It’s hard to find a movie that more perfectly embodies my two favorite holidays, Halloween and Christmas, than The Nightmare Before Christmas, so when my editor over at Syfy.com asked if I wanted to make a gingerbread house this holiday, I knew exactly what I wanted to make.
But before we start this post, let me quickly plug the gingerbread contest happening right now at Syfy.com. My gingerbread masterpiece was created to help promote the Syfy Fangrrls gingerbread contest (ahem, Genrebread contest) and they’re looking for any and all scifi, horror or fantasy inspired gingerbread creations. So take this as inspiration and get to baking your own and enter it in for a chance to win over $200 worth of awesome gear just in time for the holidays (and no, I’m not entering the contest, I’m just helping promote it!)
Now, onto the house…
Because this is traditionally 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.
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 (crazy, right?!? 25 years!?) 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 Dear 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.
Mockup done and templates made, it was time to start making the actual gingerbread.
Now, like I said, the full recipe is on Syfy.com which means I’m gonna skip the recipes and sort of just do the cliff note version of the directions, show you some progress photos and then round it out with some absolutely gorgeous finished shots in the hopes that you’ll be so inspired to make this gingerbread house for yourself that you’ll go visit Syfy.com for all the recipes and even more detailed directions! (hint, hint! It makes me look good to the bosses if my stuff gets lots of views…)
The first thing I had to do was make the dough. Start by first mixing your wet ingredients and your dry ingredients separately and then combine them all into a thick, dark and heavy dough. Because I wanted the dough to be darker than traditional gingerbread, I added in a few healthy slugs of black food coloring to really bring down the color.
I used a few pieces of wood roughly 1/8″ thick as guides when rolling out my dough to ensure it was all the same thickness.
Then it was onto cutting out my house patterns using my templates.
Each piece was baked for between 10 to 18 minutes, depending on the size.
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 my black cherry chocolate chunk ice scream from this summer and it was not only the right size but the perfect color as well. Win.
Once I was done with all the baking, 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 were completely dry and firm and ready for assembly.
Now that all my pieces had been baked and cooled, it was time to start assembling my house but before I could do that, I needed to pour the ‘glass’ that went into my windows using a simple sugar glass recipe.
I placed all my pieces of gingerbread that needed “glass” down on top of tin foil. I also draped a few extra pieces of tin foil over any areas of gingerbread where I thought I might drip hot sugar. This made it easier for me to clean it up in the end.
Using my spoon, I carefully drizzled in enough molten sugar glass to fill up all my windows and then set these pieces aside to harden.
I had a lot of sugar glass material left over after filling my windows and used that to make my sugar glue. I returned my pot of liquid sugar to the stove and turned the heat up to medium, allowing it to remelt. Heads up, if you’re doing this at home, the sugar will darken as it continues to cook (yes, we’re basically letting it burn, but since ain’t nobody eating this, it’s ok), essentially ending up the same color as my gingerbread which allowed it to blend in seamlessly.
To begin the assembly of our house, I started with the back wall and the two side pieces, test fitting as I went to make sure they fit together correctly. Although I 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. (Side note, gingerbread dust went EVERWHERE. If you do this, make sure you sand in a well ventilated area…like outside.)
To stick my pieces together, I simply dipped the edges into my liquid sugar glue and pressed the pieces together. Once I got the initial seam set with the sugar glue, I went over the seams again with a hefty coating of sugar glue on the INSIDE of my piece. This helped to give my house extra strength. Because we’re only going to see the outside, I figured it didn’t matter if the inside was a bit ugly.
Finally done with the major “primary house” construction, I was left with attaching the upper porch area, the support columns, and my tower.
This is also the point in the project where I had to decide if I wanted my gingerbread house to light up. This meant making sure that I had a hole drilled between the wall of my primary house and the front pop out. Because this was my first time making the house, I totally neglected to do this prior to baking my front piece which meant I had to use my Dremel to drill a quick hole through the baked gingerbread. Don’t be like me. Do this before you 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 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 my pop-out porches were attached, I needed to add in support posts. To make my posts, I first cut down some cardboard sucker sticks to size and then dipped them into my sugar glue. You could easily do the same thing using pretzel sticks, but as I didn’t have any, I used these.
Before I attached my tower, I had to determine where I wanted my tower to sit on my roof. Here’s where personal preference again comes into play. Depending on what model you look at and what photos you find, there are versions out there with the tower on the side of the house and others that have it sticking out the back. I chose to put it on the side of my house for both aesthetics and because based on how my house is constructed, it made sense for balance. Don’t want this gingerbread monstrosity tipping over on me!
Decision made, I used my Dremel to cut out a hole just smaller than the inner diameter of my tower. This is where I would thread lights through later to make it glow as well.
Then it was just a matter of attaching my tower and topping it off with my sugar cone topper peak.
Congratulations! Primary construction is now done!
Before I packed it in for the night, however, it was time to test out the lights and make sure I’d done everything I wanted to as far as sealing the seams fro. the inside with sugar glue. The easiest way to check for structural integrity was to put my house on its back, ram some lights up the tailpipe, and fire it up.
Anywhere the light came through that it wasn’t supposed to, I slapped on some more sugar glue.
Again, I let my house rest for about 8 to 12 hours before moving onto the next step. This gave all my sugar glue a chance to really get rock hard.
At this point, I still had several unused pieces of gingerbread left over including the wreath base and six squares of gingerbread with holes punched out of the center of them.
It was finally time to start working on the aesthetics of Jacks’ house, starting with painting it.
While painting my house, I also gave my six base pieces a good coat of grey and then set them aside to dry.
While my walls and base tiles were drying, I used the time to make the sugar paste I was going to be using for my roof tiles as well as other finishing details. To make my sugar paste, I simply followed the directions on the box (Thank you Wilton!) and add in a few drops of black food coloring to make a dark gray color.
To attach my tiles to the roof, I first gave it a generous brushing of edible adhesive (Dab-n-hold from Wilton – this stuff is amazing!) and then just start sticking my tiles on.
A hundred million little itty bitty tiles later and…
Once all my tiles were attached, I gave them a light brush with a bit of black food coloring thinned down with vodka. This helped to break up the uniform color and make them look more aged.
Okay, my house was assembled, painted and tiled. Time to make this puppy more permanent and start really kicking up my decorating efforts.
Now let’s decorate the house! First off, this thing needed some “Christmas” touches including a string of colored lights. While I had LED lights inside, I wanted my colored lights on the outside to be edible but still look realistic. To make them, I used some black cookie icing, a little black thread, and a bag of colored candy bits. I placed a tiny dot of black cookie icing along my thread about every ¾” or so. While the icing was wet, I pressed in one of my candy bits, and then repeated the process along the length of the thread.
To make my wreath, I just covered my gingerbread wreath template with a little gingerbread cement I’d colored green. While the frosting was still soft, I rolled tiny orange Christmas lights out of bits of orange Airhead candy and press them into the frosting. I gave 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.
I then finished off the wreath with an Airheads bow, skull and teeth and then stuck the whole thing onto the front of my house over the front door.
I then made porch pumpkins out of modeling chocolate, using brown food coloring, black food coloring, and cocoa powder to decorate and age them.
I also made a tiny sugar paste bat to go on the tip top of my cone tower.
I used massive blops (yes, that’s the technical term) of gingerbread cement to create the illusion of snow on my house, putting blops on the peak, the top of my tower, and the front of my porch, basically wherever I thought snow would naturally settle.
I gave the entire board around my house a generous layer of gingerbread cement ‘snow,’ letting it pile up around the stairs in natural ‘drifts.’ I used that to help cement my chocolate pumpkins into place.
Finally, to give everything that frosty, glittery icy look, I hit all of my still soft gingerbread cement snow with a light dusting of silver spray glitter.
And that’s it! 40 hours and 5 days later, we have a pretty damn epic looking Jack Skellington’s Christmas gingerbread house!
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 posts and the dowel holding the lights…it’s 100% edible…
Not that I’m letting anybody actually eat this thing…which isn’t to say you couldn’t…which reminds me…yet again…for the WHOLE recipe and tutorial, swing by Syfy.com for all the details on this amazing build and all the info on how to enter your own creation into their Genre Bread contest for a shot at $200 in swag!
Oh, but hang on…what’s that? You want to make this amazing masterpiece but don’t want to slog through the entire process of creating the template first?
Well, today is your lucky day, my dark hearted little friend! I have for you the entire thing broken down for you right here…and ONLY here (it’s one of the perks of being a true Nom fan!).
Merry Christmas and Bone Appetite!
And for even more Nightmare Before Christmas inspired awesomeness, why not check out these posts?
Merry Christmas ya filthy animals…and bone appetite!
p.s. if you were wondering how big this house is, it’s roughly 11/2 Lucifur’s tall.