Gumdrops line the sidewalks, sprinkles adorn the window trim and the gingerbread rooftop, covered in snowy white icing, conjures a sugarplum vision filled with delight and whimsy.
Decorating a gingerbread house is pure holiday fun. Making the precision-cut walls? Not so much. So a gingerbread house kit -- with pre-made timbers, rooftops and walls -- is a great option, especially if it comes with the "everything else" needed to build and decorate a sweet abode.
The problem is that every gingerbread kit is basically a mystery package. The pictures tell very little about the finished size of the house, the craftsmanship or the color and amount of candy and icing tucked inside.
Some kits have gingerbread pieces that are poorly fashioned and difficult to assemble. Most have very little candy -- you need to buy more. The worst have ugly candy, insufficient frosting, ill-shaped gingerbread parts and tacky plastic trays that are supposed to simplify construction, but don't.
After constructing a small city of gingerbread homes from kits available at local stores, here's the scoop on the best and the worst. Kits were not rated on deliciousness, since gingerbread house parts need to be dry and tough for optimal structural integrity.
Cobblestone Kitchens Gingerbread House
Lots of bright gumdrops, colorful candies and a generous amount of very white, easy-to-mix frosting make this a top pick. The kit includes a giant pastry bag and a star-shaped tip that allows for fast assembly of this large house with nicely detailed gingerbread walls. $9.99 at Cost Plus World Market. (4 stars)
Wilton Gingerbread Mini Village
The pre-assembled house kit offered by Wilton is a serious study in minimalism -- blank walls and very little candy -- -- but this kit of four different-shaped miniature homes is a great pick. Each house is a single sheet of gingerbread that easily breaks apart into squared-off pieces that fit together. The kit includes white icing with good consistency for construction and red icing for decorating, and just enough bright, colorful candy and sprinkles. $8.99 at Walmart. (4 stars)
Target Gingerbread House
Even though this generous-sized house is slightly tricky to assemble due to the stylish gable, it fits together well and comes with a decent amount of pastel-colored candies. The pre-made, super thick icing is off-white and difficult to pipe, but it bonds quickly. A small pouch of green fondant to use for detail on the house and snowman is a nice touch. $9.99. (3 stars)
Elf On The Shelf Gingerbread House
Bowed walls make for messy assembly, but the roof is beautifully cut with scoop-shaped tiles, and the kit includes an ample amount of colorful candy, lots of thick, sticky frosting, and an adorable elf fashioned from gummy candy. $14.99 at Bed, Bath & Beyond. (3 stars)
Cinderella Castle Gingerbread House
Only a pastry chef could make this castle look as nice as it does on the box, but it's still a fun design with nicely defined gingerbread walls. The color-coordinated collection of jewel-like candies dress it up nicely, and a handful of cardboard cutouts of Cinderella, her coach and a clock on the verge of midnight accessorize the castle. $14.99 at Walgreens. (3 stars)
The detail on the walls, the gingerbread man and tree is impressive, as is the bright selection of candies and gumballs, but this little house doesn't fit together well. The walls are out of kilter and might not stand at all if they weren't glued with icing to the tacky, white plastic "EZ-assemble" tray. $9.99 at Bed, Bath & Beyond. (2 stars)
Trader Joe's Holiday Gingerbread House Kit
Unlike most kits, this one is made with fresh, aromatic gingerbread. Assembling this A-frame requires teamwork, but the house has beautiful detail and comes with a cute family of icing characters to inhabit the place. The downside is that you have to make the icing yourself, and the candy selection is ugly and ridiculously sparse. $7.99. (2 stars)
Monaco Gingerbread House
Even though this pre-assembled house is large and solidly put together, you have to mix the icing and it comes with a sorry selection of individually-wrapped hard candies that are so old they stick to the wrappers. $19.99 at Cost Plus World Market. ( star)
Wonka Gingerbread House
Inside this brightly colored box that promises a trip to Wonka-land lies a big, fat helping of disappointment. The gingerbread pieces are ho-hum in design and there's barely any frosting to attach the non-chocolate candy, the bulk of which consists of chalky colored SweetTarts and Bottlecaps. $9.99 at Walgreens. ( star)
Reviews are based on product samples purchased by this newspaper or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at firstname.lastname@example.org.