Building A Holiday House

The moment the roof collapsed, I knew it was all over. My career as a builder of marshmallow igloos, that is.

The writing had probably been on the wall of the igloo project from the start. (Too bad there weren’t support beams there as well!) I had initially started out using sugar cubes as the building blocks, but for a variety of reasons that had just not worked out.

When the idea to use marshmallows occurred, it seemed to make logical sense. The shape and appearance of the marshmallows would be perfect, I naively assumed. In fact, that was true. It was building the darn thing where the problems surfaced.

Before its demise, the top of the igloo appeared flat, sunken actually, despite support inside the structure from a small bowl and crumpled aluminum foil. Gaping spaces between some of the marshmallows made the igloo look like it was missing teeth. And to top it off, though I had tried to stagger the marshmallows so they didn’t sit uniformly on top of each other, that hadn’t panned out either. As I surveyed the sadly mis-shaped structure, the roof caved in.

By the time my husband offered a simple solution (try using an inflated balloon to support the structure from the inside), I had lost interest in igloo building and was now envisioning a new building project: a housing development of “mock gingerbread” homes. I’d had success with that kind of structure a few years ago when I taught Family Studies. A quick and easy prefab style construction using graham wafers. No special architectural skills required to whip together these mini bungalows. My students had loved designing and decorating the candy-laden houses.

And so, igloo construction was put on ice for the moment, a project to be revisited another time, or possibly never.

graham-wafer-house.jpg

Building a graham wafer house is admittedly less challenging than creating a gingerbread house from scratch (or building an igloo from marshmallows!). The advantage of a graham wafer house is that it produces a similar look and feel of a gingerbread house, but in less time and with less effort.

You can make a graham wafer house whatever size you wish, using the wafers as the bricks. Personally I prefer a small house – the size of one square graham wafer – about 2-1/2 inches x 2-1/2 inches (12 cm x 12 cm). It can be constructed quickly and there is less chance the roof will collapse.

Royal icing (a mixture of stiffly beaten egg whites and icing sugar) is an excellent glue for this or any type of building project. Other icings will work, but Royal icing is traditionally used for gingerbread house construction because it is easy to work with, sets quickly and bonds with great strength.

Once decorated, a single graham wafer house or a grouping makes a great table decoration. Set the house in the middle of the table or if you’ve made lots of them, put one at each place setting.

Building graham wafer houses makes a fun craft project for a holiday party. Depending on the age of your guests, you might wish to construct the houses ahead, then provide an assortment of house embellishments (see the suggestions that follow) and invite each person to decorate their own house.

If stored carefully, the houses will keep for a couple years. Simply wrap each house in a plastic bag and place the bag in a sturdy plastic container with a lid. Store in a cool, dry place.

Graham Wafer (Mock Gingerbread) House
(Makes 1 house)

Tip: One square graham wafer is about 2-1/2 inches x 2-1/2 inches (12 cm x 12 cm). A rectangle wafer is two squares attached to each other.

4 square or 2 rectangle graham wafers for platform (optional)
7 or 8 square graham wafers for house
Approximately 1/2 cup (125 mL) Royal Icing (recipe follows), or prepared or purchased white icing
Assorted candies, miniature cookies or crackers, nuts, etc. for house and landscape details (suggestions follow)
Food colouring (optional)
Icing sugar

If desired, house can be built on a platform made by gluing 4 square or 2 rectangle graham wafers together with Royal Icing. If not building a platform, use 1 square wafer for floor of house.

Pipe or spread icing along one thin edge of a graham wafer. Place wafer on platform or floor wafer. Hold in position for a minute to allow to set. Repeat with 2nd wafer to form opposite wall. Hold in position for a minute to allow wafer to set. Repeat with remaining walls.

Cut a wafer in half diagonally. With icing, attach cut sides of wafer halves to opposite ends of house top to form roof supports. With icing, attach 2 wafers to form roof.

If desired, another wafer can be cut to use for doors and windows; attach pieces with icing. Allow house to dry completely before decorating.

Decorate house as desired using remaining icing and candies, cookies or crackers and nuts. Some of the icing can be tinted with food colouring, if desired. As a final touch, sprinkle icing sugar through a sieve over the house to resemble snow.

Royal Icing: In a deep bowl, beat 3 egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Gradually add approximately 3 cups (750 mL) icing sugar, beating about 1 minutes more until icing is of spreading consistency. For a thinner icing, add a small amount of water. To avoid drying out, keep icing covered with plastic wrap, foil or a damp towel. Apply icing with a knife or a decorating bag and decorative tips. (Makes 1-1/2 to 2 cups (375 to 500 mL)

Decorating Suggestions: These suggestions can be used to create design details for both graham wafer or gingerbread house. Your choice of material will depend on the size of your house and the look you want to create.

Chimney: thick mini chocolate bars (e.g. Oh Henry) or cereal bars, cut to appropriate size. Or, use icing to glue together 4 pieces of graham wafers or sticks of gum to form a rectangle (if desired, cut bottom edges of each piece on an angle so the rectangle fits the slope of the roof), then cover with icing and decorate with dried beans, nuts, sliced almonds, Shreddies or jelly beans.

Doors: piece of graham wafer, colored icing, cookies, or fruit leather

Fence: pretzels, graham wafers, candy cane sticks, licorice or noodles.

Lamp posts or street lights: candy canes or bread sticks

Path, driveway or road: crushed cereal or pieces of cereal (e.g. Bran Flakes, Corn Flakes, Shreddies), cookie or cracker crumbs, or slivered almonds

Pond or skating rink: aluminum foil or a small mirror

Rocks or stones: nuts, slivered almonds, dried beans or gumdrops

Roof: cover with candies or add shingles using Shreddies, slivered almonds, banana chips, small pieces of licorice, or small square or round crackers. Or, draw on shingles with thin lines of icing.

Sides of house: for a log cabin look, use cinnamon sticks or pretzel sticks. Dried beans or nuts resemble bricks. Or, brush the sides of the house with beaten egg whites and sprinkle coloured sugar over the egg whites. Make colored sugar by stirring 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) food coloring into 1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar. Add more food colouring for more intense colour.

Smoke: cotton balls or polyester stuffing

Snow: polyester stuffing, icing sugar or granulated sugar, spray snow from a can, or artificial snow. For a “just-snowed” effect, sift icing sugar over everything.

Snowmen: create snowmen by gluing together mini or regular marshmallows or small gumdrops. Add pretzel arms and coloured icing or small candies for buttons and facial features. For a hat, place a peanut butter cup or small gumdrop on the top marshmallow.

Stop signs: suckers or lollipop

Trees and shrubs: tree-shaped cookies or assorted sizes of green gumdrops. Or, thin Royal Icing with water, tint with green food colouring and paint sugar cones with icing; place cones upside down and use icing to glue on candies to resemble coloured lights.

Verandah posts: candy cane sticks, bread sticks, chocolate stick or chocolate bar (e.g. Kit Kat)

Windows: caramelized and hardened sugar, coloured icing, fruit leather, cookies, or yellow construction paper. Use pretzel sticks for window frames. For a graham wafer house, it’s best to draw windows on with icing or to use a candy, cookie, etc. for the window. For “real” windows for a gingerbread house, cut the window openings out of the dough before the gingerbread is baked. To make “glass” windows for a gingerbread house, place hard candies (choose yellow or a variety of colours for stained glass effect) in a heavy plastic bag. Pound with a meat mallet or hammer to coarsely crush candy. Place candy in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 300F (150C) oven until the candy is melted and smooth, about 15 minutes. Let cool. With a sharp, serrated knife, cut the candy into pieces that will fit the windows. Pipe Royal icing around the window on the inside wall. Attach the window from the inside. If making “real” windows, remember to put them in before gluing down the roof.

Wood pile: pretzel sticks or cinnamon sticks

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