February 23,2024

This Mid-Century Modern Gingerbread House Is the Pandemic Christmas Project We All Need

by David Stewart

This article was originally published on Epicurious .

As I completed the assembly guide for this mid-century modern take on the classic gingerbread house, I kiddingly asked my editor if we’d be awarded honorary architecture degrees when the project wrapped up. Oras I kidding?

This winter I found myself in creative overdrive. Some people do 10,000-piece puzzles. Some people make homemade candles, or homemade bagels , or fall into a deep gardening obsession. I spent months designing this cookie house in a Wes Anderson–inspired monochromatic color scheme. It has working lights and a blueprint drawn to scale. It has wallpaper in every room.

In a year when so little felt under our control, this is a DIY project that lets you control every detail.

The front of the house gets your attention, but the back view (shown here) is meant to evoke the feeling of a true home. Pavers weave through the yard toward a stack of firewood, convenient for keeping a fire going in the stone fireplace. Every room has enormous windows—especially the vaulted great room—showing off a Christmas tree and other details inside.

Most cookie houses are made of gingerbread. And don’t get me wrong, I like gingerbread. But I love cardamom more, and I wanted a kick-ass chewy and crispy cookie base with punchy flavor. (It’s the same dough that’s used for my Diamond Cardamom Sparkle Cookies —packed with freshly ground cardamom and black pepper and layered with lemon zest.) The cookie provides a bright background for the decor, which skips the classic candy overload, and focuses instead on cool-toned shimmer and shine.

Because all that shine and sparkle is the point. I hope this cookie project brings you reprieve from the quarantine doldrums, adding a little holiday joy as we wrap up a difficult year. Make some hot toddies or cocoa, turn on your favorite holiday movie or music, and dive in. Be sure to print the PDF guide before you start!

Left: Rolling your dough to the same size as the templates will help maximize cutouts. Patch any misshaped dough and roll it smooth. Right: Roll cookie dough between parchment and plastic wrap (reusing what you used to wrap the dough), to prevent sticking and avoid the need for additional bench flour. A thin, flexible cutting board underneath helps to shuttle the dough to and from the freezer. For a uniform dough, these ¼-inch spacers are a dream.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks. Let me take you on a little tour.

Photo A: Rounds can be cut out neatly from biscuit cutters, jar lids, or even pastry tips. Don’t forget to save your scraps in case a piece breaks later.

Building any house—gingerbread or not—requires that you stay organized. You’ve got your blueprint. You’ve gathered your materials. But now, an essential tip that will make this ambitious construction project almost a breeze: Keep each paper template resting on top of the cookie dough cutouts and baked cookies as you go. The labels will match the blueprint, which is your best friend for the next four days.

Photo B: Candy sticks are lined up like little soldiers during installation on wall W2.

Shall we start with my favorite part? The matchy-matchy bedroom wallpaper above—which reminds me a bit of a Wes Anderson movie set—will make the hunt for old-fashioned green candy apple sticks worth it. But candy canes in any color are cute here too. (Online sources for all candies and decorations can be found in our shopping guide.)

If you find that your royal icing is drying out too quickly while you’re spreading it on this wall or anywhere else, it may be that the icing is too thick. Add a few drops (just a few!) of water to thin it out and try again. When you’re storing royal icing, be sure to cover it with plastic wrap that’s directly touching the surface—this will help keep it from developing a dry crust. Note everything in this guide is piped with our all-purpose royal icing (AP royal icing), with the exception of the trees, which get a slightly thicker formula.

Photo C: On wall B1, light blue crunchy sugar is loaded onto piped royal icing quickly before the icing dries.

Of course, we need sparkly bedroom window frames, piped in royal icing and decorated with crunchy sugar. But we may need rimmed quarter-sheet pans more. They catch all the sugar as you add it and prevent a mess on your table and floor. Once it’s captured in the sheet pan, you can pour any excess back into the container for using later.

A few general piping tips: When piping icing, continuously twist and keep pressure on the pastry bag for better control and to prevent icing from leaking from the top. For convenience, keep a large jar or heavy glass nearby to rest the bag of icing, making sure to fold the bag in half like a taco so that the tip and opening face up. If the piping bag sits unused, the tip may harden—just run it under hot tap water for a few minutes until it flows freely.

To refill the bag, remove the tie, fold back the pastry bag opening 3 to 4 inches, and place in a heavy cup so you can work hands-free. Stir icing well before refilling. After refilling, close bag again with a tie (or string tied in a bow) before using.

Photo D: The shed (SH1, SH2 and SH3) is built to be durable, especially after it’s covered with royal icing and celadon sparkle mix.

The shed is a freestanding piece that will hide the battery packs for the twinkling lights. When you’re putting it together, it’s helpful to use cans of food to support the walls as they dry for at least three hours. (You’ll see the assembled shed below in Photo J.)

Photo E: A single cone creates a young tree in the front yard (T2), letting the house shine, but the backyard tree (T3) stacks 5 cones high for dramatic effect. A No. 234 piping tip , typically used to making icing “grass,” creates great definition.

These trees might be the showstoppers of our winter wonderland design—feel free to make more so that you have an entire frosty forest! Under the layers of piped icing, the trees are made from ice cream cones, with a bit of icing in the tip of the cone to facilitate stacking.

Photo F: The garage side wall (S2) template shows you where to apply the stone wall look. Store your piping bag upright in a heavy drinking glass.

For the stone wall details throughout the house, you’ll apply patches of royal icing and press in skin-on almond slivers with some intentional bulges of icing to simulate mortar.

Photo G: A thick layer of royal icing will hold your pretzels to make vertical window panes above the front wall (F1)—spot-check the printed template (page 17) for pretzel placement. The shaded area on the template denotes the interior chimney and fireplace, made from pieces C1, C2, and C3.

The front wall has an interior chimney and fireplace with pretzel rods extending above to create window panes up to the roof.

Photo H: Pipe more icing on top of each spaghetti strand after placing for extra insurance.

A thick layer of royal icing holds the spaghetti window panes, reinforcing the back wall. No one will see this side after the house is put together, but it’s fun to peek through the window at the stripy bedroom wallpaper.

Photo I: Celadon sparkle mix on wall W2. For a smooth coating of chunky sugar, don’t be afraid to load the sugar on. The tray will catch all the excess—pour it back into the container to reuse.

No one can accuse me of not going truly over-the-top: Even the garage has sparkly wallpaper. Don’t we all dream of a garage with sparkly wallpaper? It’s an optional step, of course, but it really is pretty when the house is all lit up. (On the flip side of this wall, you have the bedroom wallpaper in green apple candy sticks.)

Photo J: Assembled shed, covered in royal icing and celadon sparkle mix.

Here’s the completed shed, which is reinforced with a layer of royal icing. You’ll run the lights from here along the backside of the house.

In general you have a few options if a cookie piece breaks. First, you can glue it together with royal icing and let it dry overnight. If you glaze it the next day and cover it with sparkly sugar, no one will be the wiser. A second option is to remake the piece using any leftover rolled dough. Or, if you have any extra baked cookies, just cut a small piece using a serrated knife and make a splint using royal icing. Let dry overnight.

Photo K: To add rafters to each roof (R1 and R2), fold the printed template on page 18 on the dotted lines, and line up the folded edge with the cookie piece. Pipe a few dots to guide exact placement and load up your pretzel with royal icing. For a clean appearance, position rounded, polished edges of each pretzel on the top and bottom, with trimmed edges hidden in the middle.

Exposed beams on the ceiling are a classic element of mid-century modern house design, so I couldn’t help myself. (If you’d prefer to save time, feel free to skip them!)

Photo L: The front wall F1 now has the last chimney piece, C1. Add the stone façade on all sides of the chimney and pop on the wreath while it’s lying flat to dry overnight. That way it will stay put!

This doesn’t look exciting yet, but if you jump ahead, you’ll see that the chimney will have a stone façade and a sparkly jewel-toned wreath (with a holiday pop of color). I think of the red bow as the seasonal house decor equivalent of a red lip. Peer into the great room and you’ll see a magical Christmas tree next to the sparkly wallpaper.

Photo M: On the printed template, each door (on F2 and B2) has a paper flap that’s designed to fold up. This flap will reveal the door area, which you’ll decorate in a festive shade of teal. Decadent doors deserve gold dragée doorknobs. Define the front double-door entrance further with a contrasting light blue chunky sugar—you can see the finished look in Photo N below.

Teal doors and gold doorknobs make this the prettiest house on the block. To get the vibrant, rich-feeling hue, the teal sparkle mix is made from a combo of emerald and sapphire sugars. Can’t find the exact versions suggested in our shopping guide? Feel free to substitute another sparkly green sugar , or create your own custom hue, mixing whatever two colors you like.

Photo N: The trick to achieving a landscaped lawn—with lighting—is as simple as Scotch tape! Bend the thin wiring and use Scotch tape liberally to secure the lights wherever you want them. Snowdrifts will hide the tape in the end.

Above, you’ll see a close-up of the front yard, showing the beginnings of a (coconut) snowfall. I love the glow from the lights; it’s as if the snow actually melted from the hot light bulbs. This is easily achieved by pressing your finger lightly over each light. (You don’t want to expose the light completely, though!)

One warning (based on personal experience): During the lighting installation, keep in mind that the spaghetti window panes are very fragile. Don’t be too concerned about pushing the lights to the floor inside the house—even if the wiring only hovers near the ceiling, the bedroom will still glow and show off your fancy wallpaper.

Photo O: Before the roof is attached, it all looks like this.

The printed blueprint comes to life in the photo above! For stability, it’s a great idea to permanently attach each roof to the house, but if you want to be able to peek in and show off your house interior—dollhouse-style—you can carefully rest the roof in place without icing. The pretzel rods have a gritty texture that will catch against the slightly rough edges of all the vertical walls. When lifting the roof, carefully place fingers between any icicles.

Then you put it all together, and what do you get?

Perhaps you’re going to build this elaborate gingerbread house and never let a soul take even one bite. Or maybe you’ll post it on Instagram (Tag me ! Tag Epicurious too!) and then knock it all down to eat, wall by wall. Either way, I’ll see you at Certified Cookie-Architect graduationaybe next year.

  • David Stewart
  • February 23,2024

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