How to make a gingerbread treehouse

Gingerbread houses are a labor of love. I am a huge fan of baking, so when my friend, Beth, offered to teach me how to bake and build a gingerbread house, I was thrilled. I knew it would be a challenge, but I had no idea how much actually goes into building such a magical project. I learned a lot from my friend. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Golden Eagle Treehouse at Primland Resort
Golden Eagle Treehouse at Primland Resort

Meadows of Dan, Virginia

A meditation in gingerbread

Gingerbread houses are a labor of love. I am a huge fan of baking, so when my friend, Beth, offered to teach me how to bake and build a gingerbread house, I was thrilled. I knew it would be a challenge, but I had no idea how much actually goes into building such a magical project. I learned a lot from my friend. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Keep Scale in mind. I opted to build what I thought would be a pretty simple pattern for a cute little treehouse. If you want to spend more time decorating than baking, keep it simple.

IMG_9030Have a plan. Ginger bread house patterns can be copied and cut out from templates in books. My friend uses one or two different templates and makes the same couple of houses every year but decorates them differently. I however was not thrilled with my choice of standard home (nothing normal for me!), so naturally I had to make my own template. This adds a considerable amount of time to the project, but hey, why not? When you invest this much time is baking and building, you better love what you are going to make. I actually drew my plan out a couple of times to get the proper scale I was looking for.

IMG_9017I wanted to create a natural-looking house that is a copy of an actual treehouse that I have stayed in many times. When picking a design, be sure to think out about how you want the gingerbread to look. Will this be a candy-crusted house with lots of frosting to simulate snow? Do you want something that looks like a fairy tale house? What color do you want the house? Will you actually be able to see the cookie part, or will it be coated with frosting or other decorations? I knew my house would be rustic and not covered in frosting. I actually made a second batch of dough as the first batch was too dark. I was making a treehouse, so dark brown did not cut it. Light and dark corn syrup can be mixed to get the right color. If going for a brick look, red food coloring could also be used.

IMG_9025Consider your base. Will you need to move this once it is built? I knew I was going to travel with mine in a car, so I chose a thick piece of wood. I inverted a foam cooler on top of the wood to simulate the edge of the mountain just like the real treehouse. Other options could be a cutting board, foam core, or even a table-top piece of glass. To make a gingerbread house really pop, the setting is almost as important as the house. Will you want a yard? Trees? Fences? All of these little touches can really make a house really special. These also take time so consider your available time when picking the scene.

Structural supports are important considerations. How heavy will the roof be if it is coated with frosting and candy? There are many cute ideas to cover a roof. Candies, cereal, frosting, cookies, and fondant are all great choices. If a slab of gingerbread will be coated with frosting and cookies or candies, the thickness of the slab needs to be considered not only to hold the sugary roofing material, but also the walls need to be able to support the weight. There are several tricks to hold together walls. I used royal icing and allowed the pieces to dry together over night before adding additional decorations, and in my case, that was frosting with Cinnamon Toast Crunch to simulate shake shingles.

Dry time is not exciting, but very important and should be considered in the overall project plan. Also, the actual cookie dough should be made ahead of the day of baking to allow it to cool in the refrigerator. It is important to work with cool dough when rolling out the dough and cutting the pattern. I used an additional day to let the cookie pattern pieces completely cool and dry out.

IMG_9159Did you say Dremel? I had no idea that you could cut cookies without them crumbling with a Dremel tool. This can be done only after a day or two of leaving the cookies to air out. This tool worked great to help make the roof and walls have the proper angles needed. Trimming warm cookies with a sharp knife, right out of the oven, is also a good options. Rounded cookies don’t stick together with frosting as well as straight edged cookies. Thankfully, Beth had the Dremel with a wheel blade, which was perfect for cutting the cookies.

IMG_9203I used a shoe box to hold the walls at angles, and set the roof overnight with royal icing. Once the frosting was hard the next day, I was able to put the house together. If you are planning to do a more advanced project with cutaways and a decorated interior, some of these walls may have decorations on them. I chose to have windows made of melted Life Savers, and I used the royal icing to glue those in before adding the roof. Attaching the house to the base with icing also helps keep the house from sliding if you will be transporting it, even if it is just to another room. Make considerations for lighting. Will you add a battery-operated tea candle like I did to have the house glow? Keep this in mind when cutting doors and windows.

IMG_9188Now, the most fun part. With a collection of candies I had purchased from both specialty candy stores and craft stores, I had what I needed on hand. I did the candy shopping the same day I drew out my blueprint and templates. Royal icing can be made thick and then thinned out with water for various applications. Thick frosting for the wall and roof joints, thin icing for decorating the yard. I had several batches of white icing, then thinned it out and added food coloring for different applications. I made grey icing with McCormick’s black food coloring to cover the entire cooler where I didn’t use other colors like green and brown. I did not want my joints to show with white as I knew the house would not be covered in candy, so I tinted the icing the same color as my gingerbread. It was easy to use this tinted spackle to even out walls or the base.

Since I was going for a natural-looking treehouse, I needed to have a tree or several trees and bushes around the house to create a natural setting. I thought I would use actual greens and some fake greens. Since this was a winter scene, I chose to use grape stems. I trimmed the stems in the shape of bushes, then dipped them in milk chocolate to simulate leafless bushes. For the tree, I used pipe cleaners and wrapped the tree with fondant. This was the hardest part of the project and it definitely could use a lot of improvement. It was my first time working with fondant (maybe my last, LOL). The deck and supports for the treehouse were made of pretzels.

The more details the better when it comes to gingerbread houses. The treehouse I made has a hiking trail in the woods just under it, so I used gold covered chocolate rocks to simulate the path. I also purchased little chocolate rocks and I made large boulders out of dates. The front side of the treehouse is facing the 4th green of the gorgeous Highland golf course. I took the liberty of removing one of the sand traps as I am a golfer and I hate that particular trap! For the putting surface of the green, I used green tinted icing, thinned out then sanded the green with tinted green sugar. I used coconut dyed green and chopped to simulate the second cut of the  putting green. I toasted coconut to simulate the fescue that is light brown on the golf course this time of year.

Attention to  the smallest details is what makes a gingerbread house magical. I loved the process of thinking through the project, spending time with my friend, and making my gingerbread home with with a loving intention. I knew I would be taking it to the actual resort for Christmas. I have spent many holidays at this resort, and the staff always spoils me rotten when I visit. I wanted to return some love during my Christmas stay. They are working hard though out holiday season, so I wanted to show them my appreciation!

 

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I do not have any agreements with Primland. I am a regular guest and I consider this resort my second home. This is my life.

 

 

 

Pinnacle Cottages and Paddling at Primland

Experience the new Pinnacle Cottages at Primland.

New Pinnacle Cottages at Primland
New Pinnacle Cottages at Primland

Nothing like some fresh mountain air, a little exercise, and some new Frette sheets to soothe my soul. I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek prior to the grand opening of the new Pinnacle Cottages at Primland. Of course, since I consider this to be my second home, I have been watching the progress of the build out over the past year or so. Even having done a walk-through about a month earlier, I was not prepared for how spectacular these new cottages would turn out. Having walked though all four of the multi-unit buildings, I knew exactly which unit I would be booking for my future visits.  I just didn’t know the name or room numbers yet. Well, allow me to share with you the awesomeness that is Oriole 70 & 71.

Pinnacle Suite, perfect size for a couple
Pinnacle Suite, perfect size for a couple. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
View of the Dan River Gorge
View of the Dan River Gorge. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
Porch for two with a spectacular view
Porch for two with a spectacular view Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan

Each of the buildings were designed with group stays in mind. The idea was for families, golf and hunting groups, wedding parties, or corporate retreats to have a place where they could open up adjoining rooms if they like and share an entire floor or building, or group of buildings, if needed. When the staff helped me carry in my luggage, they told me they thought these rooms were even more spectacular than the main lodge. Having stayed in every suite in the lodge, all three tree houses, all of the fairway cottages, and most of the mountain homes on the property, I thought, “I am the perfect person to be the judge of that!”

Custom Cabinets and Art are beautifully blended for this stunning suite
Custom cabinets and commisioned art are beautifully blended for this stunning suite. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
The larger suites include a kitchen
The larger suites include a kitchen. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
Original art works hint to the Oriole theme of this suite.
Original art works hint to the bird theme of this suite. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
The larger suite has a grand livingroom for entertaining guests
The larger suite has a grand livingroom for entertaining guests. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan
Livingrooms have gorgeous views of the gorge and pinnacles of Dan
Livingrooms have gorgeous views of the gorge and pinnacles of Dan. Photo courtesy of Primland and Kevin Meechan

The same attention to detail in the architecture, quality of the furnishings, and oh baby!…new bath tubs had me a little twitterpated. One of my favorite daily activities, a long soak, was over the top.  When I am on vacation, my soaks can be pretty epic, pruney toes, long reads, maybe some vino therapy, and Primland has the best bathtubs, I swear! I could probably do an entire post just on which of the tubs I like best and why.  This is not a cookie cutter resort with five hundred rooms with the same tub in each of them. Oh, no…this is a place for fans of Architectural Digest to come and read the latest issue while soaking in one of many different dreamy bathrooms. I can tell you as a super soaker, without a doubt, this tub and view is my new favorite on the entire property!

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My room is connected to my friend’s room next door. He is an excellent neighbor, friend, and Primland enthusiast himself. I will give you a little tour of our suites, but then I have to tell you about our trip out to the reservoir. We have the entire upstairs of Oriole Cottage among us. One suite has a huge porch with lots of seating, enough for all of us to have a party, and the second smaller suite has a much more private porch meant for just two. Each suite has all of the modern amenities that are expected at a five-star property, but the gorgeous mountain view and meticulously-curated custom art work takes this space to another level. Giant Baby and I are in the smaller suite. I called it the romance side 🙂

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We enjoyed birding and paddling
We enjoyed birding and paddling
Funyacks on Dan River
Funyacks on Dan River

I have been wanting to try the funyaks ever since they first added the activity, but something always seemed to get in the way. First it was winter, then we needed to golf or hike or something. I have done nearly every activity on property, but still need to learn fly fishing, tree climbing, disc golf and horseback riding. It just happens that Summer, our funyak guide, is also an equestrian guide, so I might get talked into one more activity. Getting to the reservoir is no small task. Four-wheeling in the Suburban with Summer on some of the very remote dirt roads was an adventure in itself. Once at the reservoir, we needed to get our gear on and take a short hike through a rhododendron thicket. For those that have not spent time in the Blue Ridge Mountains, these are gorgeous evergreen flowering bushes that grow very tall. Summer gives us some basic instructions as we have all canoed or kayaked before, and just like that, we are out on the water. Funyaks are inflatable kayaks that are open on the top like a canoe. So there was no need for lessons on how to roll over under water or anything scary like that. As a matter of fact, the reservoir was very calm. The Dan River flows into it, but we will be staying in the calm open spaces just to enjoy an easy paddle, check out some wildlife, and enjoy the afternoon. That said, other guests have wanted to explore further up stream and really challenge themselves, and get a workout. We are not like those guests. We came to float, and as luck would have it, we were able to watch a beautiful bald eagle catch its own lunch. At one point, we just hung out under some trees and did some bird watching. Summer shared with us that some guests like to just float and take a nap. I like how those people think! On my next trip to the reservoir, I think I will have them pack us a picnic lunch. Stand up paddle board have just been added, so I will have another activity to add to my bucket list. Yup, I learned some new stuff, paddled a bit, and exercised my mind and body. This is what I call wellness!

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