Museum Craft Corner: Gingerbread House

December 2, 2013


With the first Advent Sunday kicking off the pre-Christmas season this past weekend, and everyone in a creative festive mood, what better time for a new edition of Museum Craft Corner. This time, the inspiration comes from one of my favourite museums, the fantastic National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Next weekend they are hosting a ‘Home Sweet Home Gingerbread Workshop’, where families can make their “own edible house using gingerbread”. The workshops are fully booked, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make one yourself at home. Did you guess from Friday’s post?

diy gingerbread house

Gingerbread houses are really popular in Germany, and date back to the fairytale of ‘Hansel and Gretel’, collected by the Grimm Brothers, which features a witch living in a house made of gingerbread. As much as I loved the idea of making my own, I found the effort of first baking gingerbread and then cutting it up in to the right house shaped pieces a bit daunting, but luckily these days you can buy ‘ready-to-decorate’ kits. Since making that discovery, gingerbread houses have been a regular feature in my Advent activities (I even made a gingerbread museum at Leicester University, though sadly I have no photo of it). Ikea makes a great and affordable gingerbread kit, and in Berlin I’ve even been lucky to find a gluten free one at the LPG Bio Markt, so now I can not only make but also eat my houses!

making a gingerbread house

When creating your gingerbread house, there are two important points to consider when assembling them:

What to use as ‘glue’?

I have used both molten sugar and icing to assemble gingerbread houses in the past. The sugar hardens really quickly, but is dangerously hot. I have experienced the painful blisters to prove it. Great if you want your house to stick together quickly, and if you’re not prone to clumsiness in the kitchen. Best to be avoided though if you’re baking with children, just to be on the safe side. Since #MuseumBaby is my kitchen assistant these days, I use icing instead, whisked together from icing sugar (powdered sugar) and some water or lemon juice. Some people like to add egg white, but I prefer to avoid raw eggs for this. You need to make it quite thick so that it stays in place, then you need to hold the pieces in place for a bit while the icing starts to set and then leave it for a bit longer to set completely. But on the up side it’s a lot safer!

Whether to decorate them before or after assembly?

Again, I have tried both – as you can see from the photographs above – and let me tell you that decorating it before is a lot easier. At this point you still have the pieces flat in front of you which makes it easier for icing and decorations to set. We’ve previously had a few mishaps of decorations added after assembly just slipping off. On the other hand, you can also get some nice effects that way, for example by spooning slightly thinner icing on to the top of the roof and letting it run down the sides, which make it look like snow. So perhaps you just want to experiment a bit.

gingerbread house front and back

By the way, Liquorice Allsorts make great chimneys. And if you have any Lego or Playmobil figures kicking about, you can use them to create a little winter scene outside your house as we did with the tree and woodland animals in the first set of photos above. By the way, if you do feel like baking your own house from scratch, this easy recipe from the BBC Good Foods website comes with a downloadable template: Simple Gingerbread House (the PDF preview didn’t work, but once I’d downloaded it everything was there).

So, maybe the National Building Museum and I have inspired you to make your own gingerbread house this Christmas. If you do, I would love to see some photos!

If you have a craft idea inspired by a museum that you would like to feature in Museum Craft Corner, please get in touch!

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