We have a habit of getting so caught up in holiday events and festivities that we sometimes find ourselves a bit behind the sparkly glass ball in our holiday decorating. So what to do when guests are due shortly and there’s no time to hit the stores for new holiday décor—but we need more than just a Christmas tree to make the house feel homey and welcoming? The answer is these sweet little cinnamon “gingerbread” houses and cinnamon ornaments, made from basics we already have in our kitchen cupboards and utility drawers.
The process is pretty simple: first mix up a batch of ornament dough, made from equal parts ground cinnamon and applesauce. Cut out your desired shapes, bake, then let them cure for about a day, so they dry and harden completely. . . . just be sure to label the pans or racks with cards that say potpourri , look but don’t eat, or something similar to warn curious significant others and kids that these incredible-smelling homemade decorations are, in fact, inedible. Then assemble them into “gingerbread” houses and sets of ornaments, decorate them with puffy paint and/or some metallic dragées (both are available at craft stores and even online through Amazon), and string the ornaments on pretty ribbons, and you’ve got a brand-new, budget-friendly set of holiday decorations for any room of the house.
Bonus #1: Since these cinnamon ornaments and houses are wonderfully aromatic, they keep the guest room smelling sweet throughout the holidays. They’ll even last for several years, as long as you’re gentle with them, without molding or crumbling. Bonus #2: They’re also great gifts, so make up an extra batch and put a handful in little organza bags to hand out to coworkers, your favorite techs at the vet’s office, and your kids’ teachers.
Now let’s get to some crafting of holiday decorations.
What you’ll need:
- Cinnamon ornament/house dough (see recipe/instructions below)
- Cookie cutters
- Cardboard house templates, made by cutting 2 rectangular pieces for the long walls (don’t forget to cut a window or two!), 2 square pieces with pointed peaks at the top for the short walls, and 2 long rectangles for the roof
- Drinking straws
- Paring knife
- Narrow fabric (not gift-wrap) ribbon
- Hot-glue gun
- Puffy Paint
- Dragées (optional)
How to make Cinnamon Ornaments and Cinnamon Houses:
Makes about 15 ornaments, or 2 small houses
- 1 cup ground cinnamon
- 1 cup applesauce
1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. In a bowl, mix the cinnamon and applesauce until they form a smooth ball of dough. If it seems too dry, add some more apple sauce; likewise, if it seems to wet, add more cinnamon. The dough should be pliable but stick together.
2. Divide the dough into halves or quarters. Cut a piece of 2-foot plastic wrap and lay it on your work surface. Place a dough section about 6 inches from one end of the wrap, then fold the opposite end over the top of the dough. Use a rolling pin to roll the section to 1/4-inch thickness.
3. Peel back the top flap of plastic wrap.
To make ornaments, use cookie cutters to create Christmas tree, candy cane, mitten, gingerbread man, star, and other holiday shapes. Use a drinking straw to cut holes about ¼ inch from the top of each ornament. Smooth out any rough edges by dipping a finger in a bowl of water and gently rubbing it along the rough edge.
To make houses, place the house templates on the dough, and, using a paring knife, cut 2 pieces each for the long walls, short walls, and roof. You may want to cut a chimney shape at the top of the short-wall pieces.
You can also make a couple of trees by first cutting a triangle out of dough, then slicing branch shapes: from the center half-inch section of the triangle, slice outward on a downward angle toward the outside edge. Repeat to make as many branches as you like, but leave the bottom ½ inch intact as the trunk.
4. Place all ornament or house pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 2 hours. Test one piece by lifting an edge; if it feels like it’s sticking to the paper, bake for another 10 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully remove the holiday ornaments and house pieces to a wire rack to cool completely, 24 to 48 hours. The ornaments or house pieces should feel dry and hard to the touch.
5. To make ornaments, squeeze puffy paint in patterns—think straight lines for candy canes, zigzags for mittens, faces for gingerbread men—over the top of the ornament. Press dragées into the paint, if desired, for an extra decorative touch.
Cut a 4-inch length of ribbon, feed it through the hole at the top of the ornament, and tie the ends in a knot. Hang on Christmas trees, over the locks of windows, from mantle hooks, and from mirrors.
To make houses, run a strip of hot glue along the side edge of one short-wall piece, and hold a long-wall piece against the glued area until it sets. Repeat on the other edge, and then glue the two unglued edges of the long walls to the edges of a second short wall.
Add a bit more glue inside the corners of the cinnamon houses to reinforce the bond. Run a line of glue along the same-side edges of the two short-wall peaks, and press a roof piece into place on top. Repeat on the other side.
Squeeze puffy paint in melting snow/ice patterns along all edges of the roof, along the windowsills, along the edges of the tree, and anywhere else you might need to hide little imperfections. If desired, glue a tree to one side of the house.