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Dec 3, 2007 06:10 PM

gingerbread ambitions

So, over Christmas break I'm planning on making a gingerbread house. I've never baked or assembled gingerbread before, but I don't want to make the traditional gabled cottage. I am an architecture drop-out, and can't stop thinking about combining my passions of cooking and design. Specifically I want to build a model of the Schröder House in Utrecht, Netherlands designed by Gerrit Rietveld. Maybe an architecture buff knows what I'm talking about. The house is early modern (1920s) and is an example of cubism in architecture. (Think of a Piet Mondrian-designed flat.)

The house itself will require at least two shades of gingerbread, one of typical medium-brown shade and another much lighter. Can I get away with significantly reducing the molasses in the gingerbread and replacing with honey?

I'd love to have your favorite gingerbread recipes and baking and construction tips. In typical modernist fashion, the house has little ornamentation so I don't plan on decorating with candy canes and gumdrops. The only distinctive elements of the structure are its horizontal, black metal railings; thin, colorful columns; and black-framed windows. If anyone has any edible ideas on how to create this structural elements I'd appreciate the input greatly.

Just for reference for anyone who might be curious, here's a link to the building:

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  1. Agent Orange, I am a architectural designer now, but I spent a few years in bakery to pay for college, so I am very intrigued by your project.

    I was never very good constructing gingerbread houses, but I did learn that you need it to be very stiff, but not to the point it would be brittle. You could use both dark and light brown sugar, or possible use a bit of food coloring to achieve the darker shade that you will need. If you aren't a purist, you might be able to use either sugar cookie or shortbread for the lighter elements.

    You might also be able to use a airbrush, if that is available.

    I would used pulled sugar for self supporting elements, and piping chocolate or royal icing for the details

    2 Replies
    1. re: Kelli2006

      Just a tip- One year I made 30 gingerbread houses (I must have been on drugs when I had that bright idea!) and found that the thickness of the gingerbread is very important especially when using royal icing to glue and decorate. Some of my houses collapsed after decorating because the moisture in the icing made the gingerbread soft and if the gingerbread was too thin the entire house collapsed. Not a pretty sight in the morning- especially after staying up till the crack of dawn to decorate them! I would make sure the gingerbread is at least 1/4 inch or thicker to be safe.

      1. re: Kelli2006

        Shortbread is very fragile ... I think Agent Orange will be better off tweaking the gingerbread. I think honey would work ... you might check out Martha Stewart's gingerbread house recipe.

        Another way to tweak the color is to bake the darker one longer, but I suppose that could have undesirable side effects ...

        Dare I suggest that you try a simpler structure first? ;)

        You might be able to paint that pink sheet bubble gum black with paste food coloring for the windows. Black licorice should work for the railings, but I'm not sure how you'd get it to hold the shape without more support. Perhaps you could harden it somehow???

        I should confess that I just bake gingerbread, and I've made edible ornaments, but never a gingerbread house. A friend of mine made one with her son every year, and their secret was the hot glue gun :) I can also tell you that I made the ribbon holes in the ornaments with a pastry bag tip, which worked great (I think you'll need holes for the railings?).

      2. Do you have a Wilton's outlet or a shop where Wilton's run classes, in your area? They'd probably be booked solid by now anyway, but worth looking around for. I remember reading about it, years ago, and decided that making plastic canvas treat boxes would be easier, although not faster, than making gingerbread houses. I made 4 that year. I must have been nuts. That being said, I recall that using an icing that's based on egg whites, Royal Icing, should not soak into the gingerbread.

        When I'm doing something new, I tend to find several sources, and check them out. For recipes, I check here in Chowhound, then do a search for other recipes or ideas, then put it all together in a way that I feel is reasonable. There are several websites that talk about building gingerbread structures. One site I just found has pattern pieces in pdf .
        Can I post it here, without getting in trouble? Well, here it is, anyway.
        I quickly read through the method, but feel that it's missing a few details...another good reason to check other sources, such as:

        I'm not saying these are perfect, but they're a good place to start.
        GOOD LUCK!!!


        1. As a recent design school graduate (we studied Rietveld), I'm excited about your project! I had a similar idea to do a more 'architectural' gingerbread house but don't think I have the patience or baking skills to pull it off! Please post pictures of the final result!

          1. Will you post a picture when you do it? My husband and I have a similar idea, but not as funky. We want to build a gingerbread brownstone. I am decent at baking, he is an architecture buff and makes models, it's more of a hobby, but he did do some models for the Skyscraper Museum in NYC. I think it's a wonderful idea. It's kind of like your own "FN Challenge."

            1. Thanks for all the suggestions and encouragement. I like the idea of using the light brown/dark brown sugar in addition to honey/mollasses to create the distinction between light and darker elements.

              Right now I'm looking at the Martha recipe and one from Epi. I'm not so much concerned about taste because I doubt I'll be eating the house (although I'll surely munch on the scraps to fuel me late into the night.) Hot glue is a good tip, I think I'll do that, although sometimes it can get a little messy.

              My next obstacles will be figuring out what scale to use and also how to account for change in the size of the cookie sheets after baking. I wonder if it would be easier to cut my pieces after they've baked and cooled... worried about cracking and crumbling. Any thoughts?

              EDIT: oh yeah, if I am successful you can bet I'll be putting the pics up on CH.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Agent Orange

                As far as wondering if it would be easier to cut your pieces after baking and cooling ... no, I'm certain it would not :) That part should be pretty easy I think due to the square and rectilinear shapes of the building? Btw, a pizza cutter would probably be a good tool to use for cutting out your pieces. I guess the best thing to do would be to roll out your dough directly onto parchment and then cut?

                1. re: foiegras

                  Thinking back to my architectural model building days in school, could you make a pattern template out of stiff cardboard and then cut the gingerbreads to the exact size when they're out of the oven and cooling but not yet hard? Maybe make them slightly larger than they should be pre-baking to account for shrinkage and then trim to fit your template while still slightly soft? Or experiment with making a small cube or something first so you get a feel for how the gingerbread and glue are going to act. Just thinking aloud, as I have never cooked with gingerbread before.