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Home, Sweet Gingerbread HomeUse Your Imagination — and Lots of Goodies — to Create Your Own Holiday Masterpiece By Jennifer Walker-Journey 

Gingerbread houses are as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus himself. They blend together the holiday’s favorite treats into a magical creation built of love and hours of care. But decorating one doesn’t have to require the skill of a licensed designer. Anyone, regardless of age or talent, can turn a gingerbread house into a dazzling, candy-coated home.

“Making gingerbread houses is a tradition and a time to make memories with family,” says Leslie Jollie, a Wilton Method Instructor who teaches cake and gingerbread house decorating classes at Michael’s in Destin. When her grandchildren were little, she helped them put together their own little gingerbread homes and decorate them with frosting and hard candies.

“These are things they will never forget,” she says.

The first thing to consider when building a gingerbread house is the construction of it. More advanced gingerbread decorators may choose to bake the gingerbread themselves. Recipes and patterns are available online or in cookbooks. Jollie says she has just as much luck with the pre-made kits, available at most craft and grocery stores. For small kids’ gingerbread creations, she suggests substituting graham crackers for gingerbread and adhered them to the sides of small milk carton. Frosting or icing, usually royal icing that dries stiff, acts as the glue to hold gingerbread walls together. Frosting, either royal or the buttercream variety, can also be piped in to create snow drifts on roofs and on the ground as well as for leaves on trees and for garland. Frosting is also used to “glue” candies on to the gingerbread house.

The most fun comes by getting creative with the decorations. Buy candies, cookies, snacks and cereals in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes and mix them together for a desired effect. For example, layer small vanilla wafers to make roof tiles. Dip the ends in white chocolate to make them look like they have been sprinkled with snow. Or use either side of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal to make shingles.

The curve of a small candy cane makes a fancy doorway. A single M&M, Red Hot or Skittles candy makes a perfect door knob. Wafer cookies or cinnamon stick graham crackers make ideal shutters. Pretzel sticks outline windows. And chimneys can be made of square candies such as Starbursts.

Creativity can go beyond the house. Green candy or icing can be used for grass. Green gummy leaves can be piled up for bushes. Starlight mints trimmed with green and red icing make welcoming wreaths. Trees can be made with large pretzel sticks topped with an inverted ice cream cone, piped with green or white icing and decorated with various candy “ornaments.” Or make them with stacked star-shaped butter cookies and pipe in icing for more detail.

Frame your gingerbread house’s yard with a Wheat Thin or pretzel stick fence, or use pretzel curls standing side-by-side for a more Victorian-looking gate. Add a snowman to the yard by stacking different sized marshmallows on top of each other, adding pretzel stick arms, and finishing with small candies for the eyes, nose and mouth.

It really doesn’t matter what the finished product looks like, especially if kids are helping create the design. The important thing is to have fun and “don’t sweat the small stuff,” like lopsided rooftops or botched snowmen, Jollie says. “Like I said, you’re making memories. And these are the things that will never be forgotten.”