These little graham cracker cottages are the pre-fab version of gingerbread houses, and they’re the way to go if you want a quick and easy project to kick-start the season — you get to skip right over the fussy cutting and baking of traditional gingerbread construction and get straight to the fun part, the candy decorations! It has to be one of the most magical holiday projects you can do with kids; they always eat more candies than they glue on, they make a huge mess, and the memories sink in for a lifetime. Even though my girls are living on their own now, I can’t give up the tradition, only this time I managed to make these cute cottages useful. I left the back wall off so you can slip a small flameless candle inside. Set the candle timer to come on each day at dusk and you’ll have the most enchanting votive ever.
The whole family can join in on these, just be sure to clear a wide section of the kitchen or dining room table for the project. Each house is made from just 5 graham cracker squares…it couldn’t be easier. Each of the squares is coated with a layer of royal icing, assembled with a little more icing, and decorated with candy and other edibles. The royal icing dries hard and ‘cements’ the houses together. Don’t worry about being precise, the rustic look is part of the charm.
The first step is to gather together a supply of candies and sprinkles, making sure they are on the small side, since these houses are diminutive. I used mostly candy, but also pretzel sticks and sunflower seeds for some of the roof tops. M&Ms and Skittles, tic tacs, gumdrops, mini candy canes, peppermint candies, Lifesavers, and sprinkles, etc. all work well. Royal icing will be your ‘snow’ and your glue. You can construct the houses first and then decorate, or decorate the individual pieces first and then assemble the houses. I found it easiest to do some of the decorating while the cookies were flat. The kids can decorate the walls and roof tops, but it is easier for an adult to assemble the houses.
After I spread the icing on the individual squares, I spooned the rest into a zip lock baggy and snipped the tip for neater decorating. Just set the baggie, tip down, in a glass lined with a wet paper towel and the icing will stay moist all day. The 3 sides of the house will go together easily with a line of royal icing along each corner. They should stand all by themselves as they set up, in about 30 minutes. Leave the back wall open for the votive candle to slide in. Then add the two squares to form the roof, setting it with rows of icing on the base, and another along the peak of the roof.
- 30 full sized graham crackers separated into 60 squares
- assorted candy and edible decorations such as candy canes, sprinkles, pretzel sticks, sunflower seeds, jelly beans and gumdrops
- 1/4 cup meringue powder
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 4 cups (more or less) confectioner's sugar
- First make the royal icing. Put the water and meringue powder in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until stiff peaks form. Start out slow and scrape down the bowl to get everything incorporated, then let it go on high. This can take 15 minutes or so.
- Add in the sugar and continue to beat until smooth, glossy, and spreadable.
- Spread the frosting in a thin and even (more or less) layer on each graham cracker square. If you are going to decorate the house AFTER assembling, then just let the squares dry until hard.
- If you are going to decorate BEFORE assembling, do one square at a time, and put the candies right into the wet icing. Let dry.
- To assemble the base of the houses, take 3 squares, and pipe some icing at the corners to create a box shape, with one open end. Let the base harden completely before putting the roof on.
- To add the roof, add a line of icing along the top of the base on each side, and set the roof on. Gently pipe a line of icing along the roof peak. The crackers are light weight and the icing is thick so the roof should stay in place easily while it dries. If you have trouble, add more icing, and hold it for a minute in place. Let dry completely.
There’s something so therapeutic about making these tasty houses, you can be as restrained or a decadent as you like…
I photographed these with a real votive candles, but you’ll want to use flameless candles for safety. You can buy battery operated flameless votives ONLINE, and in most home stores. Some of them come with built in timers so you can set them to come on every night at dusk and turn off 6 hours later. I think they’d be great in a powder room or a child’s bedroom, just don’t be surprised if they’re hit by hungry vandals overnight…