recipe for gingerbread dough was a snap to make, it rolled out perfectly (I didn’t even have to refrigerate it first before rolling as the the recipe recommends), and it held together perfectly — no walls or roofs snapped in two. The guide and pattern included with the recipe are also excellent. The house is just small enough to hold together really well. I tried some larger houses too (from Martha Stewart) but once those larger walls and roofs got decorated with too much candy, they had a tendency to slump and slide. And slumping and sliding gingerbread houses have a way of crushing the heart of the Norwegian exchange student who’s been so hard at work on her masterpiece.

My original plan for food was to create an entire menu around fresh ginger. Gingery peanut noodles, sliced cucumbers pickled with ginger, ginger cookies, etc., but after wandering through the grocery store for half an hour gathering all the other ingredients, I was crushed to find the fresh gingerroot bin totally empty in the produce department. I ditched the shopping cart right there and stomped out. And I grilled burgers instead.

Here are some of our creations:

We were pleased to discover that while the houses might have looked a little sad in person, on camera they were miraculously quaint and charming and looked 100 times better.

If you’re gonna get ambitious like I did and make some gingerbread cookies for people to decorate too, I would recommend finding a different gingerbread recipe — something specifically for cookies. While this one was good for building good strong houses, the cookies were a little hard and not too many got decorated. Although notice the little fellow in the doorway above. And the dog loved the leftover cookies. I’ll have to try to find a dog-healthy gingerbread recipe for her.

This one’s mine. I went with the natural look — almonds, pretzels, a shredded wheat thatched roof, and just a few pops of color here and there…

More houses:

Other tips and tricks we learned at the party: all the canned goods and little boxes in your pantry cupboards will come in handy for propping up roofs and walls while you wait for the icing to dry. Sure, all your cans will have have hardened chunks of frosting on them but at least they aren’t sticky. For the boards, we cut out squares of cardboard and wrapped them in foil. A hair dryer on the cool setting will speed along the drying and setting of the frosting. Instead of using real butter in the gingerbread, I used the fake margarine butter — it’s nice and soft and works just fine. We had to mix up about six of the batches of frosting and tinkered with the recipe a little each time. I’d recommend adding an extra half-cup of powdered sugar and a teaspoon or two of cream of tartar.

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