The magic of building with gingerbread

Jack Kozell, 2, points at the gingerbread houses on display at the Festival of Trees as his grandpa Jack and grandma Jodie Baker watch him on Friday. KATHARINE LOTZE/Signal. 11142014

By Taylor Villanueva
Signal Staff Writer

Gingerbread houses might be a commonplace sight around the holidays, but they’re suspected to have roots in a popular 16th century German fairytale.

The Brothers Grimm are believed to have laid the foundation for the first gingerbread houses with the story of Hansel and Gretel, according to a recent article on PBS.

Now, gingerbread houses are a holiday staple. People of all ages take part in decorating these houses, from children in classrooms or at home, to adults who enter into competitive gingerbread house building competitions.

Clarice’s Cake & Candy Supplies owner Nanci Olmos gives workshops and talks about how to make the best gingerbread house for the holidays.

The design of a gingerbread house may look simple, but constructing a long-lasting house takes time.

 

Firm walls

Olmos says to bake the walls “so they have a firm gingerbread.”

“You cannot build a recipe the same as cookies.”

This is because cookies are softer, but the walls of a sturdy gingerbread house need to be stable.

“Having a firm structure is vital,” she said. “Having a soft cookie will not hold up.”

Olmos explains that once the roof and walls go on, there is a lot of weight on the gingerbread house.

“Once you put the icing, it gets heavy,” she added.

She recommends using royal icing to construct the houses.

“It’s meringue powder, powdered sugar and water,” she explains. “If you use buttercream, it has an oil base, and it will collapse and soak into the cookies.”

Olmos says that royal icing is “cake-decorator cement” that will preserve the structure of the gingerbread house for a long time.

Next, it’s important to have a firm base.

“Some people put it on a thin cardboard, but it’s flimsy when they pick it up,” she explains.

Instead, build the gingerbread house on a thicker piece of cardboard or a tray.

“I’ve built them on glass tiles,” Olmos said. “You can build them on anything as long as it’s firm.”

 

Decorating details

After building a solid structure, remember to add the details to the gingerbread house.

Olmos suggests decorating windows and adding M&Ms or gumdrops around the base to simulate plants growing.

You can even add “yard art,” like a tree and a fence, she said.

Then, make sure the walls of the gingerbread house completely dry.

Olmos says the best way to make sure the walls are stable is to let them dry for an hour — or maybe even over night — then to put the roof on.

Patience is a virtue of the gingerbread builder, she noted: If the walls have not had the chance to dry, Olmos says the frosting might make the entire house collapse.

“If you build the walls and let them dry overnight then put the roof on, you will be more successful,” she explained.

Because the cookies may shrink in size but the icing does not, make sure to completely dry out the cookies before using them to build the walls of the gingerbread house.

 

After the walls are set and the roof is frosted on, enjoy the creative part of building a gingerbread house by adding unique details.

Olmos says that her favorite part of seeing all the gingerbread houses fully decorated is that no two are the same.

She says no matter how the houses start off, people come in with the same one and “go home with 100 percent different (gingerbread houses).”

Olmos teaches classes for the holidays at Clarice’s Cake & Candy Supplies — including how to make gingerbread houses, sugar snowballs and holiday cookie wreaths — but there is only room on the waitlist right now. However, families can stop by the shop to purchase their own gingerbread house making kits and other candy supplies to decorate at home. Olmos says anyone interested in decorating a gingerbread house can also find candy to use as decorations at discount stores.

For more information about Clarice’s classes, contact 661-259-0352 or visit its location at

22936 Lyons Ave., Newhall.

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