As you might have taken away from the title, this is not soap! No, I have other hobbies and most of them I did way before I even got into soap making. Ever since I started my business, I've had to put on the back burner one of my most absolute favorite things to do: baking. A little backstory: I started baking when around the time I was 15 years old when one of my mother's childhood friends who was a baking instructor and owned a baking supply store saw my interest in it. She offered to have me take two of her introductory baking courses as a gift with the condition that I keep the recipes provided top secret. To this day they still are secret and I keep those recipes with me everywhere I go. Of course, as I kept learning I kept developing my own recipes and techniques. Up until last year I was obsessed with making more and more gumpaste flowers. When I decided to start my soap business I quickly realized that I had to slow down with baking something every other day, but soap making was very similar to baking so it filled that void a bit.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, gingerbread is not something that is made very commonly so I never made gingerbread until just a few years ago when I moved to NY, let alone a full gingerbread house! I had full understanding on how to make one just by putting the dots together, so a few years back I made my first house out of a very simple template. I still keep my templates simple but only because I'm a stickler for details and I would much rather spend my time with that than a fussy construction.
This year I had a lot going on: the start of Lilasuds, a full time and demanding job in fashion, my wedding, etc. So I made it a point to at least make ONE gingerbread house before the year was over. I always love adding personal touches to each house I make. I rarely overthink a design. Once it's in my head that's it and a lot of the details I make up as I go along. I'd rather jump into the project and develop details depending on how it unfolds. I knew I wanted to make a brownstone this year, as it's iconic NYC.
I actually started by creating the little details that would go attached to the house. I feel this actually gets me super excited with a project and keeps me going because I can't wait to see the end result once these start taking shape. I made little garlands from melted candy canes that I shaped into the desired forms and covered with sanding sugar. I made tiny topiaries and bows from gumpaste in bright red and gold. The building number is special: it's the date my husband and I got married a few weeks back!
I always start with a good bake. I have been OBSESSED with Julia M. Usher's
amazing cookie creations for YEARS. Her gingerbread recipe is my all time fave cookie recipe by far. The construction template took me 5 minutes to make one day as I was leaving work. I'm pretty fast with Adobe Illustrator, so I took out my ruler and started creating the template. Once the cookies are cut and baked, I took a microplaner and made sure all the edges were nice and straight.
Then it's time to work on all the sides flat. Always make as much of the house as you can on the flat, let it dry (don't be impatient like me), and then stick the sides together. Everything holds in place better if gravity isn't pulling it down. I like to stick my sides together with hot isomalt. It takes the waiting time away from sticking them with royal icing and it's a more secure hold, but it is more dangerous! I personally prefer instant gratification over the waiting game. I also added isomalt to the windows so they look like glass!
Once the sides were complete, it was time to assemble and finish. All the little details were made using royal icing, fondant, gumpaste, and isomalt. Everything was painted by hand using petal dusts and food coloring. There are only two non-edible details in this house: the corner street sign post and the topiary banches which I made with bamboo skewers.
I added a few other personal touches: The posters on the sides of the building are nods to my cat Ulla, as well as a floral design which is a nod to my career as a print designer. There has been a recent development in this but more on that later. I also added a bit of sidewalk chalk art and there is a cute little nod to my husband and I. Of course, there's an iconic street art of I <3 NY because I really do love NY.
Another little nod to my family is a little stone in the shape of a heart with the text "Est. 2019". We got married this year, so I thought I would set it in stone. And no NYC home is complete without it's own recycling trash bin and a little rodent! Haha ew!
For the back I decided to go big and put a sugar holiday greeting as well. I hand painted everything with gel food color and some gold luster dust.
The front garden is my favorite. I did lots of royal icing piping here. The stonework started with a blend of gingerbread crumbs, piping gel and white food coloring. Then I piped the stones over that and once dried I gave them a bit of dimension with petal dust. I piped the leaves from the garden and added a few of the decor elements I had previously made: the topiaries, some potted plants, some taller bushes, a cute black cat and the fence. All the "metal work" was made using a clay extruder (the same type I use for soap dough), and fondant. All the little ornaments on the garlands are sugar pearls I painted gold. I also hand piped with royal icing lots of vines going up the sides of the house. There's something incredibly charming about a vine-covered brownstone.
I also kept the roof removable so I could turn the fairy lights inside the house on and off as I pleased with lots of ease. I added a little chimney with pulled sugar "smoke". It's cold in NYC and this family needs to stay warm!
All in all, I love this house. It took me a good 4-5 days to make start to finish. I always get asked what I do with them. Unfortunately I'm a bit late to enter them into any local competition, so I just end up displaying them in my home. After a few days they stop being edible, but a well baked, low moisture gingerbread cookie keeps for a very long time, and sugar in the right low-humidity conditions stays intact. I still have last year's gingerdead house on display in pristine condition. This new house will replace that one.
I hope you guys are spending your holidays relaxed and enjoying yourselves. This is how I like to unwind and be creative outside of work.
Happy holidays, y'all!