Craft Your “Gingerbread” House From Chocolate With Lakeland Molds

Chocolate House © Sophie Brown

Here at GeekMom we love our gingerbread houses. We also love gingerbread AT-ATs, gingerbread Serenitys, and pretty much any other gingerbread creation you care to mention. But doing the same thing every year can get a little repetitive even in a season generally given over to tradition. So when I saw that Lakeland were offering a new range of molds to create houses, sleighs, and more out of chocolate, I had to try them out.

The Lakeland range includes molds for making Santa’s Sleigh (complete with reindeer), a traditional Fairy Tale Cottage, a Fairy Tale Village, and a Christmas Tree. I dived right in to create the sleigh first. Each kit, except the tree, contains two silicone mold sheets around the size of an average baking tray and a piping bag; the back of the packet also gives an estimate of how much chocolate will be needed (hint: they all need a lot. No really, you will weep at the quantity of chocolate requires for these things—I could feel cavities forming just looking at the packets.) I used a mixture of supermarket own brand dark and milk chocolate to fill the molds and transferred them to the fridge to set. This was a tricky process as the molds are flexible and the chocolate inside still very liquid, so each time afterwards I sat the molds on a rigid baking tray before filling them to make transportation much easier.

Chocolate Sleigh Laden with Wrapped Chocolates © Sophie Brown
Chocolate Sleigh Laden with Wrapped Chocolates © Sophie Brown

The chocolate hardened quickly and so began the most dangerous part—extracting the chocolate from the silicone. The chocolate pieces can be fairly thin even when filled to the brim so getting them out without snapping them can be difficult. Sadly, one of my two reindeer was fatally injured in the attempt. The sleigh sides also suffered minor damage but were both easy to repair by melting a few chocolate drops to use as edible glue.

Once you have your pieces out another task is ahead: construction. Here the chocolate suffers a major drawback from gingerbread because the heat of your hands means it begins to melt the second you touch it leaving behind unsightly fingerprints. I soon figured a way around this by holding the chocolate pieces through a folded kitchen towel and using crockery to hold them up while the joins hardened. After only an hour or so from entering the kitchen I had a beautiful chocolate sleigh.

As the sleigh was the first piece I made, I was curious about how it would hold up. Gingerbread houses are often left out for weeks over the festive period. Of course chocolate would never match up to that, but how would it compare? I left the sleigh out on the counter of my busy family kitchen and inspected it a few times a day. For the first day all was well, but by the 48 hour point the sleigh had developed a significant and unsightly chocolate “bloom”.

Suffice to say your chocolate creations can be made on Christmas Eve and will still be looking good by lunch time on the big day, but they are not designed to be left out long term. I melted the sleigh down to use as glue on the other projects.

Gingerbread Village © Sophie Brown
Gingerbread Village © Sophie Brown

The Lakeland molds are primarily designed for chocolate but are oven-safe and, according to the packaging, can also be used for gingerbread. I was interested to see how they worked. My son was hosting a Christmas party, so I decided to create a gingerbread fairytale village and a fully decorated chocolate house as table centerpieces.

The packaging includes a gingerbread recipe which I used for the village, however the quantities provided only created enough gingerbread mix to make three of the four houses.

To use the molds with gingerbread, you simply pack the mixture firmly into the mold and pop it in the oven. Before doing so I liberally coated the highly intricate shapes with Wilton Cake Release then packed each shape to the brim. The recipe creates a gingerbread that rises fractionally, making good solid pieces that held together well and, once cooled, were easy to remove from the silicone. Rather than making my own icing I tested Betty Crocker’s frosting for glue potential and found that it works very well saving me some more time. Soon I had a village of adorable three inch houses to decorate.

At the same time I had filled the mold for the large fairytale cottage with chocolate and hardened it in the fridge. This was the one I was most worried about extracting because of the large pieces that were structurally integral to the building. However, having practiced on the sleigh, I had developed a better technique and managed to remove each piece without damage. The house went up with surprising ease using the kitchen towel and crockery combo method. All that was left to do was decorate using a cavity-inducing array of candies and liberal dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Chocolate House © Sophie Brown
Chocolate House © Sophie Brown

At the party that afternoon, the gingerbread village and the chocolate house both amazed the gathering of small children that I had bravely invited over for dinner.

I was concerned about the chocolate house surviving the afternoon, but after more than one hour in my tiny dining room with eleven people radiating body heat, not a single candy has fallen off (although it has to be said that the roof had developed a slight sag!).

I pulled the house down and gave a piece of it to each child when they left; however it is so huge that giving a sizable chunk to six children didn’t even use up the roof. There is still a lot of chocolate in my fridge and that has to be counted as a slight downside; unless you have a lot of guests who really like chocolate, you are probably going to have a lot of wastage.

I love the flexibility of this range. The ability to use the molds in the oven makes them more than a one-trick pony as they can be used for chocolate, gingerbread, and who knows what else.

The size of the Fairytale Cottage and Santa’s Sleigh are rather large but the small Christmas Tree mold makes a wonderful gift if you can find a way to transport it safely. I decorated one with green and red smarties for my mother but even lying the pieces flat and covering them over I found that a piece had snapped in two by the time we had driven to her house.

Working with the chocolate is a learning curve but I quickly had it down enough to stop breaking my pieces and leaving fingerprints on them. Decorating is no more difficult than with gingerbread although you may need to pop your house back in the fridge to re-harden if you’ve been working on it for a long time. I know these molds are going to get a lot of use in my house over the years; the house and village ones especially as they are non-seasonal, and they’re cheap too.

If you’re thinking of making any kind of edible creation for Christmas this year* then give them a go.

GeekMom received these items for review purposes.

*The molds are exclusive to British company Lakeland. If you’re outside the UK, you’ll have to order and wait for next year—or host Christmas in July, your call.

Gingerbread Crazy! Make Some Sweet Memories.

Photo: Judy Berna

I know, I know…Christmas is just a few days away. But just in case you need a fun, easy (I promise!) project that your kids will never forget, here’s a suggestion from one of our family traditions. Before you see the pictures and say, “Hey, that’s just a regular old gingerbread house!”, hear me out. Like I said in the first paragraph, I’m going to tell you how to make it easy.

Photo: Judy Berna

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s continue.

Our family has clung to this tradition because it appeals to all age levels. With kids whose ages span a decade, it’s sometimes tricky to find family projects that everyone can do. As a matter of fact, these houses seem to get more fun, the older the kids get, because once they learn about how real houses and bridges are held together, their gingerbread houses get more sophisticated.

Photo: Judy Berna

We’ve been doing this for a decade or two so let me tell you my streamlined approach for pulling it off with little effort and lots of punch. The first shortcut that makes your life easier is forgetting about ‘real’ gingerbread. The main idea here is that the fun part of gingerbread houses is creating with candy, not stressing about baking perfectly square slabs of gingerbread. The base should be the easy part, to free up the brain for the fun, creating part.

Photo: Judy Berna

Each house will be a small box (oatmeal, cracker…even the graham cracker box itself) covered in graham crackers. Buy the name brand kind, they don’t break as easily. Slap some white icing (homemade if you like, but we just use the stuff from the Betty Crocker tubs) on the side of the box and stick on a cracker. Again, the main idea is just to cover a box.

Photo: Judy Berna

Go to that cabinet that holds all your leftover Halloween candy. Dig it out. Then go to the cereal cabinet and pull out all that shredded wheat (thatched roofs!) and Cheerios (fun stone paths!). Then look at all your other breakfast choices with a new eye. Coco Puffs, Golden Grahams, Chex, and Apple Jacks are all fun shapes and textures.

If your Halloween candy has disappeared,  head to the local Dollar Store, or the section in your local grocery store that sells bagged candy for a buck apiece. Get a good variety. Think textures and colors. Peppermints are great. Skittles are fun. Tootsie rolls and Laffy Taffy have unlimited moldable potential.

Photo: Judy Berna

One more stop, down the pretzel and cracker aisle. Be sure to get large rod and skinny stick pretzels. They make great fences, siding, and roofs. Then grab a few boxes of textured crackers, like Wheat thins, Triscuits, and even Cheese Nips. If you have it, coconut is also a fun addition, making great snow accents. Offering a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and textures is truly the key to this project.

Teddy Graham Hot Tub with Nerds for 'water'.

You can use cardboard squares from the recycling bin for bases or plastic trays (I found some at the Dollar Store one time and we reused them for years). Dump the assorted cereals, candies, crackers and pretzels into individual bowls or paper plates and line them up along a long counter or the center of the table. Every kid gets one bowl/tub of icing and a small spreading knife. Explain that the frosting is the glue, then stand back and let them create.

Photo: Judy Berna
Tropical Spa, created by my 18 year old daughter.

Through the years I’ve collected pictures from magazines, of amazing gingerbread houses, and just flipping through them sometimes gives my gang new ideas. But most years they just look at the building materials that are available and forge ahead to make something funky.

"light post"

Every year my kids will spend long hours working on their creations. The pictures scattered through this post are some of this year’s samples. I’m amazed every year, at the new designs we see and the creative ways they can find to use candy and crackers. Several of their friends have joined us in years past and beg to come back and participate again. We’ve also had adult friends join us and it’s fun to see the individual creativity of every age group.

Beach bears with Laffy Taffy lawn chairs.

Don’t forget that this is a fun project to do any time of the year. The finished projects make great holiday centerpieces but the week after Christmas, when life slows down a bit and kids are still home from school, is also a great time to pull out this all afternoon activity.  One year we did them with our teen youth group at church, and everyone  brought their favorite candies to add to the pile. Another year we never found the time at Christmas so we did them as Valentine’s Day houses, complete with candy hearts and Hershey kisses.

With just a little bit of prep ahead of time, this is one project that kids will stick with for hours, and always end up with something special in the end. Trust me, it’s worth the threat of everyone ending the day on a sugar high.