While I still need to finish the nursery (yikes!), and decorate for Christmas, this week's post is about the gingerbread house I entered in the Raleigh Winterfest contest this year. I admit, this particular project took up a lot of my time over the past two weeks. So I am glad I can turn it into a nifty post with some tips and tricks that I hope will be useful to anyone who wants to make a gingerbread house of their own this holiday season.
SPOILER ALERT: I did not take home first prize this year. I got second place in the contest. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I was naturally a little disappointed, but I got over it pretty quickly. I won the contest last year and I knew it would be hard going in as the defending champion. I still think I had a solid 2015 entry. So let me tell you a little bit about it.
This year's entry was a birdhouse. I did a lot of research on gingerbread house contest winners and tried to find a theme that people tended to like. Since it was a Raleigh contest, I knew I wanted to do something North Carolina related. The Cardinal is the NC state bird, and I just love cardinals. So I decided to incorporate the bird into my creation. The birdhouse idea just kind of came to me after that. I knew I could get a decent sized structure out of that and some cute holiday decorations too.
I started by sketching up my idea in my sketchpad. I always start my projects by drawing them out. Most of the time my end result doesn't even completely look like the sketch I drew in the beginning. However, it's a great starting point and it helps get the creative juices flowing.
Once I had my sketch drawn, I started coming up with the measurements. The contest rules stated that the entry had to be less than 24 inches tall and wide on all four sides. That's 2 feet on each side. It may not seem like a lot when you think about it, but trust me, it is. I decided to make my base 21 inches by 21 inches. So I cut a square piece of plywood to match those dimensions.
I couldn't really decide how tall I wanted the house to be. Tall houses are noticeable and more fun to decorate, but they are much harder to get to stand on their own. Ultimately, my sketchbook determined the height of the house for me. It was a 14" x 17" book. So I decided my house would be 17 inches tall so I could fit the sketches into my sketchbook. Problem solved.
I drew out all the different parts of my house that I would need to bake with gingerbread. That included all the walls, the roof, the pop-out windows, etc. It was A LOT of gingerbread.
Once I had all my pieces cut out, I finally began on the actual gingerbread. I used this recipe to make the gingerbread.. I actually had to double the recipe to get the amount I needed for this project. But if you are just making a smaller house for decoration, the recipe listed will be sufficient.
Once I had the mix, I rolled out the dough on parchment paper and used my paper cutouts as stencils to cut the pieces down to size.
I decided that I wanted to do "bricks" for the main structure of the birdhouse. Instead of trying to do something crazy like cut out a million individual bricks, I decided to just roll out some brick-colored fondant that I could glue to the sides. Then I added small strips of white fondant to make it look like individual bricks.
I started with some white fondant.
NOTE: Right around now is when I started forgetting to take lots of pictures of the process. That usually happens at some point. I can still explain pretty well what I did.
Once I had all the brick sides done, I started assembling some of the parts. I didn't start putting the full structure together yet, but I did start adding the smaller parts to the bigger parts. For example, I had what I can only describe as "bay windows" for the birds that needed to be added to the front, back, and sides of the four main walls.
I got pretty creative with the way I attached these parts. Mostly, I used royal icing, but I added a lot of edible attachments as well (like Kit Kats).
I was wrong. I came back to a gooey, soft pile of cereal and marshmallow. Thank goodness I didn't try to put the structure together before we left. It probably would have ruined the entire thing. Then I really would have been in trouble.
I switched gears and went to the grocery store in search of something edible that could help me. The rules of the contest were clear. Everything but the base had to be edible. Otherwise, I would have used a cardboard box or something equally as sturdy and easy.
Instead, I found breadsticks. I scooped up some packets and went to work. I pulled the sides of the structure together and glued some breadsticks into the corners and bottom. I used boxes to hold the sides up while everything dried. It was a tedious process. I even managed to use some of the mangled Rice Krispies in the corners.
I will probably stick with the gingerbread competitions for as long as I can. Once you reach a certain age, the opportunities for competitions start to dwindle. I'm certainly not running any marathons anytime soon. Edible creations it is! Gotta feed my competitive spirit until my child is old enough for me to live vicariously through.
With that, I will provide you with a picture of last year's winning entry. I'd originally planned to do a separate blog post for this one, but I don't think I have enough pictures. Maybe one day. Until then... cheers!