12.07.2015

Winter Wonderland Holiday House {dairy+egg free}

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Christmastime is full of traditions, whether new or old. Mason and I have a tradition that we started when he was just a year old. Every year around his birthday in early December, we create a "gingerbread house." Because of food allergies, we always have to be careful with the ingredients we choose for the house and decor. Honey Maid graham crackers have always been our item of choice to build the house from because they don't contain milk. Another bonus? Mom doesn't have to spend time baking safe gingerbread and cutting the pieces out because the graham crackers are ready to go!

Winter Wonderland Holiday House | Making it Milk-free

This year, having added a new baby, I've been off my game a bit when it comes to holiday fun. I just went back to work and with Dawson going to daycare, every day is a feat just to get everyone dressed, fed, and out the door on time. Plus, mornings...Yuck. We barely even got Mason's birthday party planned at the last minute and I still haven't done any Christmas shopping. Eek! 

Life is hectic enough as it is, but having a little one that relies on me for everything makes it so easy to lose track of time or feel like I'm "too busy" to do anything else. I never want my boys to feel like Mom was too busy for them so I'm trying my best to keep up with the traditions Mason and I had together when he was the littlest one in the house. I really want to continue creating those memories with him, and eventually with Dawson too. 

I happened to stop at Walmart last week to pick up some supplies for work and remembered to grab all of the things we would need to create and decorate our house too. In the past we have used safe-for-him candies and lots of sugary icing, but I wanted to go a little bit healthier route this year. I picked up a box of Honey Maid graham crackers, fresh cranberries, pretzel sticks (in various sizes), unsweetened shredded coconut, sliced almonds (in the baking aisle for a less costly and smaller package), animal crackers, and bunny cookies. I also had a couple of bars of my favorite dairy-free white chocolate on hand to use. 

When it comes to building our houses, I always seem to struggle a bit with the structure. Royal icing is the traditional "glue," but it calls for egg whites or meringue powder. I can't seem to get the egg white version to work for me and all of the meringue powders I've found have allergen warnings that prevent us from being able to use them safely. I decided to try a different approach this year and use a sugar-based glue instead. The other plus about our "glue" is that it is allergen-free. I ended up feeling like I used way less this way than having to goop on enough royal icing to hold, meaning a lot less sugar in the final product. 

My husband actually gave me the genius idea to create a form out of cardboard to help support the walls. This was definitely the way to go and will be added to our plan each year. The outside of the house is still edible, all while being stabilized during the drying process. You could also remove the house from the form once all of your glue has hardened overnight and still have a fully edible display.

Because we didn't end up using bright, colorful candies, our Honey Maid Holiday House ended up looking very much like a wintry wonderland, complete with falling snow if you look closely. :)


Winter Wonderland Holiday House | Making it Milk-free

Winter Wonderland Holiday House {dairy + egg free}

  • 1 box Honey Maid graham crackers
  • Optional decorations:
    • sliced almonds
    • pretzel sticks in various sizes
    • cranberries
    • unsweetened shredded coconut
    • animal crackers
    • bunny cookies or other animal shapes
    • sugar cones (for the trees)
    • glue: granulated sugar + water
    • frosting (see my dairy-free buttercream recipe below)
    • other nuts, dried fruits, marshmallows, etc.
  • cardboard scraps, tape, scissors (to create a form)
Step 1. Decide what shape you want your holiday house to be. Cut down your cardboard pieces and tape together in the shape you choose. I cut several rectangular pieces the same size as a full graham cracker, then played with the design. You can cut them down to create roof peaks as needed.

Step 2. Make your sugar "glue." Dissolve 1 1/2 cups sugar in 3/4 cup of water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and allow the mixture to bubble until it browns, about 10 minutes. You are basically creating a sugar candy that will harden when it dries to hold your pieces together.

Step 3. While your sugar and water mixture is cooking, break or cut your graham cracker pieces to fit the design of your house. For the house I made, I used 4 full graham crackers for the roof, attaching two of them together on the long sides to create one side of the roof. I used 4 full graham crackers for the walls, and 2 additional full graham crackers to add in the peaks of the roof.
(For an easy way to cut angles without breaking the crackers, take a small paring knife and run it under warm water, then gently draw a line on the cracker wherever you want it to break. The water will very lightly drip onto the cracker, softening it where you ran your knife. Do not get a lot of water on the cracker or it will get soggy and not be sturdy enough to hold your roof. Once you have made a shallow line where your cut will be, gently try and break the cracker along that line. It should easily break along your line.)




Step 4. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Once your pieces are all cut or broken into the appropriate shapes and your sugar mixture has fully cooked, begin by dipping the edge of one graham cracker into the sugar mixture at a time. Press the pieces together gently around your cardboard form. Once you have them in place, you can use a spoon to drip a bit of the syrup down in the cracks between each cracker. You will need to work quickly to place all of your pieces before the syrup hardens. I used small kitchen items to help hold each cracker in place by leaning the cracker against my form, then standing something like a small glass or spice bottle on the outside to keep the cracker from falling away from the form. (Don't attach your roof quite yet. You want your walls to harden in place to create a base first.) I like to place my baking sheet with all of my pieces in the refrigerator at this point to help speed up the hardening process.



Step 5. Once the base of your house has dried, attach your roof pieces. You may need to make some additional sugar syrup if your first batch has already hardened or if you used it all. I sometimes find that I can pour my syrup into a microwave-safe dish before it hardens and then melt it back down one time in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds when you are ready to use it. Use a spoon to run a bead of syrup along the edges of your house where the roof will sit. Gently place the roof pieces on top and allow the syrup to harden once again. Once all of your exterior pieces have hardened, place your house on a nice platter or cake board (cardboard coated on one side, found in the cake and candy supply aisle at Walmart). If you did not attach your crackers to your cardboard house form, you should be able to remove the form during this step.

Step 6. Mix up some frosting to decorate with. You could use store-bought frosting or use my dairy-free buttercream recipe below.

    • 3 cups powdered sugar
    • 1 cup shortening or dairy-free butter substitute
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/4 cup water
    • food coloring (optional)
      • In a mixing bowl with whisk attachment, mix together the powdered sugar and shortening on low speed. Add the vanilla and continue to mix. Gradually add the water and mix until it reaches desired consistency. Add food coloring (optional). Turn mixer to medium-high speed and continue to beat for 2-3 minutes or until it becomes light and fluffy. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag. (For my house, I added natural green food color to 1/3 of my buttercream, leaving the remaining 2/3 white.)
Trees: Make trees by piping green tinted buttercream onto sugar cones. I find it easiest to hold the cones by the tip and let the buttercream fall onto the cone while turning it. You could use a special piping tip and neatly pipe the frosting onto the cones. I find a rustic approach looks pretty  (and my piping bag sprang a leak and the "design" you see in my photos is actually from the hole in the bag as opposed to the tip I originally planned to use. Ha!) You could add some white or clear sugar sprinkles to give the trees a sparkly effect before the buttercream dries. Place the frosting covered cones in the refrigerator uncovered to help them dry out. The buttercream will soften again at room temperature, so you'll want to store the trees in the fridge until you're ready to display or eat them.



Roof Shingles: Attach shingles to your roof by spreading a thin layer of frosting over the entire rooftop. Beginning along the bottom of the roof, closest to the side of your house, gently press individual almond slices in a straight line. Continue by layering almond slices in neat rows, slightly overlapping the row below until you reach the peak of the roof. Repeat on the second side. Run a bead of frosting along the peak of the roof and decorate with shredded coconut, pretzels, or other decorations. You can also add some "icicles" by running thin lines of frosting down the sides of the house from the roof if you wish.



Other house features (door, windows, etc.): Run a thin line of frosting along the walls of your house wherever you want to place a door or window. Gently press a pretzel along the edge to create the shape of your door or windows. 

Snowy Animals: Squeeze a dollop of frosting anywhere you want to put an animal and place the animal standing in the frosting. You could leave your animal crackers plain or melt some dairy-free white chocolate and dip them like I did. Just microwave the white chocolate in a small bowl in 30 second increments until melted. Dip the animals, allow excess chocolate to drip off, then place them on a parchment lined plate. Place the plate in the refrigerator or freezer until set. 

Wood Pile: Place 5 pretzel sticks side by side on parchment paper. Drizzle melted dairy-free white chocolate between each pretzel and lightly on top. Repeat with 4 pretzels, then 3, then 2, then 1 on top. Place in the refrigerator or freezer until set.  



Snow Drifts: Squeeze frosting wherever you want it to look like snow drifts, such as along the sides of your house or next to trees. Sprinkle shredded coconut over the entire display, adding a bit extra to your frosting "drifts."

Add other features like a walkway lined with seeds or nuts to look like stones, or a fence using pretzel sticks and fresh cranberries for the fence posts. 




What is one of your favorite, kid-friendly holiday traditions? Share with us by commenting below! 
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