My oldest 2 boys may not have a single patch sewed on their scout uniforms, but I do Halloween Gingerbread Houses with my kids. As a mom, I cannot do it all and I'm happy to fail at the scout patch thing as to make more room in my life for sugar glued to sugar using sugar.
Because, well, priorities.
This is one of those fun traditions that the kids get REALLY excited for. But can you blame them? They get to create/gorge themselves with treats and make a spooky project that they get to eat at a later date.
We've made our share of these houses, and I thought I'd share some tricks and discoveries we've made through the years, including the major brain-dead move I (un)impressively pulled this year.
1. Buy more crackers than you need, because sometimes the crackers are broken out of the box and without fail you will break a bunch as you get down the cutting technique.
2. Regular graham crackers work great, but how cool are chocolate ones for Halloween? One thing though, I've always bought the cheap Winco brand ones but this time had to get the Honey Maid brand and was not happy with how well they held up to being cut and assembled. One of my houses even totally crumbled while they were decorating, so I would NOT recommend Honey Maid's chocolate crackers, although their regular ones are probably just fine.
Cutting the Graham Crackers
You need 4 full sized graham crackers per house. Cut two of them like the one on the left and two down the middle like the one on the right.
Eat the pieces that are crossed out. Or give them to your kids.
Or eat them yourself.
It can be a little tricky to cut the crackers without them breaking in the wrong places. What's worked the best for me is to use a serrated knife and use soft sawing motions. When it's scored, put down the knife and break the pieces apart. The Honey Maid chocolate grahams were easier to cut without breaking on the back side too, for whatever reason.
So, funny story. In typical me fashion, I whipped out the houses without really looking at the instructional pictures I made in the past so I could remember how to cut them. After finishing assembling them all I couldn't believe how cruddy they fit together and it wasn't until I started working on this post that I realized I cut them wrong.
Here's what they're supposed to look like from our houses last year:
And here's what they look like when you forget to cut off 1/2 the top of the cracker before peaking the roof. Note the giant gaps on the top and sides. Oh well. Makes them more Haunted House-y?
The real trick to these bad boys is that the structure has to been secure. No canned frosting will hold these houses together. They will collapse as fast as my 3 year old can eat a fun sized Twix.
Ways to Keep Your House Together
1) Milk Carton. Channel your inner elementary self and frosting it to a milk carton. I'm not the only one who did this in school, right?
Pro: Retro fun
Con: Messing with getting and rinsing milk cartons
2) Royal Frosting. This works great, plus I seriously love royal frosting, but I'm always hindered by that whole need-meringue-powder part.
Pro: Tastes great (is this just me?)
Con: Must plan ahead, Wait for frosting to dry.
3) Burnt Sugar. This works really, really well. You pour like 1/2 cup of sugar in a thick bottomed pan on lower heat and stir until it becomes sugar lava. Then you just dip a side of the cracker in the lava and attach.
Pro: You don't have to buy anything special, No dry time.
Con: Potential burned fingers of the assembler, Have to clean out the pot (just boil some water and it dissolves)
4) Hot Glue Gun. For real.
Pro: No clean up, Super fast, Easy, Holds awesome.
Con: Don't eat the glue
I've done the Burnt Sugar glue for the last few times and it really does work well, and I'm totally comfortable with the kids eating the whole thing.
But this last time my oldest's dang house crumbled due to the cruddy crackers and there was no way I was going to mess with the burnt sugar again so I plugged in my hot glue gun and had that new house together in no time flat.
It made a very compelling case for itself.
Depending on how full on fancy your decorators want to go, there are options here. The easiest would be to scoop some store bought frosting in a quart freezer bag and snip off a tiny corner, piping the frosting through the sealed baggy. You could buy chocolate frosting or if you bought vanilla and were feeling ambitious you could add orange or green food coloring to the different bags.
Up a notch on the fancy scale would be to actually make your own frosting. This is a great, easy vanilla and here is a delicious chocolate.
And the ultimate over achiever step would be to actually use a decorator bag with tips. Fancy. Notice the lack of decorator bags and/or tips in my pictures.
Smaller candies tend to do better here as bigger candies can get pretty heavy. If you happen to have a Winco close by they have a great bulk section with some really fun seasonal candies. My Winco is now pretty far so none of these came from there this year. This is a great way to use trick or treat candy if you have a trunk or treat before Halloween.
I had this magical, sparkly idea that while the older 4 were decorating their houses, the 17 month old and I would do one together. It was going to be so fun.
Here's how it went. All of these pictures are in the space of about .6 seconds.
Note the insta-smooshed house on her tray, not due to any cracker malfunction, but solely from toddler enthusiasm. She then spent the next 15 minutes screaming for mini marshmallows and chocolate chips which went directly in her mouth (and down her chin), so really it was basically a homerun.
This is one of those activities that, while it does take parent prep work, is totally worth it. I highly recommend neglecting some unwanted task to make time for this fun tradition.