Next Time, I Buy a Pre-Fab House!

Dec 19, 2019 | Food

Gingerbread House, that is. Walking through H.E.B. this afternoon on a quest for pasteurized egg whites with which to make royal icing “cement” for my gingerbread house, my heart sank. There, at the front of the store – for $14 and change – a giant wall of boxed “make your own” gingerbread house kits. I should have thrown in the towel, then and there, and bought one of those kits. But I’m stubborn. If you’re feeling stubborn, bored, or just craving frustration this holiday season, you can give it a go – here is the recipe and template I used: Gingerbread House Recipe (Recipe & Template)

Apparently, there are a lot of us out here who are determined to make our own gingerbread houses, villages, office complexes, whatever, from scratch. Some businesses even use it as a team-building activity! Just look at these lovely gingerbread houses and scenes from the Dallas/Fort Worth Marriott Hotel & Golf Club at Champions Circle:

I remember doing this, at work, years ago – a chef provided all the walls and roof slabs, we had only to glue them together with royal icing and decorate them. This gave me a false sense of how easy it was. The first time I tried it on my own, it turned out okay, but I mixed up the walls and the roof slabs and had skylights instead of windows. That may be where I went right, last time. The walls are smaller and lighter, less likely to fall in on the interior. But it looked more modern than the traditional gingerbread chalet – it had more of a Frank Lloyd Wright thing going on.

And just try finding meringue powder, this time of year! Even Amazon won’t ship till after Christmas. Someone suggested I try Hobby Lobby, and that’s when I discovered you can just use egg whites, instead. I could have just used egg whites from the half-dozen eggs in my refrigerator, because we all know that royal icing is inedible, and nobody eats the house till it’s gone bad, anyway. The salmonella risk was infinitesimal. But no, at 2:30 this afternoon, I was still determined to do it “right,” and “right” meant food safety and pasteurized egg whites. My next-door neighbor, Kroger’s, didn’t have them. H.E.B., thank goodness, did. I was so determined, at that point, I’d have driven to San Antonio for the damned things.

I’m not sure why I still felt determined to do this at all, let alone “right.” Already, I’d stayed up till midnight re-cutting and baking a second set of walls. Uneaten gingerbread is one thing; inedible is something else, entirely. The first set was more like a thin, toasted, ginger cracker that had lost what little flavor it started with, while languishing in the oven. In hindsight, those tasteless ginger crackers might have been lighter, stronger, and better for construction. But it was also strangely lopsided. Fortunately, I’d made a double batch of gingerbread dough. Hours later, I had two large slabs for the roof, and these lovely, windowed walls:

The second batch (above) turned out edible, but in the end, unsuitable for construction. Those deep furrows give the walls character, I think; they’re the result of rolling out the dough between sheets of parchment paper. But they also represent weak points. You can either have a strong house that even the wolf at the door won’t eat, or a yummy house that might keep the wolf too full and too busy to eat you. Only professional chefs and super talented people should attempt to make a gingerbread house from scratch, unless they have a large amount of liquor on hand and a wicked sense of humor. Mine ended up looking like a small cathedral that had burned down, with fire-retardant foam still clinging to the walls. Don’t believe me?

The only thing that turned out right was the stained glass windows and they could have been better. What I mean is that they could have tasted better, after the whole roof caved in and took the rest of the structure with it. If ever I do this again (and that’s unlikely), I might try creating stained glass designs with colored sugar instead of hard candies. Like I said, no one’s going to eat them, anyway. I would have liked to put a flashlight or LED candle inside, turn down the lights, and watch it the soft, colorful glow through those windows.

At least the non-structurally sound gingerbread was tasty enough to repurpose as “dessert” over the next week or so. Paired with tea or milk, it’s a bit of a consolation prize.

After throwing in the towel and laughing off my stubborn, but blessedly brief, urge to start all over again, I consoled myself with lamb pan-seared with olive oil, crushed garlic cloves, parsley, rosemary, and sea salt; wilted arugula and spinach; and crisp, cold tomatoes. I can cook, I just don’t have much of a future as a baker. 

This reminds me of one of my favorite memes: “Women belong in the kitchen. Men belong in the kitchen. Everyone belongs in the kitchen; kitchen has FOOD.”

Stay tuned: The next culinary “experiment” is in the works, and already smells more promising than the gingerbread house.

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.


  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    I still have, somewhere, a photo of the Home Depot gingerbread building the kids made from a kit I got there. Very orange in places. I think all they had to do was assemble, but I stayed out of the kitchen and listened to them just be with each other. They were all older than twenty at this point, hadn’t seen each other for a while, and just listening to them made MY Christmas. I might even have gotten weepy from where I sat in the living room, out of their sight.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Awww. 🤗 Now that you mention that, I suddenly flashed back to the ones my grandmother got me every year. Hell, those were preassembled on a cardboard frame!

      Nostalgia is a lying bitch, some days. Preassembled on a cardboard frame is just FINE for creating warm, sweet memories. And I actually DID nibble those nasty little cottages – not just the icing, but the gingerbread, was hard as a ROCK. Surprised I didn’t break a tooth.

      Now, I just need extra thin ribbon candy and petit fours…


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