Ho, Ho, Ho! Or should we say Homes, Homes, Homes! This weekend is Christmas, and we wanted to join the festivities of this season with a blog about residential construction! Not just any residential construction though, but Gingerbread Houses, or in our case as a commercial contractor, Gingerbread Businesses! Gingerbread houses are one of the many traditions families across the world carry throughout generations. Construction is hard enough already, but now having to create the materials used for building is a whole other level. Building gingerbread houses can be a fun activity for any family to enjoy together, or it can prove why every Christmas treat isn’t good enough to eat.
Before gingerbread houses, cookies were the main form with the history surrounding ginger going back to Ancient China where it was used for medicinal purposes. Many of us know this to still be true today (especially Michiganders) as many people drink ginger ale when experiencing stomach pains or nausea. It’s also been said that Henry VIII had a ginger mixture he believed would help him avoid the plague. Gingerbread cookies were very popular throughout the Medieval times for treats during fairs. Queen Elizabeth I is credited as the individual to make the decorative cookies popular. For the fair, the Queen would have gingerbread cookies made into shapes and decorated to resemble animals and royal members. Sometimes, she would have some that resembled the dignitaries visiting her court! The fairs then started earning the name the Gingerbread Fair as the shapes changed with the season with spring cookies shaped as flowers, and so on. Even the popular phrase ‘to take the gilt off of gingerbread’ comes from the gold leaf decoration that would be placed on gingerbread cookies during these celebrations! Gingerbread also works its way into construction with carved, white architectural details on colonial American homes near shorelines being called ‘gingerbread work’ as it resembles the white icing used on gingerbread houses.
Gingerbread houses were not introduced to the world until 16th century Germany when they started becoming Christmas traditions. It’s believed that the story of Hansel and Gretel was a large factor in making this seasonal activity so popular. The story by Brothers Grimm was based on the story of a baker and his sister, Hans and Grete. The pair lived in a village of Germany and had killed a woman to steal her recipe for gingerbread. The Brothers Grimm fairytale accounts the children finding a home in the woods “built entirely from bread with a roof made of cake, and the windows were made of clear sugar.” Although the fairytale hasn’t been determined to factually be an influence on the growing popularity of gingerbread houses, Germany is known to be the Gingerbread Capital of the World, and the ways of decorating and structure of the houses haven’t differed.
Building a gingerbread house seems like an easy task. Head to your local grocery store, pick up a pre-made kit, and head home! However, for others, building a gingerbread house can turn into something much larger – literally. In 2013, the record for largest gingerbread house built was awarded to the Traditions Club of Bryan, Texas. Other than the wooden framing, the 2,520 square-foot home was completely made of gingerbread, including the roof! The highest point was just over 10 feet high, and visitors were welcomed inside to meet Santa, with the net profit donated to the St. Joseph’s Hospital to build a new trauma center. The house was such a sweet build it attracted roughly 2,000 bees which were all caught by a beekeeper and transferred away from the home. In all, the ingredients list is as follows for a total of 35,823,400 calories –
1,800 pounds of butter,
7,200 pounds of flour,
3,000 pounds of brown sugar,
225 gallons of molasses,
and 22,304 pieces of candy.
Although this is the largest gingerbread house to have ever been built, there are many other impressive ones you can see. Disney builds a gingerbread structure every year for Christmas, which houses a small shop where you can buy treats! Last year was Disney’s 50th anniversary making the house specially decorated with blue and gold, and EARidescent features to hide the 25 hidden Mickeys. The statue of Santa, the toy soldiers, and other figurines are also made entirely out of chocolate and hand painted as well!
1,050 pounds of honey
140 pints of egg whites
600 pounds of powdered sugar
700 pounds of chocolate
800 pounds of flour
35 pounds of spices
In order to create incredible gingerbread houses, you must unfortunately ditch the store-bought kits, and head to the kitchen. Famous gingerbread houses like these are often built using gingerbread recipes that are known for ‘construction gingerbread’. This mixture of dough uses corn syrup instead of watery products, such as milk and eggs, to prevent tiny air bubbles that would make the cookie light and more fragile. Construction gingerbread also doesn’t use baking soda or powder to prevent the dough from rising too much, which makes the pieces harder to connect on corners and stacked on each other. By making these changes, the taste of the gingerbread loses its appeal, but the dough is much stronger. The same ideas go for the icing. To hold together the house, the icing must be sticky and strong. Typically, buttercream is most often used as it tastes the best, however it holds the worst. If you want a successful build, royal icing is 100% the way to go. The mixture of powdered sugar, egg whites, and water creates a thick icing that hardens like rock once it is completely dry. Similar to Hansel and Gretel’s story, the windows of gingerbread homes are often made from melted sugar. This helps create strong panels that are also somewhat translucent and give the effect of a real window!
Building a gingerbread home can be a fun activity for anyone, but it can also be a teaching moment to some about architecture and construction. While many kids remember their first toy being an excavator or dump truck, some may have first memories from building an epic Christmas gingerbread house! Below you can check out the best recipes for construction gingerbread, royal icing, and some great inspiration on what your gingerbread house can look like! We wish you a Merry Christmas and good luck building!
Construction Gingerbread Recipe
Royal Icing Recipe
House Design Inspiration
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