Every year during winter break, my sisters and I make our own gingerbread houses from scratch using random candies and foods we find in the pantry. Who needs to use a kit when you can make your very own unique project from scratch? (Plus, you can eat the extra dough and icing as you’re building, and we all need more sugar before we start classes again.)

Step 1: Make the gingerbread dough.

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Chill for at least three hours. This is important because you want the dough to expand as little as possible while in the oven.

Step 2: Find or create a design you like.

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(This year, I decided to do a small cabin and an outhouse, but you can do anything—buildings, cars, towns, etc.). Measure and draw each piece you need onto paper and cut out the pieces.

Roll out the dough very thinly—anywhere between an eighth and a quarter of an inch thick—directly onto a piece of parchment paper, making sure to use extra flour when needed. Then, take your paper pieces, place them on the dough and cut them out. You can reuse any scraps to cut out more pieces (or just make some cute cookies to munch on while building). Place them on a baking sheet.

Step 3: Bake your pieces according to your recipe.

carrot, cake
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This should be around ten minutes at 350°F. Make sure that they are completely done and crispy, even a little burnt is fine (if you’re not planning on eating it, of course). If you want translucent colored windows, then crush up some hard candies (Jolly Ranchers look beautiful, but any clear hard candy will work), place some pieces in each window after the pieces have been fully baked, then put them back in the oven for about two minutes or until the candies are melted. 

Step 4: Assemble.

Make a big batch of royal icing and cover the base with it (a box covered with tin foil works best), and then stand up each piece next to each other and ice the seams. Don’t be afraid to use copious amounts of icing to hold it together because you can always cover it up with candy or more icing later, and a collapsed gingerbread house would just be tragic.

#SpoonTip: before assembling the house, ice any accents on the roof and sides first, then allow the icing to dry. This will prevent the icing from dripping down the sides once the house is up.

Step 5: Decorate!

Feel free to make some funky colored icing, and use up any and all treats that went uneaten during the holidays (I’m looking at you, weird-flavored candy canes).

pumpkin, cake, gingerbread
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Chocolate coins, M&Ms, round hard candies, and stale chewing gum are great for roof tiles or front walkway tiles. Stale cookies can be tires on cars or can be crushed up to create a nice dirt path or driveway. Gumdrops are great for creating cute little animals (like the fox pictured here)—cut them open and they will stick to each other without icing! 

cream cheese, cheese, cake
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Marshmallows work really well as snowmen or snowbanks.

Candy canes and pretzels are great fences or supports for porches or awnings. Melted chocolate can be piped onto wax paper to make any sort of accent (like tree branches or railings).

Nuts work well as rocks or stones on chimneys and walkways.

Green frosting piped onto ice cream cones make lovely Christmas trees. Sprinkles and sugar are great for adding color or giving the icing snow some more glitter.

Decorate to your heart’s content. There are probably tons of things in your pantry that could be a cute addition to your lovely gingerbread house. That fruitcake that everyone inevitably gets (and no one eats) could even be an accent if you set your mind to it—maybe a nice hedge? The sky is the limit.