Every year my family makes something from gingerbread. We’ve created a haunted mansion, church, farmer’s market, football stadium, and a simple house. This year we decided to tackle a gingerbread brownstone apartment building.
I had recently hosted a gingerbread decorating event at our local library with plans to make a big house with older kids while younger kids decorated smaller graham cracker houses. Unfortunately in this 1 hour event, I thought it would be an excellent idea to have the participants assemble houses on their own, and have the older kids assemble the large house. I forgot just how much time it takes for the assembly! Needless to say, we only decorated the little houses that day!
You can make your own template or purchase one. If you make your own, double check that it goes together well and that you know exactly how many pieces you need of each shape. When you purchase a template all you will have to focus on is cutting the right number of pieces. For new gingerbread bakers, I highly suggest buying a template as this is one of the most challenging parts of the process.
We found a cute picture of a gingerbread brownstone online, so Scott figured out what pieces we’d need from that and cut them out of thin chipboard. Once you’re sure you have what you need, make sure you label the pieces with the amount you’ll need to create. In our example, you’ll cut some pieces twice, three times or six times.
Plan your decorating in advance IF you hope to have a BEAUTIFUL house. If you just want to decorate for fun then totally ignore this advice. Most years we just buy a bunch of candy and have a great time making something. However, this year we decided we wanted to give it a go and make our gingerbread brownstone really striking. We’ve focused on beauty for some of our houses and fun for others. The two need not be mutually exclusive, but adding a goal to the mix does kick things up a notch in many ways. More agreement is needed, and fewer hands touch the house at any one time. But, in exchange you will all find that you are very proud after the fact. You may not even believe YOU made something so beautiful.
Give yourself enough time to do this! I highly recommend making and baking the gingerbread one day and then decorating another day. By the time you are finished making a couple of batches of gingerbread and rolling everything out you deserve a break. Our latest gingerbread creation spanned two days and took a collective 5-6 hours.
You’ll need to have the following things on hand for your gingerbread house.
- Rolling Pin
- Parchment paper and/or Silpat mats
- Cookie sheets
- Exacto knife or other small sharp knife
- Ingredients (sugar, shortening, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, baking soda, molasses)
- Piping bag and #3 and or #5 decorating tip
- Assorted candy for decorating
Make Your House
Depending on your house, you’ll need 1 to 2 batches of gingerbread. Our houses always take two, and this gingerbread brownstone is similar to the size of our other houses so I made two separate batches. Make your gingerbread using the recipe and roll it out. There are a couple of tricks:
- Roll out the dough on the parchment or silpat that it will bake on. It is incredibly challenging to move the rolled out dough if the pieces are large.
- Dust the top of the gingerbread with flour before placing the template on it. This will help the template to not stick to the gingerbread as you cut it.
Once you’ve cut out the pieces, bake them. It may take as many as three separate bakes to get all your house pieces rotated through the oven. Allow the baked pieces to fully cool before you move them.
Fill the Windows
If you’re going to have “glass” in your windows, it’s easy to crush up some Lifesavers or other hard, transparent candy and place it into the window holes in your fully-baked gingerbread. Then, put the sheets back in the oven at 225 degrees until the candy is melted. The lower temperature shouldn’t cook the gingerbread brownstone walls too much further, but should be enough to melt the candies.
For the assembly, you will need at least one recipe of Royal Icing. I have always chosen to make two recipes so we don’t run out. However, typically one and a half ends up being enough for the size houses we make. Your icing should be pretty stiff.
Some decoration may be best suited for flat surface decorating. For our gingerbread brownstone, we used melted colored chocolates to paint color onto each third of the brownstone. We simply used paint brushes to apply the melted chocolate and then texturized each color to make it unique. We also took the time to pipe the royal icing window outlines, since this would be easier while the pieces laid flat.
When it’s time to go vertical, line up the first corner pieces, pipe the base and adjoining edges with royal icing, stick them together and then allow them to harden in place. This is where it really helps to have some helpers! We all help hold the sides and we focus on keeping our hands still. Keep going, add one more wall to the structure, until you’re done!
After we assembled the side walls, front wall and three facades of our gingerbread brownstone, we laid on our three roof pieces and let the structure harden for a few minutes.
Add the Flair!
Next it was time to tackle the roof. We spread royal icing on all of the roof pieces and gently attached mini marshmallows to give our gingerbread brownstone that just-snowed-on look!
The final steps for us involved making M&M walkways to each door, putting M&Ms under each window, and creating a parquet floor inside each townhouse. Note the two interior walls that serve as both dividers and, more importantly, structural support. A collection of green candy filled out the landscaping, and a few gummy bears took up residence in each brownstone. We also put four candy cane lampposts on each corner to finish it off!
How many times do you get to see a gingerbread house torn apart? Check out how quickly a quartet of 7th graders make quick work of this brownstone’s demolition!