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Building a Holiday Dream House

Building a Holiday Dream House

For more than a decade, David and Johnna Gregg have been designing some very charming holiday gingerbread houses. David is Heinen’s Deli Merchandiser and his wife Johnna is a member of our Customer Relations Department, but many of us also know them as expert builders. Here are some of their tips for a great gingerbread house.

“We’ve made all kinds of holiday gingerbread houses, some from scratch using homemade icing and others from kits where we’ve used hot glue guns.  There variations are endless,” says Johnna. “For this particular project, we thought it would be fun to offer some simple instructions for a holiday house the entire family can make – and to make it 100% edible!”

Building Materials

  • Graham crackers (about 6 or 7 full-sized graham crackers)
  • Royal Icing (recipe below)
  • A base for the house (cardboard wrapped in foil or a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment)
  • Decorating materials: the fun part – and all your choice

The Royal Icing
Royal Icing is a decorator icing that will function as the glue that holds the house together and the decorations in place.  It has the consistency of a butter cream frosting, but it hardens and sets as it dries.

Use a small spatula or paintbrush when applying—or you can make a pastry piping bag out of a Ziploc bag by snipping off a bit of one of the corners.

Make sure that all utensils and bowls used are clean, dry, and free of water and fat –no specks of egg yolk or residual oil from previous uses–or the icing will not harden.

Royal Icing Recipe
3 egg whites
1 package (16 oz) powdered sugar (about 4-1 / 2 cups)
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

In a large bowl, beat all ingredients on high for 7 to 10 minutes until frosting loses its shine. If you do not use the icing immediately, please make sure to cover it with a lid or plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out.

The Frame

  • Each of the two side walls are formed by using a long, rectangular graham cracker.
  • Each of the two end walls are formed by using a square graham cracker (1 / 2 of a rectangular graham cracker).
  • Each side of the vaulted roof is a long, rectangular graham cracker
  • The peak—between the walls and the roof– is a triangle made by diagonally cutting one graham cracker square section in half, diagonally.   There will be a small overhang to the roof.

Construction Tips

  • Graham crackers cut best with a small, serrated knife.  Use a light sawing motion (really!)
  • If you want open windows in your house, cut them into the cracker before assembling the sides.
  • Don’t skimp with the icing.  It’s the glue that holds the house together.
  • The icing dries quickly, so work in sections rather than icing the entire project at once

Raising the Walls
Take one side wall cracker and frost the base and one side edge.  Take an end wall cracker and frost the base and a side edge—and then press the two pieces into the base as well as attaching them together to form a corner of the house.  Repeat with all of the base edges and corner seams to complete the frame of the house, making sure to use plenty of icing (you can put a bead of icing on the inside seams as well).  David and Johnna suggest even using pretzel thins or rods on the corner seams to add strength and give a rustic look.

Raising the Roof
First glue the peaks, and then rest the roof pieces atop those to form the peak.  Use lots of icing.  Allow time for the entire house to dry so that it’s sturdy enough for decorating—at least an hour.

Decorating and Landscaping
As you can imagine, this is the fun part and the sky’s the limit.  Kids of all ages love to get involved here.  Not only can you decorate every inch of the house, the landscape is an exercise in creativity as well.  And for this family-friendly project, we like everything to be edible, right down to the gardens and paths!  Here are some ideas:

To attach any of the decorations, simply place a small amount of royal icing on the structure or the candy itself.

  • For a log cabin look, layer pretzel rods or thins on the walls
  • Shredded Wheat makes a cute thatched roof look
  • Necco Wafers create great shingled roofs or eaves
  • Use all kinds of sweets!  Gum drops, jelly beans, sugar dots, candy canes, Lifesavers, Mike & Ikes, licorice strands, sugar sprinkles
  • Spearmint leaves make great shrubbery
  • Cotton candy or coconut for snowdrifts in the yard

David and Johnna’s final tip? Be ready to make an entire holiday village. You’ll be hooked after the first house!


Heinen's Grocery Store

By Heinen's Grocery Store

In 1929, Joe Heinen opened the doors of a small butcher shop on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, aiming to establish himself as the city’s purveyor of quality meats. As customers came into Heinen’s new shop for their meat purchases, they began asking him to carry groceries as well. Joe added homemade peanut butter, pickles and donuts and by 1933, business had grown enough to include a line of produce and canned goods. Heinen’s Grocery Store was born.

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