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Operation Gingerbread!

the inspiration

At last my top-secret operation has been revealed! I like to call it “Operation Gingerbread.” Like all top-secret operations, it had phases. Three of them. Phase One was the cardboard-box version that I posted about over on Alpha+Mom. Phase Two was a real gingerbread-cookie house and Phase Three is still yet to be done but involves freezer paper, a t-shirt and a gingerbread man illustration shouting “Catch me if you can!” Stay tuned for Phase Three.

transferring data from mars

For Phase Two we brainstormed and did our research. We may or may not have gotten some inspiration from a Sur la Table catalogue and Mars (via Bug’s antennae). I LOVE gingerbread now. It’s so pretty, cute and delicious all at the same time! I almost love it as much as I love hedgehogs (which is huge). I have a feeling December’s banner may involve some gingerbread…

can't recommend this mix enough

I might not have fallen so hard for gingerbread if I hadn’t stumbled across a giant display of this mix at my local grocery store. I don’t usually like to push products on this blog (and I’m not getting any kickback for this) but Krusteaz makes the best mixes!

I guess I’m a bit sentimental about Krusteaz because when I was in college (and starvingly poor) my dad got a job as a grocery broker representing Krusteaz. This meant he went around to all sorts of grocery stores to make sure their product was up to code and looked nice on the shelf. As a side benefit he got to take home the out-of-code boxes of pancake mix and brownies, etc. Sometimes my mom would send these out-of-code boxes to me in big care packages.

Let me tell you, there is nothing as delicious as FREE food when you are a starving college student. I was pretty much surviving on spaghetti noodles, ketchup and the stale biscotti from the break room at my job. Getting a box of cake and brownie mixes in the mail was like a gift from heaven back then. These mixes were especially great because most of the time all you needed to add was water. Perfect for a college student who has no cooking skills and not a thing in her refrigerator.

admiring our handiwork

But I digress. I recommend this mix because it’s easy, it tastes good and it smells DIVINE!!! If you need a little kick to get in the holiday mood, bake a batch of these and next thing you know you’ll be sniffing the air and singing Christmas carols.

demonstrating the proper cookie pushing technique

We had so much fun making and decorating the cookies that I made three batches of them. One with Jen and her family, one with my nieces and then one with the kids I babysit. It’s super-easy and always a crowd pleaser.

the pieces

Making the house, however, was a bit more challenging. I’ve never tried it without a mix but it was plenty hard (for me) with the mix. I’m sure JustJenn would disagree but then she’s a baker AND an architect—which is not really fair in my opinion. My first problem was getting the walls and roof to harden enough to build with. I thought I could finish Operation Gingerbread in one day but I was very wrong. It took THREE days (and several hours in the oven with just the pilot light on) for the gingerbread-cookie walls to harden completely.

Then when they did harden enough to be sturdy, the pieces weren’t perfectly square anymore. I think something happened in the various ovens I transferred them around to. When I put the walls together there were big gaps that had to be filled with copious amounts of gloopy sticky icing. And that icing! Could it be any stickier?!!! It sticks to everything! My clothes, the table I was working on, the floor, my fingers…it was a mess. Of course it didn’t stick when I was using it to glue a heavy star candy to the side of a wall for decoration. No, then it slipped down and left a big track mark of white paste. I guess it wasn’t all that bad. But I would definitely say that this project is best with older kids who can help and not with toddlers who like to not help.

helping with the m&m placement

My ten-year-old niece, Rapunzel, was a huge help. I don’t think I could have done it without her.


In the end, the little house turned out pretty cute. I covered up the icing glue tracks with slices of gumdrops. My niece added a curving pathway and candy corn fencing. Then we dusted everything with powdered sugar “snow” and called it a day. Enough sugar will heal all that ails, right? The kids loved it. After I took enough photos to prove that I really did complete the project, we gave the house to my Grandpa to display at the group home he lives in. I think the old folks will appreciate it a lot more than I did.


  • anne

    It turned out super cute! I am SO impressed. I’ve never been brave enough to try anything other than a box set! And I LOVE the cardboard house. Fantastical….

  • heather-ibabble

    Your house looks cute! At our house we used to try to make the house, but then gave up because the walls didn’t want to stick and the icing was annoying, etc. So just the fact that you finished it should make you feel good :-)

  • bethany actually

    I contradict myself when it comes to gingerbread cookies and houses. When it comes to cookies, I only make them from scratch, sticky molasses and all, because the end result is much tastier in my opinion. And when it comes to houses, I totally cheat and use graham crackers and a tub of pre-made icing, because it’s sooo much easier! :-)

  • Lori

    KRUSTEAZ!!! i was addicted way back when .. until i bought a box the size of a telephone booth at a sam’s club and overdid it. :^P

  • ioi

    I love your cardboard pattern idea! I made fourteen 3.75″x5.75″ gingerbread houses just last month for a gingerbread party we organized. I was up to my ears in gingerbread and I didn’t know there were box mixes! That would have been a LOT easier! I had just regular graph paper patterns and they were sooo flour/grease/water sogged by the time I was finished with them. What icing recipe did you use?

    SAJ says: Oh man! You’re a trooper! I used that icing recipe that has a bag of powdered sugar, egg whites and cream of tartar. It tasted nasty so we added some peppermint flavoring.

  • Jennifer

    Great job on that gingerbread house. I remember trying to make a gingerbread kit at a friend’s house with Emily (in the sticks too). It was just as messy crazy making as your experience was. Thank goodness for Rapunzel. I didn’t have very high hopes of assembly with my kids. It made me laugh thinking of all the ovens that house has been in :P

  • silver

    My mom and I made a gingerbread house when I was little. It was so much work that we didn’t dare eat the results! I think it sat in our pantry for years before my dad threw it out.