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  • Mary Kay

Make a Gingerbread Heart House for Valentine's Day

Gingerbread isn’t just for Christmas! And it isn’t the only time I make gingerbread houses. I've made Heart Houses for Valentine’s Day, elaborate round baskets with handles for Easter, Leprechaun Houses for St. Patrick’s Day and even flag decorated gingerbread cookies for the 4th of July.

Use your imagination to create a gingerbread house or other type of unit for just about any holiday or special day. Today I’m sharing ideas for making your own Valentine’s Heart House, not a step-by-step production. Please enjoy the process.

To begin with, I have to admit that I prefer making and baking gingerbread on cooler fall days or winter days. Maybe it’s the typical season to create them. But I also find that gingerbread has a tendency to support itself better during dry and cooler weather. Humidity can be gingerbread’s worst enemy, absorbing moisture, taking away its strength and collapsing beneath its own weight.

Early on in the process I spend time researching gingerbread making through various books, magazines and online resources that specialize in designing and making gingerbread. It’s a part of the process that I enjoy. What recipes are better for edible cookies and which are better for structural building like a gingerbread house. There is definitely a difference. The softer recipes are better for eating. The hard as cement gingerbread recipes are superb for designing and building anything from a small house to a large multi-tiered structure. Take a look at how other gingerbread structures are put together. How are they decorated? That’s another fun part of the process – obtaining already produced candy items for decorating…and what type of frosting piping decorating to incorporate.

If you’ve never made gingerbread structures before you may want to start small. Maybe begin by making a couple of different gingerbread cookie recipes to get the hang of working with gingerbread. Compare those recipes to a structural recipe. Of course, the structural batter will take a few more arm muscles in getting it mixed and rolled out. Start smaller and you won’t be disappointed or become disenchanted with the process partway through if you’ve taken on too large a project. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Take classes if you prefer that process. Watch videos online. There are so many talented people out there offering videos to help you along to a successful final product.

When it comes to making my structures, I prefer to make my own designs. That’s just another fun part of the process that I enjoy. I play around with the sizing, curves, angles, heights, widths and depths to make it all fit together in the design mode. I usually make a full-sized mockup using hard card stock to see how everything fits together. I’m not saying it’s the right way to do it, but it’s the process I learned and enjoy.

Once I have the design settled on, I move on to figuring out how much gingerbread to make, and then making and baking my gingerbread. If I’m unsure of the shape of pieces, I’ll make a duplicate of certain sections in case I break one in the set-up process. I’m not afraid to trim down some of the pieces with the sharp edge of a knife, scraping them to fit better. I never make the pieces and assemble them the same day. I allow them to dry for a few days – another reason I like to work in cooler, drier days. I also use heavy items to help hold walls, etc. in place while they dry overnight.

I won’t go into any particular recipe at this time, but encourage you to test and find a recipe you are comfortable with. Think through what exactly you would like to build and decorate. Many people start out with pre-baked gingerbread houses with readymade

frosting and set of decorations to help you complete a quick project. Those are great starter kits and a lot of fun for kids. It’s something you can handle in an afternoon. There are also magazines and books available for you to follow very good directions to replicate what a gingerbread artist has already tested and figured out for you. These are great, too, because they have been tested as far as structure strength, etc. And, of course, there are many YouTube videos and Gingerbread baking and making competitions available to watch. There are just so many options for help.

Do you want to make a small house? Make a different type of structure? Get kids involved? Combine it with a tiered and baked cake? Create an entire vignette or an entire village? Do

you want to create a replica of your own home along with replicas of your family members and pets? Do you want to enter a local gingerbread competition to further test your creativity and gingerbread skills? Do you want to recreate a local landmark? There are so many ways you can get involved…but, make sure you have fun!

I also have spent time online, down candy aisles and in specialty shops researching what could be turned into great decorating items, according to the theme, taking into account colors, sizes, shapes and dimensions for fitting items together. If I can’t find the right decorations for my structures, I’ll make my own out of royal icing, that’s the “cement” I use for putting my structures together. It can also be piped into different shapes (such as hearts or flowers) and sizes and colors onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Let them dry overnight and pull them off the paper. Now you have unique customized decorations that no one else will have on their structures.

What about storage?

I have saved some of my favorite gingerbread projects from year to year, storing them carefully inside a sturdy clear dome and then wrapped in heavy plastic wrap. I surround the clear dome with paper stuffing and then seal them in plastic totes and store them in a cool dry place. It’s amazing how the colors hold from year to year as long as you don’t display them in a sunny spot.

I’ve enjoyed researching, designing, baking and constructing gingerbread projects. I hope these photos and my comments give you an idea of some of the things you can accomplish. I hope you take the leap, if you have not already, to create your own original gingerbread structures. Best of luck while you "Bake your own Memories!”

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