Gingerbread houses get the most attention during the holiday season, but if you want to build an impressive holiday decoration for next year, you’ll have to start planning months in advance.
The tradition of making confection-covered miniature domiciles became popular in 19th-century Germany. Now gingerbread houses are much more than quaint Tudor cottages and nordic cabins. Bakers use the crisp biscuits to make grand mansions like The White House and cityscapes dotted with apartment buildings. America's National Gingerbread House Competition and the United Kingdom's Gingerbread City showcase edible creations that are much more than just the typical gumdrop architecture.
If you’re a baker who wants to venture beyond the old school candy dotted roofs of yore, here are several great pieces of inspiration and tips.
1. Design Your Structure Long Before You Bake
As with any project, you need to have a clear-cut plan on what you want to create. Bakers need to appreciate that a rectangular building, such as Chicago’s Sears Tower (also known as the Willis Tower) is going to be a bit easier than Rome’s Coliseum. But neither are impossible. You may even want to even look at a local real estate site such as Taylor Morrison Chicago for ideas that look like your dream house.
This past December, gingerbread queen Beatriz Muller unveiled an edible New York City built for Williams Sonoma. (See the above video.) Her process includes creating a cardboard model of the building so she’ll be able to plan out where supports are needed. You’ll need to closely study the structure of the house and also figure out where you want to fudge some of the details or at least use sugar icing to create them.
New York City - Want to try to rebuild King Kong’s fave haunt, the Empire State Building? Start thinking about not only the shape of the building, but also how you’ll create the windows. Will you use frosting or even blue-tinted white chocolate? Perhaps the spires can also be fabricated with Pocky sticks. Artistic bakers may be able to sculpt the art deco details of the Chrysler Building, but you may want to start with a Brooklyn brownstone.
Chicago - A city with many iconic skyscrapers, you can also attempt other approaches to gingerbread buildings. The rectangular, three-story Chicago Fire Department dates back to the late 1800s and 20th-century homes designed by stellar architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry.
London - The last few years, London’s Museum of Architecture has curated The Gingerbread City and invited designers, engineers and architects to build a baked town. Take a look at the above video to witness some amazing, edible creations.
2. Make Good Dough
Many families have a favorite gingerbread recipe. But good cookie dough doesn’t always make a great load bearing wall. Muller makes soft cookies, but bakes them at a low temperature so they’re crisp on the edges. She also creates an internal structure to support the cookie walls.
3. Get the Right Tools
Depending on how detailed you want your gingerbread house to bed you may need to get new tools. The tools need for building an impressive gingerbread building can be similar to making a real house. If you’re serious about making buildings that look real, you may want to consider getting a utility knife, Dremel, sandpaper, pastry bag with tips for delicate piping and other tools.
4. Decorate Smart
You’ll probably want to start decorating the gingerbread before you assemble the building. Why? If details like iced windows are added and allowed to dry while the building wall is lying flat, fewer drips will occur.
For inspiration and ideas, take a look at some of the winning designs from a recent National Gingerbread House Competition above. Tempered chocolate is formed into railings and fences. Fondant is rolled into ribbons. Gummy candy becomes roof shingles. For more ideas, plans and instructions, consider getting a copy of "The Gingerbread Architect," by Lauren Chattman and Sue Matheson, which explains how build various types of cookie structures and also includes blueprints.