When I was asked by my editor at FANGRRLS if I wanted to do a gingerbread house to run alongside the FANGRRLS Genrebread Contest (it runs till December 28 and you should enter!), I immediately said yes for three simple reasons:
1. I freaking love gingerbread.
2. It’s a genre contest which means I get to do my all-time favorite movie: Nightmare Before Christmas.
3. Did I mention I love gingerbread? I do.
Because gingerbread houses are traditionally considered a Christmas project, I decided to do my take on Jack Skellington’s house at the end of the film when Santa makes it snow in Halloweentown and have fun imagining how he'd decorate his place for the occasion.
Of course, the first thing I needed to do was find some good reference photos.
Luckily for me, Nightmare Before Christmas has only gotten MORE popular in the 25 years since it was released and there are lots of incredible products out there dedicated to serious NBC collectors (like myself), including this amazing replica of Jack’s house (hint hint, Secret Santa!).
I found multiple photos online that gave me a pretty good 365 view of his house.
Armed with my photos and some cardboard, I started making a rough mockup. This way I’d have the measurements all done beforehand and could use the mockup as templates for my actual gingerbread.
The mockup wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to get me started...
And now, onto making the actual gingerbread version.
If you’re planning on following along and making your own version of this project, you’ll need:
- 1 ½ cup margarine
- 1 ½ cup sugar
- 2 cups molasses
- 2 tablespoons black food coloring
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- 2 eggs
- 7 cups flour
- 1 ice cream sugar cone
You’ll also need:
- Large bowl
- Rolling pin
- Roller guides (I used two pieces of long wood about 1/4” thick)
- Sharp knife
- Popsicle stick
- Tin foil
- Wine cork
- Multiple cookie sheets (at least 2 – I ended up using 4)
- Cooling rack
I start by making sure my oven is preheated to 350F/176C.
In my mixer using the paddle attachment, I combined the margarine, sugar, molasses, black food coloring, and eggs.
In a separate bowl, I whisked together all the dry ingredients.
Then I sifted the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
Make sure you do this step slowly… you don’t want the flour to blow all over the kitchen.
I mixed all my ingredients together until I ended up with a thick, dark and heavy dough.
I turned this dough out onto a well-floured surface...
...and proceeded to knead it for about 2-3 minutes or until it was silky smooth.
Using my guides, I rolled the dough out into sheets approximately 1/8” thick.
I then used my templates to guide me in cutting out all the pieces I'd need for this project.
Don’t forget to cut out your windows!
To help sell the idea that these panels are wood, I used a popsicle stick and a toothpick to score horizontal “planks” into the soft dough.
I then baked all my cut out pieces for anywhere between 10 to 18 minutes. If you do this project, make sure to keep an eye on your pieces as there are so many different sizes and require different baking times. The smaller the pieces (the turret tower windows for example) took about 10 minutes to cook while the larger pieces including the sidewalls and large roof pieces required the full 18 minutes.
Once your pieces are done baking, they’ll be soft and probably a little warped. To help flatten them, I placed them onto the counter and then put the baking sheet down on top of them for about 10 minutes. After that, I transferred the pieces to my cooling rack and allowed them to cool completely.
To make the base “tubes” of my tower, I simply wrapped a wine cork in some tin foil and then wrapped that in gingerbread dough and baked it. Once baked, the dough slid easily off of the tin foil, leaving me with a perfect gingerbread tube. You’ll need two of these if you're baking along.
To help keep myself on track and make sure I had cut out enough of each of the pieces, I made sure to stack my finished pieces together with the templates.
Which reminds me… as you can see from the photo, Jack has his hand on the cone we’re going to use for the top of our tower. Save yourself hours of frustration and just grab a pre-made ice cream cone. I had a chocolate flavored one left over from another project and it was not only the right size but the perfect color as well.
Once I was done with all the baking and flattening of my pieces, I carefully transferred them to an open-topped box and allowed them to rest for an entire 12 hours in a cool pantry.
This helps to ensure that the pieces are completely dry and firm and ready for assembly.
Now that all my pieces had been baked and cooled, it’s time to start assembling Jack's house.
For this you will need:
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- Yellow food coloring
You’ll also need
- Large pot
- Candy thermometer
- Tin foil
- Popsicle sticks
- Cardboard sucker sticks
- Small propane torch
- Battery powered LED lights
Before we start officially assembling our house, we’re going to want to pour the ‘glass’ that will go into our windows. We’ll make our glass using a simple sugar glass recipe.
In a pot over medium-high heat, I combined 1 cup of my sugar, 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of light corn syrup.
If you're making this as well, make sure you stir ONLY until the sugar is dissolved and then stop stirring. Pop in your candy thermometer and let it cook until it reaches approximately 300F/148C.
Immediately remove it from the heat and add in a few drops of yellow food coloring. The syrup will foam up a bit, but just let it bubble for a moment and then it will slow down.
Place your pieces of gingerbread that need “glass” down on top of tin foil. I also like to drape a few extra pieces of tin foil over any areas of gingerbread where I might accidentally drip hot sugar glass as I’m filling the window spaces.
Using a spoon, I carefully drizzle in enough molten sugar glass to fill up all the spaces I've cut out for windows.
You’ll want to move fairly quickly as the glass will start to harden within minutes.
Set these pieces aside and allow your sugar glass to harden.
Pro tip: If you find that you've gotten fingerprints on your 'glass' or have bubbles, a quick blast from your small propane torch will quickly smooth those out. Just be careful and don't overdo it. You run the risk of burning your gingerbread and your sugar!
You should still have quite a bit of sugar glass material left in your pot. Return it to your stove and turn the heat up to medium. The sugar will re-melt and become liquid again. We’ll be using this as the glue to assemble our house which means we’ll be keeping it on the stove and warm for as long as it takes.
As it continued to cook, my sugar glue darkened until it was essentially the same color as the gingerbread. This made it blend in nicely.
To begin the assembly of our house, I started with the back wall and the two side pieces. Test fit your pieces to make sure they fit together correctly. Although we used a template, it’s entirely natural for the pieces to change slightly during baking and cooling. To help even up those edges, I used sandpaper and my Dremel.
To stick your pieces together, simply dip the edges into your liquid sugar glue and quickly press the pieces together.
Move FAST! Like I said earlier, this stuff will harden quickly so having the pot right next to where you’re working is critical. Of course, if you find that you've put something down and you aren't quite happy with how it's sitting, another quick blast of your propane torch will soften your sugar glue enough that you should be able to make minor adjustments.
Once you get your pieces assembled, go over the seams again with a hefty coating of sugar glue on the INSIDE of your piece. This will help give your piece extra strength. Remember, we’re only going to see the outside, so it doesn’t matter if the inside’s a bit ugly.
(I know there's a twisted life metaphor somewhere in here, but in the spirit of the holiday, I'm just gonna let it slide.)
I continued sanding, gluing and sticking my pieces together, working from the bottom up, finally finishing up the "primary" house construction.
This left me with attaching the upper porch areas, the support columns, and the tower.
This is also the point in the project where you have to decide if you want your gingerbread house to light up. Because I wanted mine to glow from the inside out, this meant making sure that I had a hole drilled between the wall of my primary house and the front pop out. Do this before you sugar glue the pop out in place as it’s much easier to do now than after it’s been attached.
Speaking of attaching the front pop-out: although all our pieces are straight and we’ve double checked our angles and sanded off any weird little quirks, keep in mind that this is Jack Skellington’s house and is quirky and a little off-kilter simply by virtue of being a Tim Burton creation. That means I intentionally gave my house a bit of a tilt while constructing it, including the second level pop out. This was an aesthetic decision and you can certainly make yours as straight or as crooked as you wish.
Now that our pop-out porches are attached, we’ll need to add in our support posts. To make the posts that hold up the porch, first measure how long you need your cardboard sucker sticks to be. Cut them down to size and then dip into your sugar glue. While the sugar glue is still soft but not scalding hot, roll it between the palms of your hands to help smooth it all down. Use a dab of sugar glue on both ends to secure to the upper and lower porch area.
Finally, it’s time to build our tower and attach it to our house.
First, I made the rounded top piece by gluing my tower window panels together into a circular shape.
I followed up gluing it together with a blast from my torch to clean up extra sugar glue drips and fingerprints. I then used a healthy amount of sugar glue to glue together the two support tubes and to attach my circular glass tower topper.
Time to stick it to the side of my house, but first, I had to determine exactly where I wanted it to sit.
Because I wanted the tower to light up with the rest of the house, I drilled a hole through the roof with my Dremel just smaller than the inner diameter of my tower tube.
This is where I'll thread lights through later. Drilling done, I attached my tower and the crowning sugar cone peak.
Congratulations! Primary construction is now done!
Carefully lay your house down and test fit your lights to make sure you can see the glow from all the windows and areas you want.
This is also a great way to quickly spot check for any major light leaks in wall seals.
Again, let your house rest for about 8 to 12 hours before moving onto the next step. This will give all your sugar glue a chance to really get rock hard and for you to finally get some sleep.
At this point, you should still have several unused pieces of gingerbread left over including the piece labeled "wreath" and six squares of gingerbread with holes punched out of the center of them labeled "base." Save those for now; we’ll use those in the next steps.
Now it’s time to start working on the aesthetics of Jacks’ house. Brace yourself: this is the part where it gets intense. Either be prepared for it to span two days or set aside a good 12-14 hours of a day to focus on this.
For this part of the project you will need:
- White food coloring
- Black food coloring
- Brown food coloring
- Blue food coloring
- Vodka in a spray bottle
- Gum paste (I used Wilton’s and love it!)
- Dab and Hold Edible adhesive (again, Wiltons!)
- 5 cups white sugar (divided)
- 4 egg whites
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Black cookie icing
- Colored candy bits
- Orange colored Airheads candy
- White colored Airheads candy
- Red colored Airheads candy
- Green food coloring
- Orange candy melt chocolates
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup + 2 Tablespoons (divided)
- Cocoa powder
- ¼ cup water
- Silver spray glitter (Wilton’s…seriously, the best)
You’ll also need:
- Food-safe paint brushes
- Rolling pin
- Popsicle sticks
- Sharp knife
- 12X12 board
- Wood screw
- 12” Wooden dowel
- Pastry bags (2)
- Black thread
- Silicone baking mat or wax paper
- Grass or star tip for pastry bag
- Exacto knife
- 2-part food safe silicone putty
- Small bat ring
To give your house a grey dilapidated look like the one seen on Jack’s house, loosely blend a few drops of your white food coloring with a small amount of black, an even smaller amount of brown and the tiniest drop of blue. Don’t over mix! You want the colors to be somewhat separate so when you brush them on with your brush you get little streaks of the individual colors.
Follow those up with a light spritz of vodka and another swipe with a dry brush to mimic the texture of wood.
Don’t worry if your strokes are uneven or if the color goes on thicker in some spots than others or you see a bit of gingerbread shining through. This just adds to the overall look of the piece being old and worn
While you’re painting your house, give your six base pieces a good coat of grey as well and then set them aside for now.
Don’t worry about painting the roof or the top of the tower as we’ll be tiling over that, but make sure you paint everything else.
While that’s drying, make the sugar paste you’ll be using for your roof tiles as well as other finishing details. Follow the directions on the box and add in a few drops of black food coloring to make a dark gray color.
Roll your tile dough out until it’s just under 1/8” thick (popsicle sticks are the perfect thickness if you want to use them as guides.
Speaking of popsicle sticks, they’re also the perfect width for our tiles. Use them to help you cut out long strips of the sugar paste dough.
Cut your tiles so they’re approximately ½” long and round one end slightly. This will be the part of the tile we see.
To attach your tiles to your roof, give it a generous brushing of your edible adhesive and then just start sticking your tiles on.
While it might be tempting to use our sugar glue for this step, let me stop you right now and say don’t. The heat from the sugar glue will melt the tiles and you’ll be left with a goopy mess.
Stick with the Dab-n-hold. It works perfectly.
Give your roof a generous wash of this stuff and then start laying your tile down, starting at the bottom and working your way up.
I made sure to offset each subsequent row over the row below it to give my tiles a realistic staggered look.
I made sure to do all my tile setting while my sugar paste was still soft. Sugar paste dries really quickly so work in batches of 50 tiles or so at a time and store any unused paste at room temperature by wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap. You want your tiles to be soft enough to fit over the pieces beneath them. Too dry and they’ll become brittle and crack. Not only will it make working with them easier, but as you work with them, the softer tiles will develop a natural texture that is just amazing. You won’t be able to really see it until we get to the dry brushing step but trust me, it’s there and it’s going to be amazing!
Continue working your way upward and repeat this process with all your roof pieces, except for the tower.
To do the tower, simply give your tiles a bit of an angled cut at the top, creating a blunt tear shape. This allows them to fit closely together on the curved surface.
Just keep making tiles and gluing them down. Eventually, you'll get them all on. No, really. Keep going. You're almost there. I swear.
Once all your tiles are attached, give them a light brush with a bit of black food coloring thinned down with vodka.
This will help to break up the uniform color and make them look more aged. I found when brushing, brushing from the bottom up rather than top down gave me the best look. This concentrated the color at the bottom of the tile where it would naturally occur due to exposure and runoff.
Closeup of dry brushed tiles. Look at that amazing texture! I told you it would be incredible! It looks like real wood!
Okay, our house is assembled, painted and tiled and we’ve done our first test run with the lights. Time to make this puppy more permanent and start really kicking up our decorating efforts.
To give our piece some stability as well as to provide the lights inside with support (so they don’t just slide down to the bottom of the house) we’ll be building a wooden platform.
Find the center of your 12X12 board and attach your wooden dowel using your wood screw.
Set aside everything and let’s quickly make our gingerbread cement.
In your mixing bowl using your whisk attachment, whisk your 4 egg whites with your cream of tartar. Slowly add your powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until all combined. Turn your mixer onto high and allow to whisk for 5 minutes.
Transfer all but about 4 tablespoons of this snowy white cement to one of your pastry bags (pop the 4 tablespoons worth into an airtight sealed container, we’ll use it in a bit.) and use that to apply a generous coating to one of the six bottom pieces of gingerbread we saved from earlier that have the holes in the middle (they should be painted grey by now. If not, do this before moving onto the next step!).
Slide this piece (cement side down) over the top of your dowel and stick it to the top of your wooden support board.
Do the same with the other 5 pieces, staggering them to create “stairs” and cementing them to each other using generous blops of your white gingerbread cement.
Once you get to your top piece, slather on a healthy dose of cement. Carefully (this step might take two people) wrap your lights around the exposed part of your wooden dowel and then lower your gingerbread house onto the top piece of your gingerbread base. While the cement is still soft, adjust as needed until you’re happy with the look of both your lights and your house on the base.
Set this aside to harden up and we’ll work on our Christmas lights.
To make the lights, gather together your black cookie icing, your black thread, and your colored candy bits.
To make the lights I first unspooled about 6 feet of black thread and folded it back on itself two times, so I ended up with a piece that is 1.5 feet long and made up of four strands.
Lay this down on either a silicone mat or a piece of wax paper. Place a tiny dot of black cookie icing along your thread about every ¾” or so. Press one of your candy bits into the still wet black icing.
Let the whole thing dry for at least 2 hours while you work on the rest of the house.
To make the wreath, take your reserved 4 tablespoons of gingerbread cement and mix in green food coloring until you’re happy with the color.
Using your grass or star tip, cover the front and sides of your gingerbread wreath with green frosting but leave the back bare.
While the frosting is still soft, roll tiny orange Christmas lights out of bits of the orange Airhead candy and press into the frosting. Give them tiny pupil dots by dipping the back end of a toothpick into black food coloring and placing a dot in the center of each light.
To make the holly berries, simply roll up tiny red balls of Airheads candy and press into the still soft frosting.
To make the bow, roll out a strip of red Airhead candy and fold it back onto itself. Place two long strips of red airhead candy under it to create the ties of the bow. Attach to the wreath with a light brush of Dab-n-hold on the back of the bow.
To make the tiny skull, use a small ball of white Airheads candy and cut teeth into it using your Exacto knife. Carefully dab in a bit of black food coloring using a toothpick to highlight the nose and eyes. Attach to the Airheads bow using a small bit of Dab-n-hold adhesive.
Allow to dry approximately 2 hours and then use a bit more Dab-n-hold to add sharp teeth to the back using a few bits of white Airhead candies rolled out and cut into shards.
On a separate piece of wax paper, pipe out additional bits of green frosting and allow to dry. We’ll use that for garland later.
To make our porch pumpkins, we’ll need to make some modeling chocolate.
In a microwave-safe bowl, melt down a ¼ cup of orange candy melts until liquid smooth.
Add in 2 tablespoons of light corn syrup and stir to combine.
At first, the candy melt and corn syrup will mix smoothly, but then you’ll notice the mixture getting thicker and thicker and harder to stir (use either a wooden spoon or a stiff spatula to mix).
When the mixture comes together in a thick almost paste-like texture, pull out of the bowl and use your hands to knead together.
This part is VERY MESSY! I strongly suggest doing this part over the sink. As they mix, you’ll have a lot of liquid coming out of the dough…don’t worry, this is normal! Just keep kneading. Eventually, all the excess liquid will either drip off or be worked back into the dough and you’ll be left with a smooth clay-like final product.
Wrap your orange modeling chocolate ball in plastic wrap and stash in the fridge to firm up for about 30 minutes.
Once your modelling chocolate has had a chance to rest, divide it in half and roll two balls of slightly varying size (one larger and one smaller).
I used the blunt side of a knife to press in lines vertically around my pumpkins to mimic the natural pumpkin lines.
I then used an Exacto knife to “carve” my pumpkin’s faces.
Once I was happy with my pumpkin’s faces, I highlight them by filling in all the carved areas with black food coloring thinned with a bit of vodka.
Age your pumpkins by giving them a light dusting of cocoa powder and then going over that with a wash of brown food coloring thinned with more vodka.
Go over them again one more time with a dry brush to accentuate the natural lines, and help soften a bit of the harder edges we had with the brown food coloring.
Give these freshly "carved" pumpkins a bit of time to allow the vodka to evaporate and the paint to dry. Then top them off with a tiny twist of brown for a stem. To create the stem, mix a tiny bit of brown food coloring into a pinch of sugar paste and attach with a drop of Dab-n-hold.
To make a Sandy Claws hat for one of your pumpkins (or both, your choice), roll out a piece of red Airheads candy and cut out a circle about 2” across. Cut this in half and roll the half circle in on itself to create a cone. Smooth the edge with a bit of vodka and then attach using a bit of Dab-n-hold. To create the white “fluff” and pom-pom, use tiny blips of our white gingerbread cement.
Now is also a good time to roll out the three pieces of gum paste we’ll use for the antennae on top of our house. Roll out two thin gum paste ‘snakes’ approximately 1 ½ inches long. Bend one into a 45° angle and set aside to dry. For the second one, create a small horseshoe-shaped piece of gum paste and attach approximately halfway down.
Roll out one last piece of thin gum paste snake about 3/4” long and press into itself to create a stumpy, stubby piece.
Heads up, this image is NOT to scale and is just for reference. The actual pieces should be about 50% of this size.
Pieces 1 and 2 will go on our tower and piece 3 goes in front of the house at the top of the peak.
Let these pieces dry for approximately 30 minutes or so and we’ll make the bat for the top of our tower.
If you’re feeling artistic, simply sculpt a small bat out of grey sugar paste and allow to dry. I chose to mold a cute bat ring I’d gotten at Halloween for this step because at this point in the game, I was 5 days and almost 30 hours into this project and ready to cut a corner or two. Deal with it.
Knead together your two-part putty and press your bat into it. Allow it to set up for about 15 minutes and then remove your bat ring.
Give it a quick rinse and then mash in a bit of sugar paste and allow that to dry for about 20 minutes.
Gently pop it out and use your Exacto knife to trim away any excess.
By now you should have:
- Your finished house on top of the base.
- Your wreath
- 2 pumpkins
- A string of Christmas lights
- 3 antenna pieces
- A little sugar paste bat
- A ton of white gingerbread cement left over in the pastry bag.
Using your pastry bag full of gingerbread glue, start blopping on generous blops to the peak of your house, the top of your tower, and the front of your porch, wherever you think snow would naturally settle.
Continue adding snow until you’re happy with how it looks.
Now let’s add some icicles!
Go ahead and make another batch of sugar glue, but this time don’t add any color to it and pull it off the stove as soon as it hits 290F/143C. The temperature will continue to rise to 300F just before it starts to cool but this way it stays clear and doesn’t get the light gold color it will start to develop right when it hits 300F/148C.
Allow your pot of hot sugar to cool to the point where a popsicle stick dipped in and pulled out will leave a trail of thick gooey sugar a bit slower and thicker than cold honey.
Carefully (it’s still hot!) scoop up bits of this thick liquid sugar on your popsicle stick and allow to drip off onto the corners of your house and along the edges of windows and your tower.
As it drips, it’ll harden into long strands that look like icicles!
Continue adding icicles anywhere you think they would naturally occur.
Use a bit of your gingerbread cement to attach the antenna to the side of your tower and to the top of the peak of the roof on your house.
To attach your Christmas lights, place a small dot of your Dab-n-hold on the top of your tower and then stick the first light in your string to the dot. Hold it in place for about 2 minutes or until it sticks. Then just wind the rest of the string down the tower and secure at the bottom using more Dab-n-hold.
Attach your bat at the top of the tower peak using a bit of gingerbread cement and give him a light ‘dusting’ of gingerbread cement snow.
Use more gingerbread cement to stick your wreath to the front of your house and a bit of Dab-n-hold along the edge of the roof to attach the bits we piped out to create the garland “arms” of our wreath.
I used a bit of my gingerbread cement to secure one of my pumpkins to the front porch.
Now, give the entire board around your house a generous layer of gingerbread cement ‘snow.’ Let it pile up around the stairs and anywhere you think it would naturally drift.
Create a pile of 'snow' at the base of your stairs and tuck in your second pumpkin.
Finally, to give everything that frosty, glittery icy look, hit all your still soft gingerbread cement snow with a light dusting of edible silver spray glitter.
If you have areas where your snow has dried too much for the glitter spray to stick to it, simply give it a light spritz of vodka and then a spritz of silver glitter.
And that’s it! Congratulations, you’ve just survived making a full Jack Skellington’s Christmas gingerbread house!
Turn on your LED lights, step back, and admire the absolutely gorgeous piece of edible artwork you just slaved over!
I mean, really…look at this thing…
It’s freaking gorgeous.
And with the exception of the LED lights, the wooden base, the sucker sticks inside the porch supports, and the dowel holding the lights, it’s 100% edible.
Not that I’m letting anybody actually eat this thing.
Nope. I’m shellacking this thing and holding onto it forever.
Literally forever, as in it’s going to be included in my will.
Someone’s gonna get this thing when I pass on.
Merry Christmas! And happy Halloween! And please remember to enter your own creation in the FANGRRLS Genrebread Contest!