The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Chandler makes houses and leads workshops for adults and kids each year. Courtesy photo.

It’s all in the icing

Perhaps the cardinal rule for making a gingerbread house is that you must use royal icing, which is made from confectioner’s sugar, egg white and water. Chandler recommends making your own (a Google search will yield all sorts of recipes). Some ingredient substitutions are meringue powder or dry egg whites instead of fresh egg whites, but she said to steer clear of liquid eggs. Alter the amount of water depending on how thick you want it to be for assembly and piping. Don’t have any piping bags? No problem. Put the icing in a plastic baggie and cut the tip of the corner off.
After-Christmas house
Unlike a Christmas tree, a gingerbread house can’t be repurposed in the backyard as a jungle gym for the birds. Some people put an acrylic spray to preserve the house, Chandler said, while others just break it up and eat it. She knows of one family that saves the house until July 4 and blows it up in the backyard. “[But] I think more people probably eat them,” she said.

Home sweet home
The ins and outs of DIY gingerbread houses

By Allie Ginwala

Although there are plenty of gingerbread house workshops this season, sometimes it’s nice to stay home with your friends or family and craft a house in your pajamas. The Hippo talked with professional and home bakers about their gingerbread tips and techniques to bring to your kitchen.

Start with structure 
Before diving in on a house-making adventure, it’s important to research structure options and pick one that suits your time, budget and skillset. You can find or make a pattern and bake your own house or buy a kit with the pieces already set.
Susan Chandler, owner of Chandler’s Cake and Candy Supplies in Concord, said that if you make your own dough, you should consider making and freezing it in advance so all you have to do is roll, cut and bake it when you’re ready.
“Trying to break the project into maybe three pieces, dough mixing and baking on Day 1 and assembling on Day 2 and give it an overnight to set up and do decorations on Day 3,” said Mary Dissette, a home baker who’s been making houses for the past 16 years and began competing in the Discover Portsmouth (formerly Strawbery Banke Museum) annual gingerbread house contest with her daughter in the mid-2000s.
From dough to decorating, the house could be a six- to 10-hour project, Dissette said, so she recommends keeping it simple for first attempts by sticking to a house with only four walls and two roof pieces.
If you opt for a kit, you can get one with the pieces baked for you to assemble (they typically come with basic decorations and royal icing) or one that’s pre-assembled. 
While it’s the easiest-to-get-started option, Chandler said the downside of the pre-assembled houses is that it’s hard to put certain features on an upright house. 
“If you’re doing trim around the window or a chimney or the front door that’s much easier to do flat on the table, especially if you’re not an expert decorator,” she said.
Another easy route to a candy-coated house is forgoing gingerbread altogether in favor of graham crackers.
Shannon Palace of Portsmouth and her husband and two kids first entered Discover Portsmouth’s contest four years ago and decided to switch to graham crackers because they’re easier to use as a base.
“My kids are 5 and 7 so I want them to have fun making it and do it themselves,” she said.
Using graham crackers does limit the scale you can build, she said, but other than that all she had to do was play with the texture of the royal icing. 
“You have to make it really thick, especially with kids who don’t wait,” she said. 
When it’s time to get cracking on the house, she gets a base that’s the maximum size allowed for the contest and covers it with tin foil. Then each family member gets a piece of cardboard to assemble their house on, which Palace later puts all together.
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle so we all do our own thing and glue it on the top of the board,” she said. “It’s quite a mishmash, but is a lot of fun.”
She recommends that family members each work on their own separate entities rather than one big house. That way, no one knocks over a tree or smudges a roof.
Adore decor
Chandler draws decorating inspiration from all over, like cake decorating techniques for last year’s house, which was all red and white with lollipops, lace patterns and scroll work.
“Sometimes you just say, ‘I’m not going to use any chocolate on my house, everything is going to be bright colors,” she said. 
She’ll also get ideas for texture and color from fabrics, greeting cards or even holiday napkins.
Dissette gets her theme ideas from techniques she’d like to try, like last year when she made a gingerbread church so she could work on stained glass. 
“This year I think it’s going to be mosaics or something along the line of mosaics or inlay,” she said.
If you don’t have a clear idea for a theme, do what Chandler does and simply peruse the aisles of grocery stores. Once when she was picking up shredded wheat for rooftops she saw a box of mini Trix that would make a colorful walkway or mimic little Christmas lights along a roof.
“You have to look at food in a totally different way than you’re used to,” she said. “Get inspired by the color or the texture.”
Other than gingerbread, royal icing and marshmallow fondant, Dissette likes to use a Rice Krispies mix to help with the sculpting and construction of the main house and for landscaping features like bushes and shrubs, and Palace’s son loves using ice cream cones with his houses, either as towers or trees in the front yard.
“We just cover them in icing and wrap licorice laces or he likes to put chocolate chips on them,” she said. “You can cover the whole thing in icing and sprinkle it with tapioca beads.” 
Decorations don’t just have to be for the houses either. Make sleds and snowmen to sit next to the trees or use rock crystal candy for a pathway to add some texture.
“I just give them a whole palette of candy and supplies and let them do what they like and have fun,” Palace said.
“If you plan it well it can be tons of fun, a great family activity, and the satisfaction of completing it is amazing,” Chandler said. 

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