With just a few tools and some careful measuring, you can create your own gingerbread home this season — or even a split-level, a bungalow or a gingerbread McMansion.
Whatever the style, cookbook author and gingerbread expert Dorie Greenspan says it's best to take a few days to make a gingerbread house. That includes making the dough, letting it chill, cutting out the pieces, letting them dry, constructing the house and then finally decorating, she says.
Because Greenspan is an expert, she and NPR's Michele Norris tried building the house in one day at Norris' home in Washington, D.C.
They grabbed a pizza cutter and some templates to cut out the house, but they were making a cottage: That means no bay windows, no porticos, no detached mother-in-law suites. After sliding a baking sheet under the wax paper with the rolled dough, Greenspan carefully made her marks, like a seamstress with a dress pattern. She made sure to leave space between her pieces so the dough could expand while baking.
She trimmed away the excess and slid the pre-fabricated gingerbread walls, roof and chimney into the oven. They cooked the three full baking sheets for 25 minutes each.
As the pieces cooled, they mixed up the royal icing glue. Greenspan used a large piece of foam core for the base, and they situated the gingerbread cottage so it had a nice front yard. Using a small spatula, Greenspan applied the royal icing like spackle and joined two corners together before reinforcing it from the outside. She and Norris assembled the rest of the house, then let it dry.
But this was a rush job so that they could finish before Norris' kids — 8-year-old Norris and 9-year-old Aja — got home from school.
Greenspan and Michele Norris laid out an obscene amount of candy: Skittles, Dots, marshmallows, day-glo Twizzlers, candy canes and sprinkles. And they divided the royal icing glue into two bowls: one for Aja and one for Norris.
The kids arrived, and they started decorating. Michele Norris caught little Norris eating the construction materials.
"I'm sorry, but jelly beans taste so good," Norris said.
After about 90 minutes, their humble cottage was fabulous. Across a shredded wheat-thatched roof, Aja arranged a series of brightly colored candies.
Twizzlers became electrical lines; there was a door framed by a pair of candy canes. Heart-shaped cookies became windows. They even had a garage door on the side of the house and a marshmallow security light hanging from the gingerbread roof.
"I love this house," Greenspan said. "I could move in."