To Build a House...1home01.gif (5133 bytes)

It all started on a lazy Saturday afternoon.  Jenny and I had just returned from a cooking class, when she uttered the words. "I have an idea." I have since learnt to tremble at the start of that phrase. This time, it seemed innocuous enough at first. "Let's build a gingerbread house." We started at Borders book store, neither of us having any experience with the world of gingerbread making. Little did we know what we were in for. A glance at the books started to give me an idea, but Jenny insisted that we buy not one, but three, how-to gingerbread books so that we could incorporate designs from all different authors. "Something like Grace Cathedral, only more windows..." she muttered, flipping through the pages of the books. Back at her apartment, she finally decided on an elaborately decorated church from one of the photos. Complete with chocolate-shingled roof, church tower, bell and stained glass windows, it was not your beginner's project. Jenny convinced me that it was better than her other alternative - a Santa's sleigh with white and black chocolate quilt, microscopic gingerbread toys, toy sack and smiling reindeer.  She hesitated, but the bold print underneath the Santa's sleigh - PLEASE DON'T ATTEMPT THIS AS YOUR FIRST GINGERBREAD PROJECT -  finally swayed her. I turned back to the church.  The book said it would take four hours to prepare. Jenny figured two. I guessed on a very long day. Both of us turned out to be terribly wrong...

I mixed the dough and started baking, Jenny traced the patterns and started cutting the dough. At around 2am we called it a night (actually I seem to remember that Jenny called it a night at around midnight and left me to continue baking, or was that the following weekend when I cooked 12 dozen cookies while Jenny did work - however all I seem to remember her doing is photocopying and playing the piano, and then eating all of the cookies!). The next day, more cutting and baking. It wasn't until we cut and baked the last piece that we figured out that we should be using parchment paper and that we should be cutting the dough on the baking sheet, not the cutting board and then trying to move the piece (without destroying it) to the baking sheet. During this time we also made the chocolate shingles. Things were going well until we decided to start on the stained glass windows. We were supposed to use Life Savers for this part; crushing them and then melting them in the spaces Jenny cut out for the windows. However, I decided that we could use other candies, in particular, baking sprinkles (hey! they're already really small, just like crushed Life Savers). Only after trying this did I fully realize the stupidity of that move - baking sprinkles are made to be baked and thus don't melt! So Jenny spent a bit of time carefully removing the sprinkles from the gingerbread (one at a time using tweezers - we wondered why the list of tools mentioned the need for tweezers...) and I headed off to the store to get Life Savers. At the store I found these great big bags of Life Savers - I didn't want to have to break open each small roll of Life Savers - so I bought a few bags. Once I got back and opened up the bags I began to realize how I had just built upon my baking sprinkles disaster - each of the Life Savers was individually wrapped. So we unwrapped them and since Jenny doesn't have a mortar and pestle, we put them in plastic bags and pounded them with a hammer (much to the enjoyment of her downstairs neighbors).

We ended the first weekend with most all of the pieces baked and ready for assembly.

Initial assembly
Just after initial assembly

The next weekend (again after a cooking class) we started the process of putting the church together and decorating. I was in charge of mixing the Royal Icing (the 'glue') and assembly, and Jenny took care of decorating. The instructions for placing the shingles on the roof actually said that we should overlap them to make sure that rain does not get in! (just to be safe we're keeping it indoors).  During the decorating phase I learned about another phrase - "You need to go to the store." - I took around 400 trips (okay, 5 or so) to the local store and managed to buy their entire supply of cake decorating icing. Jenny did an fantastic job of decorating (and added extra decorations above and beyond the plans in the book - especially good were the Peter Max inspired tree and the grave yard). In addition, Jenny was seriously bothered by the fact that the back of the church, as shown in the book, did not have any windows or decorations. To her this was clearly unacceptable and she proceeded to create a back that would have a person who spent the 60's in San Francisco mumbling something about flashbacks... I didn't complain since she did all of the work and this part of the project didn't require a trip to the store.

Jenny starting to detail the Church Jenny finishing the detailing the Church
Jenny starting to detail the Church Jenny finishing the detailing of the Church

At the end of two very long weekends we had one awesome gingerbread church.. I'm looking forward to the next project, Jenny isn't quite so sure...

The finished Church The finished Church from another angle And yet another angle
The finished Church From Another Angle Yet Another Angle
Jenny's pyschedelic back The Bell Tower
Jenny's Psychedelic Back The Bell Tower

Hints for those that want to make Gingerbread houses...

  • Collect all of the ingredients before starting (eliminating the 400 trips to the store).
  • Use parchment paper for baking the gingerbread.
  • Don't substitute baking sprinkles for Life Savers!
Copyright 1995-2008, Rick L. Spickelmier
All Rights Reserved.

Last Updated: 04 May 2006.