5 Great DIY Gingerbread Houses + A King Arthur Decorating Contest

TJ's gingerbread house
TJ's gingerbread house
Rojer via flickr

Forget foreclosures and rent increases. The real estate market just got a lot sweeter, with new listings of holiday gingerbread houses. Once upon a time, back when Hansel and Gretel roamed the forest without GPS, people (and witches) made their own candy-coated condos. These days, most of us are too busy for those kind of D.I.Y. projects. But retailers are making it easy to carry on the tradition.

There are three ways to go, none of which require turning on the oven. You can buy a pre-fab kit, which has all the baked walls and fixings needed to construct a house. Or you can purchase an assembled but unadorned gingerbread house, and then decorate it however you see fit. Finally, you can just buy a turnkey house, where all you have to do is pay and display. All of these gingerbread houses are around the size of a large shoebox and they have one other thing in common -- while they're made of food ingredients, they're intended to be looked at, not eaten. "They don't taste very good," one salesperson warned us. Turn the page.

5. Sur La Table Gingerhaus Gingerbread Chalet:

Now marked down to $19.99, this kit, according to the Sur La Table website, contains everything you need in one box, from "all the architectural essentials to decorative flourishes such as icing, candy sticks, candy hearts and more."

Apparently with some houses getting the walls balanced can be "precarious" (who knew?) but that's not a worry here, because of special "armature panels to create a structural framework." We are so gonna put on a hard hat and become a cookie contractor.

TJ's kit
TJ's kit
E. Dwass

4. Trader Joe's Gingerbread House:

At $7.99 this is a low-risk investment that you can flip into a festive centerpiece. Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer describes it as a traditional "German hexenhaus" or witch's house. Each kit contains baked gingerbread pieces that you construct atop a cookie base, which the website says makes it "sturdy enough to last through the season." Unless we have an earthquake, in which case all bets are off. The kit includes "Fairy Tale Folk" and candy for decorations. You have to make the icing, by whipping up an egg white and stirring in the special sugar pack, then adding a few drops of lemon juice or white vinegar. The directions recommend using a pastry bag for "easy application" of the icing. We always get a little nervous when instructions use the word "easy," but we're going to trust TJ's on this one.

California cool
California cool
E. Dwass

3. SusieCakes California Christmas Gingerbread House:

Rather than a traditional chalet, SusieCakes has built a modern Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired ranch house, adorned with palm trees and sand, instead of snow (if that's what you want. You can play designer when you order.) A sign in front of the house can be customized with names or a holiday sentiment, such as "Don't Park in Driveway." Even though SusieCakes tells us this structure is purely decorative, we know that everything that comes out of their kitchens is delicious, so we'll be tempted to nibble on the roof. At $65, this is the most pricey abode we found, but it's a California house, what did you expect? If you're feeling creative and want to spend less, you can buy it assembled, but undecorated, for $45.

Ready to decorate
Ready to decorate
E. Dwass

2. Williams-Sonoma Holiday Gingerbread House Kit:

This $49.95 Williams-Sonoma house comes completely assembled, but you do the decorating, with all the doo-dads provided, including licorice Scottie dogs. (A salesperson said this house used to come unassembled, but this year the heavy lifting has been done for us.) The walls are made from "the finest European-style gingerbread" by artisan bakers using a 400-year-old recipe. We gotta say that the box itself is really cute, with a handle. We're pretty sure some kids will enjoy using it to cart around stuff or to make a home for their Transformers.


Ready to build
Ready to build
King Arthur

1. King Arthur Gingerbread House:

The King Arthur baking company has created an easy-to-use kit with seven pre-baked pieces. Icing comes in a bag for piping and there is lots of candy for decorating, organized in a tray. There's also a pre-baked ginger kid, a snowman and a tree. To avoid wobbling or tipping, the wall panels are set in a slotted tray. The website has info on how to make variations on the traditional house. We especially love this tip: use shredded wheat cereal to create a thatched roof. At $16.95, this house is priced right. And as long as you're in house decorating mode, check out the gingerbread house decorating contest that King Arthur is having through the end of the month.

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