Monday, December 20, 2010

How to Make Gingerbread Graham Cracker Houses



We finally made it to Christmas Break!  I'm one happy teacher!!!  There is nothing better than being able to focus all of my attention on my family, especially at Christmas time. Next week we'll invite a few family members over for our annual "Gingerbread House Day" and my house will be filled with sugared up kids and lots of fun!


Before I tell you about the day itself, I need to share a little history. Fifteen years ago, when I was doing my student teaching, my cooperating teacher coordinated a gingerbread day for the first graders. They each brought in a candy item to share with the group. She made the house bases in advance and the kids had a ball decorating the houses with all the candy they had collected. It was the perfect fun and festive day for the kids, without being too Christmas-like for public schools. When I finished my student teaching, my cooperating teacher gave me a packet filled with everything I'd need to coordinate my own Gingerbread Day when I had my own classroom.





image from funroom.com



So, at my new school, I became the Gingerbread Queen. Not only did I coordinate Gingerbread Day for my class, I was the coordinator for our entire primary staff. It was such a terrific day! Every class from kindergarten through third grade participated on the same day and we had a walk through tour at the end of the day. Each year the houses became harder and harder to build. By third grade, the teachers had the kids "purchasing" their candy items after writing a detailed plan for building.

Fast forward a few years, and now I'm back teaching at that original school. It's still a first grade tradition at this school, so we don't get to do Gingerbread Day in kindergarten. But, I still get to be the Gingerbread Queen. You see, when my son was 2 (7 years ago) I started hosting a gingerbread party for my kids' friends and cousins.


 



I ask every family to bring a candy item to share. My favorite candies for gingerbread house decorating are Lifesavers, Neccos, small candy canes, red hots, red and green M&M's, Twizzlers Pull Apart licorice, gumdrops, and  pretzel twists. (Pretzel twists make great fences.)


 

I usually cover the entire table with craft paper.  Michael's sells rolls of craft paper.  It makes cleanup  a lot easier.

 

When the kids were little, I prepared the house bases ahead of time. Now we just build and create! Sometimes the candy houses turn into candy fortresses.


Here's how I build the bases when young kids (first grade and under) are decorating with us.  The only reason I do the base for the kids is that it is very frustrating when you are 4 years old and your house falls apart every time you try to add candy.  Royal icing needs time to dry and harden.  Patience is hard when you're 4. Building the house bases is really easy.  I start with foil covered cardboard.  They make simple platforms for the kids to create their "yard". I cut the graham crackers with a bread knife and assemble the house base with royal icing.  I always use the royal icing to "glue" the house base to the platform. This is what an assembled house base looks like when it is ready for the party to start..  I make one for each child and a few extras in case we have an accident. 


I let the kids add the two pieces for the roof and all of the decorations.  Royal icing is best for assembling houses and decorating.  I usually make several batches of Royal icing and put it into individual quart sized freezer bags.  When it's time for decorating, I just snip off s small corner of the bag.

The recipe for Royal Icing is included in the package of Wilton Meringue Powder.  I buy my meringue powder at Michael's.  If you can't find meringue powder, I'm sure you can google a recipe for a similar icing that calls for egg whites.  I've always used the meringue powder recipe because raw eggs freak me out. (Unless, of course, I'm eating cookie dough.)

3 Tbsp Wilton Meringue Powder
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
5 or 6 Tbsp warm water

Beat all ingredients, with heavy duty mixer, until icing forms peaks. (7-10 minutes)





 Here's a finished house.  (Many of these photos were taken by my friend Diane's hubby.  Diane's blog is Perfectly Imperfect Life.)

Here are a few examples from our gingerbread party last year.  You can see how I build bases for the younger kids and just let the older kids build their own fortress.


This one was Rudolph's barn.


This is a gingerbread manger.


If you've never done this before, this is the year to give it a try.  My kids always look forward to this day.  I'll admit, I've toned it down over the years.  The first few years we invited about 30 kids and their parents, served lunch, and hosted all-out party.  Now, we just have family.  There are 10 kids and one crazy mom who just loves being the Gingerbread Queen.

Happy Decorating!


Check out these parties I like to link up to.

6 comments:

  1. hello Becca... although it is not our tradition but i really enjoyed your cute way of making cracker house... so fun to make them... Wish you a very happy Christmas.
    I would love if you come to visit me at
    http://craftaworld.blogspot.com/
    Love
    Farah

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very nice idea. We are wanting to start some new traditions with our family, and this just might be one for next year.

    Thanks so much. Hope you have a wonderful holiday!

    suzy

    ReplyDelete
  3. We have such fond memories of the gingerbread chaos with the Gingerbread Queen!

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a neat tradition! Our preschool teacher does this with her class. I teach K and have not done it. When my sons were both younger, we always took pictures of their gingerbread creations. Fun memories!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Becca, I just love your graham cracker cottage photo. I am writing a blog post this week on how to make them. If you don't mind, I'd love to feature your photo with a link, of course. It is beautifully inspiring! I'll let you know when it posts? :)

    ReplyDelete
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