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Of all the holiday crafting projects out there, building and decorating a gingerbread house is arguably the most delicious. It’s a fun activity for the whole family, whether kids are helping mix and bake the gingerbread or skipping straight to decorating. Of course, as far as the kids are concerned, the best part is tasting for quality control, so don’t be surprised if your littles sneak a few sprinkles or candies while they’re decorating. No matter how your house turns out, building a gingerbread house creates wonderful memories and family traditions.
To help you have a less stressful holiday, I polled a top expert to share his top tips and trade secrets to ensure that your gingerbread house building and decorating is a success. "Piping takes practice," states John Cook, executive pastry chef at The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. "A piping practice sheet can be helpful so that when you are ready to add icing to the house, you’ll have a steady hand for icing the trimming and adding piped window accents to your house." This will also come in handy for the gingerbread cookies portion of your holiday.
Another important tip and this one that came in handy when we tested gingerbread house kits side-by-side. "Build on a base. Don’t forget a supportive base to build your house on, since you’ll likely want to move the house from where it was originally built," says Cook. "[Also] turn to kitchen tools to finetune construction," he says. "Use a Microplane to shave down uneven wall edges."
Besides being delicious and heartwarming, a gingerbread house brings instant holiday cheer to your home and makes for a great centerpiece that can be enjoyed throughout the holiday season. There are loads of gingerbread house kits out there, but we selected and then assembled some of our top picks to see how easy (or frustrating) putting a kit together might be. After testing 10 kits in our Lab's dedicated test kitchen, we've narrowed down which gingerbread houses we'd definitely make again.
Whether you're baking in advance or need a kit kids can easily decorate themselves, here are the best gingerbread kits.
Best Overall: Create A Treat Pre-Built Gingerbread House Kit
What We Love: Pre-built gingerbread house is ideal for everyone, affordable
What We Don’t Love: Not the best candy
One of the most timely aspects of building a gingerbread house is simply assembling the house. If you insist on making it yourself, that means making the dough, cutting, and baking. If you get a kit, it will be sitting around holding walls together in the hopes that the frosting holds and the house doesn't fall apart. But you can get around all of that by buying a pre-built house.
This kit from World Market comes with the shell of a 6.5-inch tall gingerbread house, which takes the baking and construction out of the equation and makes it a solid option for beginners, kids, or adults in a rush. The kit includes a baked and assembled gingerbread house, candy decorations, and icing. During testing, Commerce Editor Siobhan Wallace simply opened the icing packet and began decorating, no waiting required. "I did make the mistake most kids would make of just starting to decorate with no forethought," she says. "If I were to do this again, I'd place it on its end to decorate the sides first without fear of gravity forcing the window pane to slide down the wall."
Though the candies weren't the highest in quality—one of the peppermint balls was missing and the gumdrops were stale—and the finished cookie lacked any real flavor, this is a great option if you're in the mood to quickly decorate a gingerbread house to adorn your holiday table.
Best Overall, Runner-Up: Sensitive Sweets Gluten-Free & Vegan Gingerbread House Kit
What We Love: Suitable for vegans and those with food allergies or sensitivities, how-to-build videos on website
What We Don’t Love: Pricey, basic kit doesn’t come with decoration candies
If you want to snack on gingerbread post-build or prefer a stylish gingerbread house, this kit is your best bet. During our testing, everyone gravitated to this house for snacking since it was a soft, tasty gingerbread cookie and not a hard, flavorless cardboard substitute.
With components free of gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, coconut, oats, and sesame, this also works perfectly as an option for those with food allergies or sensitivities, or vegan. The gingerbread is crafted without preservatives, artificial colors, or flavoring, which may contribute to its excellent post-build taste test. The kit is available in two options: the basic version includes gingerbread cookie walls and roof, icing mix (just add water) for connecting the walls, and plastic holiday trees and rings for decoration. Upgrade to the best-selling deluxe kit, which includes all the basic kit components as well as frosting for snow and organic dye-free candies (shoppers can also request vegan organic candies).
During our test build, we found that you definitely need to allow some pre-decoration time to place all the pieces together and let the house dry. When our Food and Drink Review Editor, Collier Sutter, put this together, she took Sensitive Sweets' advice. "The instructions were clear to assemble, though I really took [its] tip of having mason jars on deck to hold up the heavy gingerbread sides as I went because without them, my house began to collapse," she says. "But once I set up the mason jars and held the icing for a few minutes, the cookie slabs didn't move at all."
The website does include helpful how-to-build videos, a boon for novices or those needing to brush up on their gingerbread house-building skills. The manufacturer states that the gingerbread house is best enjoyed within 2 months (assuming it's stored at room temperature).
Best for Kids: Hasbro Candy Land Gingerbread House Kit
What We Love: Good for kids and easy to assemble, comes with specialty candy and edible decorations, affordable
What We Don’t Love: Only comes with one color of icing and no piping bags or tips
Bring the perennially popular board game to life this holiday season with a Candyland gingerbread house kit, no baking required. Even if they’ve never played the game, kids will love getting creative with the candy jewels and stars, fruity gummies, and mint swirls.
This gingerbread kit was straightforward and simple to assemble, with only a few pieces required to form the house and a strong icing glue. Rachel Lee, our Editorial Commerce Producer, put it together and appreciated the plastic base with divots, as it helped keep the whole house stable as she put on the roof and decorations. "The gingerbread pieces felt sturdy and I was never worried about them breaking off as I placed them together," she says. "A potential issue I could foresee for assembly is the icing being difficult to use since there are no piping bag tips included. I had to squeeze the thick icing out of the cut corner of the bag, which made it a bit messy and unprecise at times."
This Candyland kit includes gingerbread walls and roof, icing, and an assortment of fun edible decorations and scene setters. The fun and easy gingerbread house kit is also modestly priced, so you don’t have to break the bank on a holiday project that your kids (or you!) may not have the patience for.
Best Ready-Made: Williams Sonoma Holiday Gingerbread House
What We Love: Baked in California, pre-assembled and professionally decorated, can be personalized.
What We Don't Love: You don’t get to decorate it, expensive
If you know that you won't do a great job at decorating or are sending a holiday treat to a loved one, this gingerbread house is for you. This lovely gingerbread cottage from Willams Sonoma arrives completely assembled and decorated with royal icing and vibrant gumdrops, so it’s ready to display.
This 10 x 10-inch house is handcrafted by bakers in California using a flavorful gingerbread recipe, making for a house that’s as delicious as it is beautiful. Thoughtful design details include a wreath on the door, poinsettias in the windowsills, and a snowman. The cookie plaque above the door is piped with “Happy Holidays,” or it can be personalized with a family name. This makes a great holiday gift or centerpiece-worthy addition to your holiday table. This stays fresh up to 4 months unopened and for 2 weeks after opening.
Best Bake-It-Yourself: Silikomart Italian Silicone Gingerbread House Mold
What We Love: Durable, reusable baking molds, option to bake your own gingerbread recipe.
What We Don't Love: Need to purchase your own icing and candy, not suitable for beginners
If you fancy baking your own gingerbread for the house’s construction, pick up these beautiful silicone baking molds from Food 52. The molds include shapes for all the essentials, such as walls and a roof, as well as fun extras to really make your creation come to life (think, a tiny wreath, sleigh, candy canes, and a tree).
The molds are made in Italy using the highest-quality silicone, which means you can even transfer them straight from the freezer to a 450-degree oven. The molds are reusable and durable too, so you can keep the holiday tradition going year after year. You’ll have to purchase your own icing or candy, but that allows you to customize your creation even further.
"Use pantry ingredients and kitchen scraps as design details," says Cook. One year, Cook was taken by a competition entry in which the creator used corn silk—the fine, silk fibers found inside the husk of an ear of corn—to weave a decorative basket. He’s also witnessed competitors use grape stems as a framework for trees. "Rice Krispies treats are good for making stones to texture the house exterior or line a walkway," he says.
What to Look for When Buying a Gingerbread House Kit
Every year, The Omni Grove Park Inn hosts The National Gingerbread House Competition, so Executive Pastry Chef John Cook knows a thing or two about crafting, decorating, and judging gingerbread houses. He has some great general advice for a successful build.
First, just as home cooks need a recipe for the foundation of a dish, every gingerbread kit should include a well-measured blueprint. "Starting with a solid plan or 'blueprint' for your house is the key," Cook says. "Any shape or design engineered correctly can be strong and sturdy if properly planned."
Your Gingerbread Goals
Are you after a delicious-tasting gingerbread house or are you building it for decoration? Do you want something easy to decorate with kids or do you want a project? If you’re baking your own gingerbread, you’ll need an appropriate recipe, a detailed ingredient list, and suitable baking molds. "Some recipes are made for great tasting cookies and others are designed more for construction," Cook says.
The most popular and straightforward designs are simple A-frame, which is a square frame with a pitched roof. But Cook says that the success of building a house comes down to how well the house is planned and engineered. "If the walls don’t line up correctly, they won’t support the roof, let alone all of the icing and candy you will want to add!" he says. To take out some of the guesswork, consider purchasing a pre-constructed house, allowing you to skip ahead to the decorating phase.
Look for essentials like wall and roof components, icing (Cook advises using almost concrete-like royal icing to hold everything together), and edible decorations such as candies and sprinkles. Consider how much candy is included and if you’ll need to purchase extra. Some icing is ready to use, others you have to mix with water. Most icing comes in white, so you’ll need to purchase food coloring if you want different colored icing. If the kit doesn’t come with decorator icing bags and tips for piping, those can be an additional expense as well. Some kits also include non-edible decorations to help create more of a scene. Of course, be sure to check your kit once it arrives to ensure that none of the components are broken or missing.
Are store-bought gingerbread kits edible?
"Yes, they can be. It depends on the kit you buy and the recipe you use," Cook says. If you’ve baked the gingerbread yourself, Cook doesn’t recommend eating the gingerbread house if you’ve let it sit for more than a day. Many manufacturers state that kits with pre-baked gingerbread are suitable to eat up to 2 months after opening the package, provided that the gingerbread house is stored at room temperature.
How long can you keep a gingerbread house?
Longer than you might think. "A gingerbread house can last a year or more as long as it’s kept in a (somewhat) moisture-free environment," Cook says. "Each year The National Gingerbread House Competition Grand Prize Winner is displayed at The Omni Grove Park Inn for an entire year in our display case. The 2020 Winner’s creation still looks great."
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