Introduction: Haunted Gingerbread Display
I truly believe Halloween is the best time of the year, I go all out every year! But this year is extra special because I’ve been given so many amazing opportunities to celebrate and create, and I want to share that with all of you!
This year I decided to make a gingerbread house display! Why settle for making just one house, when you could make three different, equally amazing and unique houses?
I know what some of you may be thinking, that’s a lot of work, I’m not artistic, I can’t make something like that, but let me tell you, I wasn’t always good either, I used to struggle a lot.
My first gingerbread house crumbled to pieces after five minutes. Even doing this project as you’ll see as you get further in, one of the houses almost completely fell apart, it was a total disaster! But I didn’t give up! I made mistakes, I learned from them, and I regrouped and ended up making something even cooler than my original vision. I felt that way with all the houses actually, they all had different issues or setbacks an did not meet my initial ideas, but in the end, they actually exceeded what I had in mind!
So if nothing else, I hope you can learn from some of the mistakes I made too! And I hope I can help show you that you don’t have to be amazing on day one to create something great by day five.
So without wasting any more time, let’s get into it! There are kind of a lot of steps and supplies for this project. But a few can be simplified, substituted, or ignored all together!
The first thing that’s important to know is that, while yes, these houses are technically completely edible, there are a few reasons that you would want to think twice about that:
1) most gingerbread houses are made with construction gingerbread, which is not the same as the gingerbread cookies grandma always made. It’s a very dense and strong dough, so it’ll hold up structurally.
2) this project takes a bit of time to do it well and get all the details. So the house sits out for a long period of time, especially with the amount of time it takes for royal icing to dry. But hey, do what you want! That’s just my advice.
So I’ve broken everything down to what you will need supplies wise for each house individually, that way you can choose to only build one house or all three. I’ve also grouped the supplies that you’ll use for every house to make it easier.
Here we go!
Every house basic ingredients:
-egg whites or merengue powder
-gel food colors
-piping bags and tips
House #1: Zombie Manor (we’ll abbreviate this to H1)
-candy melts(white and black)
-modeling chocolate(lime green, dark green, red, pink, and white.)
-black petal dust
-red gel food color(A LOT)
-Oreos for dirt
House #2: Dead Man’s Dwelling(we’ll refer to this one as H2)
-brick impression mat
-Hershey’s mini bars
-edible grass and dirt(recipe below)
-candy melts(white, ivory, and black)
-fondant(black and red)
-thin floral wire
House #3: Green House of Horrors(this one will be H3)
-modeling chocolate(three shades of green, red, and white)
Step 1: Inspiration
So the first thing we need to do is get some ideas and inspiration for the houses. For me, this was tricky, because I couldn’t find any one example that was like exactly what I was looking for, but I kept looking, made some collages, and got my ideas.
Once I kind of knew what I had in mind, it was time to lay it all out. So I used the outlines of each house and then I made the general shapes and pieces for each house, I then went in and added color pallets. But this whole step is actually optional, it helped me, but it’s not super necessary.
Step 2: Templates
The next step is to make templates for each house that you want to make. This step is HUGE, I cannot stress that enough! You cannot skip this step. It’s so necessary to building a successful gingerbread house. It helps take away some of the guess work, and overall it just makes for a nearly perfect house.
I used poster board, a scissors, a pencil and a ruler. I made the templates for H1 and H3 on my own, for H2, I used this template, but I changed the size to make it a little bigger. This is where creativity can come into play. You can make the houses any way you want and in any size. It’s really up to you as far as how you design the houses, so feel free to let your mind run wild! Or google gingerbread house templates to get ideas and sizing.
H1 was the easiest with just 7 pieces, Front and back, 2 sides, 2 roof pieces, and a door. Super easy!
H2 was in some ways the most complicated, but also in some ways it was the easiest, because it already had a template, and if you are smart and just use that template to a T, it is in fact quite simple. I however did not do this. I chose to scale it up to a larger size with math and a little guessing and I used my ruler to make every piece by hand, this was a lot of work, and in the end, I did like the outcome, but if I were you, I’d just use the template as written. It’s a really great template! I skipped the porch, because I did stairs instead, but you can add that if you want. Here’s the template: http://www.haunteddimensions.raykeim.com/index506.html
H3 was a nice middle ground between H1 and H2. It was more elaborate than H1, but not nearly as complicated at H2. For this one I just used my ruler to make shapes that I thought would look cool. And then mirrored them until I had a front back, and sides, I also added a front piece.
Now once you have everything laid out and drawn/printed, you’ll then carefully cut everything out, trying to be as exact as possible. Now you’d also want to cut out the windows to make things easier later on.
Once every piece is cut, it’s crucial to label the pieces, this is incredibly important, because otherwise you’ll be lost! Especially if like me, you are trying to make all three houses at once. It will save you A LOT of trouble, I promise! I kept my labels super simple, so for example, I just labeled each piece with either H1, H2, or H3, and the piece name, so door, side, front, etc.
The last part of the templates is doing a mock up. So you just take every piece and tape it together so that ideally you have a standing house, and this way you can find and address any issues right away, BEFORE you bake all your pieces and realize that they don’t actually fit together.. while some people will argue that this step isn’t super necessary, I would still HIGHLY recommend doing this. It really does help make things easier in the long run and it helps you see things as they’ll come together.
And that’s it!!! Now we’re ready to make the actual gingerbread!
Step 3: Gingerbread Dough
Now to the most important part! The gingerbread dough for the gingerbread houses! As I said earlier, this dough is known as construction gingerbread, because it’s a lot stronger and harder than a gingerbread cookie would be. I got this recipe from The Sugar Geek website, which is a great site with tons of tutorials for cake decorating! It worked really well for me!
I just changed the amounts to suit my needs. So to make all three houses, you’ll need a 4x batch and a 2x batch, or a 6x batch, but that didn’t fit in my mixer so I went with 4x and 2x. I’d say about a 2x batch would work to make pieces for each house if you chose to only make one.
As far as instructions go, it’s pretty straight forward. Melt the shortening til it’s melted but NOT hot. Mix with sugar molasses and eggs, it may look curdled, but that’s okay. My first batch was really smooth looking as you can see in the second picture, but my second batch was a little curdled, but they both still turned out great, so don’t stress!
The next part of the process is to roll out the dough. You can do this however you’d like, whether it’s with a rolling pin with wooden dowels to make sure each piece is the same thickness, or just by feel, but you want to go for about a 1/4” thickness. (Note: for H2 I used a brick impression mat before cutting out the pieces, this is completely optional and can be done in other ways when we get to that house specifically, but if you want to have a brick impression, you will want to do that now, either with an impression mat or with a knife by hand)
Once you got your dough rolled out its time to put down the templates and use a paring knife to cut each piece out. The recipe recommends rolling the dough, then freezing it BEFORE cutting out the pieces, however I did not do that. I rolled the dough out, cut the pieces, and THEN froze it before baking. But either way would work I’m sure.
Once you cut out all the pieces you’ll want to bake them at 350 for about 12-15 minutes. It’s really hard to over bake construction gingerbread, and honestly over baked is better than under baked, because you really want these pieces to be strong and hard.
Step 4: Royal Icing
Now to build and decorate our houses we’re going to go classic with royal icing. Royal icing is an icing thats stabilized with egg whites or an egg white substitute called merengue powder. I use Wilton’s merengue powder and recipe. It is as follows:
-2 lb powdered sugar(approximately one bag)
-6 TBS merengue powder
-1/4-1/2 cup water
Everybody makes royal icing a little differently, but for me I’ve found the best way to be just by using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, mix the merengue powder and powdered sugar for a few seconds, and slowly add the water, starting with 1/4 cup and increasing until you get the desired consistency.
For decorating the pieces before we assemble them, the consistency isn’t that important. It’s just kind of whatever works for you, you don’t want it to be completely liquid, but you also don’t want it to be super thick at this point.
Now for assembling you are going to want the icing to be pretty stiff. I say pretty because there’s kind of a fine line between what will and won’t work for assembling the houses. The best way I can explain it, is that you want it to be thick, but still a little sticky, because if it’s thick and dry, it’ll be hard to pipe, and it won’t stick to the pieces, but if it’s to thin, even by a little bit, you’re houses will fall apart. So you really do have to experiment a little to find the right consistency. I’ve included a chart to help give you an idea of the different consistency options.
For all three houses I think I used about 3 or 4 batches of royal icing, but for just one house you could use 1 to 2 batches. I always just mix one batch at a time for two reasons, first, to keep the mess down, because powdered sugar likes to go literally everywhere, and secondly because royal icing does dry out after time if left uncovered, so it’s just easier to work in small batches.
Then that’s it! You’re now ready to decorate the pieces and assemble the houses!
Step 5: Decorating the Pieces, and Assembling the Houses
So although every house is different when it comes to the decoration, I’m going to put together some tips and directions that will be useful for every house, before I break it down to each house specifically.
For every house, you will want to set up all the pieces right away to keep things organized. I did this by using a few large sheet boxes, but you can use pans or whatever you have available too. It’s just a little easier to decorate and assemble when everything is laid out and organized.
Some people don’t always agree with this, but in my opinion, you should always, always base decorate the pieces before you assemble the houses. I just think it’s so much easier in the long run.
We’ll go into decorating more in-depth when we break it down to each house individually because they will all have different steps and techniques. But basically you’ll need royal icing, gel food colors, and your baked (and cooled) pieces.
For assembling, you’ll need the really stiff royal icing we talked about earlier, your decorated pieces that you’ve let harden overnight, and some cups, or other items to help hold the pieces up.
For assembling all the houses are relatively the same. You’ll want to dye some stuff royal icing to match the decorated pieces, and then fill a piping bag and cut a pretty big hole in it. I alway start with the back piece, so I hold the back piece up, using cups for extra support, add a generous amount of royal icing to the side and then attach the next piece, adding cups as needed to support the pieces, until you have the full base assembled.
The roofs are a little more difficult. But you do have two options for assembly. You can either assemble the roof(s) separately and let it dry overnight and then attach it to the base, or you can do it all at once, but that can get a little tricky. I honestly did both. For the simpler houses I just did it all at once, but for the more elaborate house, I let the roof pieces set overnight.
That’s basically it for assembling the houses. Now I will break down each house individually for the final steps of decorating, so hold tight, because we’re almost there! The fun part is up next!
Step 6: Zombie Manor
For Zombie Manor, you’re going to start with brown medium consistency royal icing for the base decorating on the front back and side pieces. For this look I took a large offset spatula and loaded it up with a decent amount of royal icing, I then sloppily swiped it down, starting at the top and working my way down. I repeated this all the way down. It’s similar to the spoon technique if you’ve seen that for cakes, where you pipe a blob of frosting and then take a spoon and swipe it through. It’s the same idea here.
For the roof and door I took white royal icing and added a few drops of black and swirled it together, but did not mix it fully. I then just took some with my hand and swiped it over the pieces until it covered them, but don’t do too many swipes or you’ll lose the color variance. And that’s it for the base decorating! Super simple!
That last step before assembly is adding windows. For this house. I used gelatin sheets, but you can also use isomalt/poured sugar, or candy which I use in another house, or you can leave the windows open, which I do for one window here as well.
This house is assembled as a whole as described in the previous step. Then it’s time to bring it to life, literally! For decorating this one was really fun! I used modeling chocolate in a variety of colors for this one, but you could also you fondant. Feel free to get creative and mix it up! I made zombie hands and eye balls, and brains, and tentacles, but you can make anything you want! For the tombstones, I bought a tombstone mold from amazon, and used white chocolate with black candy color swirled in it. Then I used cocoa powder and black pedal dust to make them look old and dirty.
The last step for the Zombie Manor is the blood! This was by far my favorite part! I just took some corn syrup and A LOT of red gel food coloring and mixed it all together, then with a paint brush, it dripped, painted, and splattered it literally everywhere!
And there you have it, Zombie Manor!
Step 7: Dead Man’s Dwelling
This house is by far the most complex, so please, please, bare with me for this one. I’ll try to be as through as possible without writing a novel.
For the base decorating of this house you’ll need thinner constancy brick red and dark grey royal icings. The base decorating of this house actually isn’t that hard. You just take the brick red royal icing with a small offset spatula and spread it around, in a thin layer, you don’t have to completely cover every spot. Then while it’s still wet, you take the dark grey and do the same thing but in different spots. It should not look perfect at all. It should look kind of messy and spotty and if you used a brick impression in the beginning steps, that should really start popping out a little bit. Now if you didn’t use an impression mat or make brick right away, that’s okay, you can still make bricks by either piping them with stiff royal icing in your preferred color, or you can put down a layer of royal icing, again in your preferred color, and let it dry, and then take a toothpick and etch/scrape a brick design in. You can also skip the brick design all together. For the side roof pieces, I used the same shade of dark grey, but a little thicker and I piped dots and then dragged them down, similar to the spoon technique I explained in the Zombie Manor, and as pictured above. For the top roof pieces I just spread the dark grey royal icing on in a thin layer with my hand. Let all the pieces dry overnight.
Next you’ll want to do the windows. For this house I used isomalt, but you can also use poured sugar, crushed candy, gelatin sheets, or leave them open. I got the isomalt on Amazon, melted in in a microwave save glass measuring cup and carefully poured it in each window. Be extremely careful if using isomalt, as it is very very very hot! It will burn you!
The next step is to add spider webs! Again, this is also an optional step, but I thought is was a super cool effect so I went for it! It was also pretty easy! I just took two bags of marshmallows, one at a time, microwaved then until they were melted but still fluffy and not too too hot. Then(I would recommend using gloves here) carefully with your hands(because it will still be a little warm) pull the marshmallows with you hands and stick it to the pieces in random places and in different directions. I elevated my pieces with cups so I could really wrap the webs around to make it more realistic. Once you cover all the pieces, you’ll want to let them sit overnight again.
Then you are free to assemble the house as directed in the assembly step, this is the house that I assembled in pieces. So I did the base pieces and the roof piece separately and let them set overnight.
Another optional step is making a mountain, stairs, and a moat for the dwelling to sit on. This was done with styrofoam, edible dirt, edible grass, chocolate stairs, and candy skulls. I carved square styrofoam blocks, used melted chocolate to attach the edible dirt and grass which was made of crushed Oreos, gingerbread, candy rocks, dyed coconut, Graham cracker crumbs, rice cereal, white chocolate skulls, and chocolate spiders. The stairs were made of mini Hershey’s fun size candy bars glued to the mountain with royal icing. The moat was thin royal icing swirled with blue and black, the outer wall of the moat was made with more edible dirt stuck together with melted marshmallows.
The last step for this house is the giant spider and to ass some dirt and grime. I just took some black fondant and thin floral wire and sculpted two balls and stuck them together with a little water, I then added the legs which were the wires, bent with black fondant wrapped around them. Lastly I added feelers and detail with red fondant. And the last step was to over the whole house in a heavy dusting of cocoa powder with a big powder brush.
And there you have it! Dead Man’s Dwelling!
Step 8: Green House of Horrors
This house gave me quite a bit of trouble, but in the end it turned out to be one of my favorites. It’s the house I assembled first, so I really learned a lot with it.
The base decorating of this house was probably the easiest of all. You just need medium constancy royal icing, and black and white gel food coloring. Again you’re going to take the white royal icing and swirl in a little bit of black and white food color, just a little, and don’t mix it much. Then you use your hands or a spatula to to spread a pretty thin layer on every piece. The last step is to take your hands, and put them on and off the pieces in random places. Like a speckle technique almost, so you end up with little peaks all over, you can add more drops of food color here and there to make it look cooler and to variate the color more, and that literally it for the base decorating. Let the pieces dry overnight.
Now assembling did NOT go well for me on this house, but I learned a lot so I’ll share some tips with you that I hope will help. Don’t rush it, take your time, and be patient. Use STIFF royal icing, mine was a little too soft. Try to match the color better, because as you can see, I didn’t do that very well. And lastly, stay calm, and go with it! So my house didn’t look great at first, okay, fine. Regroup. Now it’s a house being attacked by evil plants. There’s always always a solution to everything, no matter what. Just don’t give up! I could have given up when this house fell apart and looked like crap, but I didn’t, I kept going, and look! It turned into something really really cool! So always keep going, and always regroup, because honestly, anything is possible if you work at it.
So when the house looked bad, I just took some thin royal icing, dyed it darker, and did the same technique again, all over. Then I made the plants. I used three shades of green modeling chocolate, but again, fondant would work too. I sculpted the plants, piped on teeth, and placed them around the house hiding any holes and ugly spots. Then I dyed some stiff royal icing in two shades of green and added vines all over, again, covering any blemishes or bad spots.
And there you have it! Green House of Horrors!
Step 9: Final Touches
The last step is just to add ribbon around the boards if need be, do any clean up, and marvel at the work that you just did! See I told you you could do it!
If you made it all the way down here to this part of the tutorial, thank you! Thank you so much for reading this! I hope it was helpful and hope someone can use this to inspire some creativity and start a project, and learn from my mistakes! Good luck to anyone that want to try something like this, and please, please, feel free to reach out to me with any and all questions or comments! Thank you, and Happy Halloween!!!
Participated in the