This post may contain affiliate links.
If you buy something from one of the linked sites you won’t pay anything more, but I might make a commission.
Forget about making a cute gingerbread house this year. What 2020 deserves is a gingerbread dumpster fire.
Saying goodbye to 2020
The other day I decided that I wanted to make a gingerbread house. Or, since it would be modeled after my own house, I wanted to make a gingerbread brownstone. I read some tutorials, looked up some recipes, and started formulating a plan.
But the more I thought about it, the more complicated it seemed. And I had never even made gingerbread cookies, let alone a gingerbread structure! So, I thought maybe I should make a simple house first: four walls, sloped ceiling, super simple. That way I could get a sense for how the gingerbreadis would behave, how to glue the pieces together, etc.
And then I had an idea. I wouldn’t practice by making a house, I would make 2020’s unofficial mascot, a flaming dumpster!!
It was a structure as simple as a house, but so much better! I got to work immediately, googling dumpster pictures and drawing templates, thinking that it would take me a few hours to figure out, tops. Ha!
Three days, three versions, and somehow only one shower later, I’m finally done and ready to show you how you, too, can say goodbye to this annus horribilis in an appropriate manner. In fact, we’re planning on smashing our gingerbread dumpster at midnight on New Year’s Eve!
Dumpster fire parts
There are three main parts of the dumpster fire structure: the gingerbread, the glue, and the flames.
The tutorials I’d read about making gingerbread houses were split into two camps: those that tried to make the finished product taste good, and those that used a gingerbread dough that was unleavened (no rising agent to make it puff up) and used shortening instead of butter, so that it wouldn’t spread much while baking and would be stronger structurally.
The thing is, I think that if you build something out of food, it should taste good. Otherwise, I could just build it out of wood, or paper mache, or something else inedible. So I decided that my gingerbread had to be good enough to eat. (And based on the amount of gingerbread I’ve eaten this week, the gingerbread I’m using is delicious!)
I settled on this recipe from the always reliable Sally’s Baking Addiction. It uses less baking soda, butter, and molasses than her regular gingerbread recipe, but enough of all three to still make a tasty cookie. You’ll need one batch to make a flaming dumpster. You can make the dough a day ahead if you want and store it in the refrigerator, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. You can also bake it up the day before. With any other cookie I would say to put it in an airtight container, but we don’t want these to retain extra moisture, so you can just leave them out.
How thick should the dough be?
On my first try at making the dumpster fire, I rolled the dough out 1/4-inch thick. I had only baked up a few of the pieces when I realized this was a mistake. So I quickly abandoned the idea that I would be putting that first batch of cookies together into any kind of structure, and I used the rest of that dough to test thicknesses and methods. Also for snacking.
Rolling the dough out to 1/8-inch ended up being perfect. It was thick enough to be strong—it roughly doubled in height while baking, except at the edges—but gave me enough surface area to do the entire project with one batch of dough.
Whenever I roll cookie dough out between sheets of parchment (which I do for all cut-out cookies—you don’t have to add extra flour!), I use a rolling pin with plastic height guides. That way, I don’t have to worry about some parts being too thick and others too thin. This is a great thing to have, and you can always take the guides off and use it as a regular rolling pin.
Cut first, or bake first?
Next, I had to figure out whether to cut the shapes before baking the dough, or after. This dough is really difficult to cut because it’s so sticky, so I was hoping I could cut everything after baking. But smaller pieces looked really bad when cut out of baked dough and were too soft, and when I cut the larger pieces before baking, they baked up with uneven edges—not great when you’re trying to glue two walls together.
The answer ended up being a mix of both methods: cutting the larger, structural pieces after the dough has been baked, and cutting the smaller, more decorative pieces before baking, which gives them finished edges when baked.
I also experimented with making decorative lines in the dough, whether it was better to score the dough before or after baking. Scoring the dough after it was baked looked terrible, don’t do it. Scoring it before putting it into the oven worked really well for shallow lines, like on the dumpster lid pieces. But for cuts that I wanted to look deeper (the front piece), I found the best method was to take the dough out of the oven about halfway through, make very shallow cuts, and then bake it the rest of the way.
Keep the dough cold
I always put my rolled-out dough into the freezer before cutting it. You can roll it out when it’s very soft, and then after it’s been in the freezer you can easily peel the top sheet of parchment paper off and use cookie cutters without even having to flour them.
The key to cutting the smaller pieces of dough is to keep them very cold. It doesn’t matter how long you freeze this particular dough for, once you take it out of the freezer you’ve only got about a minute to work until it will be sticky and unmanageable again. But that’s OK, because five minutes back in the freezer will get it to a workable state! So, when I get down to cutting the six smallest pieces and the numbers, I divide the dough into three or four pieces, and put them on separate pieces of parchment paper.
I work on one for a minute, put it back in the freezer, take out the next one, work on that one for a minute, and so on. By the time I get back to the first one again it’s firmed up enough to cut a little more.
One sheet at a time
This is not the time to juggle two pans of gingerbread in the oven and one in the freezer. Bake one sheet at a time, trust me.
For one thing, you’re going to be baking this by eye—I can give you a general idea of how long to leave it in the oven, but you’re going to be taking it out based on how it looks. The edges should be browned, the middle shouldn’t look wet.
Two, the gingerbread will bake better on the middle rack. It just will. When I’m making a ton of cookies I have two or even three pans in the oven at once, and I’m turning them and rotating their positions and all of that to make sure they bake evenly. You are not baking enough trays to bother with that here. Do one at a time and do them all right.
Three, some of the pieces need to be cut as soon as the gingerbread gets out of the oven. You don’t want to be in the middle of doing something else and forget!
If at all possible, print the stencils out on cardstock. It will make cutting the dough out so much easier!
You might notice that the stencils include every single gingerbread piece, even if some of them are duplicates of each other, and you might be asking yourself why I’m making you do extra work. But there’s a good reason I’m making you cut all of those pieces out instead of telling you to just make two or four of the same piece. For one thing, you can put them on top of the unbaked dough to make sure you’ve got enough dough rolled out, without having to eyeball or guess anything. Plus, it’s easier to keep track of what you’ve already done if you can move the stencils to a “done” pile. But also, the stencils sometimes stick to the dough, making them harder to work with. You wouldn’t want to deal with a doughy stencil for multiple pieces!
The gingerbread house tutorials say to use royal icing to glue the parts together. And for a gingerbread house, it makes sense. You’re usually making some kind of winter scene, so bright white royal icing looks good. Plus, that stuff dries hard…eventually.
But that’s the thing: royal icing takes a long time to dry. I love decorating cookies with royal icing, but I usually let each layer dry for an entire day!
Still, if the tutorials say use royal icing, who was I to second-guess them? I put the first house together with royal icing that I’d colored brown, and it worked fine, but I had to go slowly. I’d glue a couple of pieces together, and go do something else until it had had a chance to harden a bit. By the next day, though, it had dried very hard.
But then I had an idea! Last spring I’d decorated a cake for my daughter using melted sugar.
It was a ton of fun and turned out really well, but what I remembered was how fast the sugar hardened. I had to keep it on a low flame and work really fast. Would it work as glue to hold my dumpster together?
I melted some sugar with water, let it sit for a minute or two to thicken, then dipped a piece of gingerbread in and stuck it to another piece. It worked great, drying almost instantly. But that also left little room for error. Still, it seemed like it would be so much faster and easier than using icing!
I put the second house together using the sugar glue, and I like that method way better. I just had to make absolutely sure before I started working with a piece that I knew exactly which part was getting dipped into the sugar, and where it was going, and I had to get it there quickly. I only had a few seconds to wiggle and adjust it. And, that stuff is hot, so I had to be very, very careful not to touch it or drip it on myself.
My instinct at first was to let the excess sugar glue drip off into the pan so that I wouldn’t leave a trail of glue from the pan to the dumpster. Don’t do that! By the time the excess has dripped off, the glue will be too hard to use. Any trails you leave will harden up immediately and you can just pick them up. They look like frozen strands of hair!
In the full instructions below, I use the sugar glue. But you could also use royal icing if you’re more comfortable. Just allow more time for assembly.
When I got the flaming dumpster idea, I had no clue how I was going to do the fire part. I’d been researching making windows for my gingerbread brownstone using melted candy, and I thought maybe I could make some kind of mold in the shape of flames and melt red Life Savers into it or something. But even without trying it, I knew that wasn’t going to look great.
At some point in my mad googling I stumbled upon this guide to using isomalt, a sugar substitute that I had never heard of. I started searching for more info about it and I found this recipe for suckers that look like flames, which was so close to what I was trying to do! I ordered isomalt and had it in my hands the next day.
I used one cup of isomalt, which was enough to make the flames for the dumpster.
The first time I tried it, I followed the instruction for the flame suckers almost exactly, but without the sucker sticks or cinnamon flavoring. However, I had a nagging feeling that I could skip the whole middle part, where you spread the clear isomalt out, let it cool, and break it into shards. So I tried it again, and went right from boiling the isomalt to coloring and using it. It worked great! The only reason you need to make the shards is if you want to boil a large amount of isomalt to use later.
There is a bit of a learning curve to make something that looks like a flame, but the isomalt is very forgiving. I just kept putting it back in the oven for a minute and reshaping it. One was so bad I completely re-melted it and started over.
I would highly recommend wearing some kind of gloves when working with the isomalt. Unlike the sugar glue, where the goal is to not touch it and burn yourself, you have to work with the isomalt when it’s still warm enough to bend. Gloves like these, which I bought with the isomalt, not only protect your hands, but they keep you from leaving fingerprints all over your work.
You can also keep your hands safe from the hot bowls or ramekins using a gripper. I’ve had this purple one for so long, I didn’t even buy it on Amazon. But there are lots of similar grippers available. I use this a lot with my Instant Pots, too, for grabbing smaller pots out of the bigger one.
What if the flames break?
Just be aware that these are fairly delicate. I broke two after getting them perfect.
One, I broke near the top, so I held a lighter under it for a second or two, just long enough to stretch it into something that didn’t look like it had shattered. (Any longer than a couple of seconds with the lighter, and the isomalt will blacken, so be careful!)
The other one was pretty comical: I’d put the four finished flames on a cake platter and was going to put the dome over them to keep them safe for the night, while the royal icing dried on my first try at the dumpster. I decided to take a picture of them, and dropped my phone onto one of them. Luckily it broke near the bottom, which nobody was going to see in the finished product.
I’d already cleaned everything up from making the flames, but I still had the little chunk that had broken off of the other piece. So I melted that in a bowl in the microwave, dribbled it onto one piece, and stuck the other piece on. It worked perfectly!
It might also have worked to put the gingerbread pieces together! But I’d worked with melted sugar before and knew I could melt it on the stovetop. I’d never worked with isomalt before and only had a cup left, so in the end I decided to go with what I knew, the sugar glue. I think this is the right decision, since the sugar glue is easier to melt and hardens faster. But if I ever need a clear or colored glue, I think isomalt might be the answer! [Wow, since posting this, I read this article, which mentions that in larger quantities, isomalt is a laxative, but doesn’t really say how much. So maybe not the best choice for glue??]
The first dumpster fire turned out OK, but I made a ton of changes between that one and the final design. The first one was supposed to have 23 pieces (I couldn’t even get them all on there, it was a bad design). The final one has 17.
I realized while assembling the first one that when I’d made the original templates I hadn’t accounted for the thickness of the gingerbread, so everything was a little off. Plus, it turns out that I can’t eyeball right angles, so the edges didn’t match up in the front. But for a first try, not bad!
I also decided that it was a bit too big. I’d managed to get the dumpster made out of one batch of dough, but it was close, with not much extra dough left if I’d broken a piece. Plus, I ended up using scraps from the first bake to make the flames higher, and there would be nothing extra for that, either! So while refining the design, I also made the whole thing three-quarters of the original. If you don’t use all of your dough, make some cookies!
I’d built the first one on the “wrong” side of a cardboard cake round, but I decided that I needed something a bit more sturdy. For the second one, I wrapped parchment paper around a wooden board, taping it on the bottom so that it would stay put.
The most difficult part of the assembly—besides not burning yourself on molten sugar—is assembling the base of the dumpster with right angles. Take your time. You’re going to be drawing a little guide to help you. Don’t skip this part! If the corners aren’t right, everything else will be a little wonky. The pencil lines will be inside the dumpster, they won’t show.
When you’re assembling, make absolutely sure that you know exactly what you’re doing before you dip a piece in the sugar glue, because if you put a piece on the wrong way, it would be difficult to recover from. Know which side you’re dipping in the glue, and exactly what you’re gluing it to, before you start each step.
There’s no bottom on this dumpster, so after it’s made you can carefully lift it up and put some flickering tea lights inside for a nice effect.
You can also make little fondant trash bags to throw around the bottom of the dumpster. I mean, really, if you’ve got the time and the artistic talent, you could make a whole little dumpster scene, with all of the things you want to throw away at the end of this year! That’s my project for this weekend. I’ll post pictures if it turns out well (I’ve never made fondant, or fondant shapes).
Updated 12/22/2020: Hey, I actually did it! They’re in that first picture at the top of the post. And I made a little video:
Let’s say you read through all of the instructions and you still want to make it, but you want to simplify things a bit. There are some corners you could cut while still ending up with a recognizable dumpster fire!
Use fewer pieces
You can save yourself a lot of trouble by eliminating those side handles. Unless you decide to build a gingerbread garbage truck, in which case you should keep them, because that’s how the garbage truck picks up the dumpster (I tried it with chopsticks—those handles are actually strong enough to support the whole dumpster!).
If you don’t want to make the handles, you can eliminate the six smallest rectangles of dough—two fatter ones and four thinner ones.
If you want to go really simple, you could also leave off the two lid pieces and the support that they rest on, and only do the back, front, and sides (and the numbers, if you still want those). Just keep in mind that you’ll need more flames to fill the space.
Make paper flames
Perhaps you don’t want to mess with molten sugar substitute, I get it! I found it fun, but I also find spreadsheets fun, so I know I’m not a great gauge of what’s fun.
You could make some flames out of tissue paper, or construction paper, or even paint some if you’re at all artistic.
Just keep in mind that while the sugar glue is drying, the isomalt flame is actually helping to hold one side of the dumpster lid up. If you use paper flames, get a chopstick or some Jenga blocks or LEGOs or something to hold that piece up until the glue is totally solid.
Don’t ice the numbers
You could leave the “2020” as-is for a monochrome look. Or, if you’re making Christmas cookies anyway, make a 2020 out of sugar cookies so that it stands out against the dark gingerbread. Add some sprinkles for flair! 2020 definitely didn’t have enough flair.
One last piece of advice
If you’ve never done anything like this before, it can seem like a huge project. I had to learn several new skills in order to do it! But it will seem a lot less intimidating if you spread it out over a weekend, or even several days. There are three or four distinct parts of this project, and if you do them one at a time with big breaks in between, you won’t get overwhelmed.
- Make the dough and stick it in the fridge, divided into two pieces and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap
- Make the royal icing and put it in an airtight container (glass, if possible) at room temperature for up to a week
- Melt the isomalt and make the flames, storing them at cool room temperature (never in the fridge or freezer)
- Bake the gingerbread
- And last, make the sugar glue and assemble everything!
Now, go forth and make a gingerbread dumpster fire to celebrate the end of this awful year!
- 2⅔ cups confectioners' sugar, measured unsifted
- 2 tablespoons meringue powder
- ¼ cup warm water
- 1 cup isomalt crystals
- ¼ cup tap water
- Red, orange, and yellow food coloring (gel or liquid)
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- parchment paper
- rolling pin (with height guides, if possible)
- 2 cookie sheets (rimless, if possible)
- small sharp knife
- cooling rack
- piping bag with small round tip, or plastic zipper baggie with a 1/8-inch corner cut off
- small saucepan
- medium saucepan
- candy thermometer
- rimmed baking sheet
- 3 small oven-safe bowls (little ramekins like these work great)
- hot bowl gripper
- metal spoons
- protective gloves
- heavy-bottom pan at least 9-inches wide
- large tweezers
- solid base for dumpster, like a wooden board or flat tray, wrapped in parchment paper
- Flameless tea lights, optional but awesome!
Bake the gingerbread
- Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position
- Clear flat space in your freezer to fit a sheet of parchment paper as large as your cookie sheet, or as large as will fit (I like to cut my parchment paper to the size of my freezer shelf as a guide)
- Print out these three sheets of templates—onto card stock if possible—and cut them out along all of the solid lines
- Take one parcel of dough out of the fridge, divide it in half, and roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper to 1/8-inch; put the rolled dough flat in the freezer (still between the sheets of parchment); you're going to use this dough last, you want it to get as cold as possible while you work on the rest of the dough
- Roll the other half out between another two sheets of parchment paper to 1/8-inch, adding more dough from the fridge or moving un-needed dough to other places and re-rolling so that you can fit the two side template pieces with an inch dough border around them; put in the freezer on top of the first piece of dough
- Repeat with the other parcel of dough between two more sheets of parchment paper, re-arranging the dough as needed until you can fit the front and back template pieces with an inch dough border around them (remove any extra dough, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the fridge); put in the freezer on top of the other pieces (if you don't have enough dough to fit the templates, set aside until you have dough scraps left from cutting the last sheet of templates, the ones that get cut before baking)
- Take the middle flat of dough out of the freezer (the one that fits the side pieces) and put it on a baking sheet; carefully peel off the top pieces of parchment paper and discard (if the top parchment paper is sticking, return the dough to the freezer for five more minutes); put in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 12 minutes and checking on the dough every couple of minutes from that point on
- When the edges of the gingerbread have browned and the middle no longer looks wet, take the baking sheet out of the oven and put it on a heat-safe surface; using the two side piece templates, immediately cut those two pieces out with a sharp knife, and put the cookie sheet on a cooking rack
- Repeat with the top flat of dough (the one that fits the front and back template pieces), removing the top piece of parchment paper and baking on the middle rack; remove the dough after 8 minutes and, using the dotted lines of the front piece template as a guide, carefully score the half-baked dough, cutting just enough to break the surface (if you cut all the way down, you won't be able to use that piece, so be careful!); you can use the edge of the template as a straight-edge, or a ruler; cut longer lines than you need, in case the dough expands a little more while baking
- Return the dough to the oven and bake for another 8-12 minutes, taking it out when the edges have browned; immediately cut out the front and back pieces, using the scored section of the dough for the front piece
- The first cookie sheet should now be cool enough to remove it from the cooling rack, so that you can cool the second sheet on the rack
- Take the last flat of dough from the freezer, peel off the top piece of parchment paper, and working fast, cut out the two lid pieces, leaving an inch of room between each piece and removing the templates from the dough as soon as you're done cutting; once the dough gets soft (after about a minute), return it to the freezer for five minutes
- Once you've cut out the two lid pieces and the long top support piece, carefully scrape away the extra dough from around those pieces, saving it with your other scrap pieces; return the dough to the freezer for 5 minutes
- After 5 minutes, slide the bottom piece of parchment onto the empty cookie sheet and, using the dotted lines on the templates as a guide, lightly score the dough for the lid pieces (you can use the cardstock as a straight edge)
- Bake on the middle rack for 10-15 minutes (the smaller the piece, the shorter the time it will need), until edges have just browned; cool the baking sheet on the rack
- Take your remaining dough scraps, divide into three or four balls, and roll out between 2 more pieces of parchment paper; cut the parchment paper around the dough pieces so that you can move them in and out of the freezer separately
- Put all of the pieces into the freezer for five minutes, then working with one piece at a time, cut out the remaining templates (the numbers and the six small rectangular side pieces); don't work on a piece for more than 30 seconds or so before putting it back into the freezer and working on another piece; they will become sticky and misshapen very fast
- Once you have all of the pieces cut out, put them all onto one cookie sheet and bake for about 6-12 minutes, until edges have just browned; put the cookie sheet on the cooling rack and cool completely before moving the small pieces
- Save all of your baked and unbaked scraps, in case you break a piece and need to re-bake it, or you need to use scraps to make your flames taller
Make the Royal Icing
- Sift the confectioners' sugar into a medium bowl, then whisk in the meringue powder
- Drizzle the water in as you whisk, until you've added all of the water; keep whisking until icing is smooth
- Store in an airtight container, preferably glass, at room temperature, until assembly time, when you can put it into a piping bag or zipper baggie
Make the Isomalt Flames
Be very careful when working with the hot isomalt, if you touch it when it's liquid not only will it burn you, but it may stick to your skin! I wore these gloves, they were great
- Preheat the oven to 320°F
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper
- Put the isomalt crystals and water into a small saucepan, give it a stir with a metal spoon, and clip on the candy thermometer
- Heat over medium-high heat, without stirring, until the crystals have dissolved and the liquid is boiling, then increase heat to high and continue boiling until candy thermometer reaches 330°F degrees, about 10 minutes
- While the isomalt is cooking, fill a medium saucepan 3/4 full with water and ice
- When the isomalt has reached 330°F degrees, remove the pan from the heat and carefully place the bottom of the small pan into the medium pan of ice water, to stop the isomalt from overheating (it will rise to about 340°F before the temperature starts to go down again), holding it there until the temperature goes down to 320°F
- As soon as the temperature hits 320°F, take the pan of isolmalt out of the ice water and quickly (but carefully!) pour the liquid into the three oven-safe bowls
- Add a few drops of red food coloring to the first bowl, orange into the second, and yellow into the third, and stir the colors with the metal spoons until evenly distributed; if the isomalt has already cooled down too much to stir, put the bowls into the oven for a few minutes to warm them up; you can do this as many times as you need to throughout this process, and can leave them in there for a couple of hours if you need to
- Drop the colors by the spoonful onto the lined baking sheet (or pour them right out of the bowls, if you can), making 4 red circles with space between them, then 4 orange circles overlapping the red ones, and last, 4 yellow circles overlapping the orange ones, so that you have 4 separate multi-colored blobs
- Put the baking sheet into the oven for a few minutes, until the isomalt is liquid again, then remove from the oven and drag a toothpick through the colors, starting with the red and ending with the yellow, blending the colors together a bit
- Allow the isomalt to cool for a minute or so, until you can lift the blobs off of the parchment without sticking or stretching (but don't wait so long that they break!); place them onto another parchment sheet, and put the parchment-lined baking sheet back in the oven with just one of the blobs on it
- (At this point, you can leave the baking sheet in the oven, and just move the blobs on and off by hand)
- Leave the blob in the oven just until you can bend and stretch it a little bit, 20 or 30 seconds, then remove it and gently stretch and twist it into a flame shape, bending the bottom into a little foot so that it will have some stability
- When it cools down too much to bend, put it back in the oven until it's pliable again; keep repeating this until you have it looking how you want it to look; if you feel like you've messed it up completely, leave it in the oven until it's liquid again, and start the shaping process over (that's what I did with the one on the left)
- Once it looks like a flame, hold it steadily for a minute or two, until you can lay it down carefully to cool the rest of the way without it drooping into a different shape
- Try to make the flames different heights, so that you can group them together
- These will be rather delicate, so be very careful with them; set them aside somewhere safe until you need them again; do not put them in the refrigerator or freezer, ever
Make the sugar glue and assemble the dumpster
- Gather the gingerbread pieces, royal icing, large tweezers, metal spoon, and an extra piece of parchment paper, plus the parchment-covered base that you'll be building on, and put it near your stove (you don't want the sugar glue traveling more than a few inches, it cools down quickly!)
- Take the ruler and measure the length of the base of the back piece of gingerbread; find the middle back of your board or tray, where you're going to set the back piece of the dumpster, and draw a line half an inch shorter than what you just measured
- Next, draw two 4-inch lines at right angles to the first line; these will be where you put the side pieces
- Put the sugar and water into a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat
- Let it cook, leaving it completely alone (no stirring!), until it starts to turn golden
- Remove from the heat immediately and let it sit for another minute or two (it will get darker and thicker as it sits)
- Give it a stir with the metal spoon; when it's the consistency of honey, it's ready to use; if at any point it gets too thick, put it back on the heat on low until it's warmed up a bit
- When assembling the dumpster, make sure that the "correct" or "right" side of each piece faces out; put pieces together before dipping them in the sugar glue to make absolutely sure you have them facing the right way and in the right place
- Take the smallest gingerbread pieces (there should be four skinny ones, "supports," and two wider ones, "arms") and set them on parchment paper (not the piece you're building the dumpster on)
- Using the tweezers, dip one long side of a support piece into the sugar glue, and then gently press it onto the "wrong" side of an "arm" piece; repeat with another long piece
- Repeat with the other two "support" pieces and the other "arm" piece, and then set them aside so they can harden
- Next, take the front piece and place it scored-side up on the extra parchment paper, then put the 2020 on it, spacing the numbers exactly how you want them to look
- One at a time, using a metal spoon, drizzle a little sugar glue onto the "wrong" side of a number, then press it into place on the front piece; repeat with all 4 of the numbers, then set aside to let the glue harden
- Next, take the side pieces and place them next to each other; dip the little arms you just put together into the sugar glue and place them onto the side pieces, like in the picture; set aside
- Now it's time to pipe icing onto the "2020" as neatly as you can; wet your finger and smooth the icing out if you have to; you can fill in the middles of the zeros if that's easier; set aside to let the icing harden a little
- Check your sugar glue at this point to make sure it hasn't hardened too much in the pan, returning it to low heat if necessary
- Take a deep breath, because this is the most critical part of the assemble: the right angles
- Hold the back piece up just behind the first line you drew so that you can still see the line; take the left side piece and place it just behind the left line (the lines should be INSIDE the dumpster), making sure everything lines up nicely (the cut side-edge of the back piece should be showing), then dip the back edge of the left side piece (the longest edge) into the sugar glue, and gently press it onto the front side of the back piece; check the pencil lines to make sure you've got a right angle, and hold it in place for 10 or 15 seconds, until the sugar glue is hardening and the pieces are stable
- Repeat with the right side piece
- Next, assemble your flames, using gingerbread scraps and royal icing to make them taller if necessary, making sure there's room for the back support piece behind them; once you have the spacing right, glue on the back support piece
- Gluing the front piece on is a little tricky, because the icing can't be touched yet (that will take hours), so be very careful to hold it in such a way that you don't ruin your 2020 icing work; using a spoon, drizzle some sugar clue onto the "wrong" side edges of the front piece where it will meet the fronts of the side pieces, and glue it into place
- Almost done! Dipping the top and bottom edges of one of the lids into the sugar glue, glue it onto the right side of the top of the dumpster, with the back resting on the back support and the front overhanging the front piece by about 1/8 of an inch
- Now, dip the back of the other lid piece in the sugar glue, and stick it to the back support piece so that it rests lightly on the flames, but hold it in place for a minute or two (much longer than the other pieces!) until it's totally stable and holding itself up
That's it, you did it! Enjoy 2021.
We plan to keep this around until New Year's Eve so we can smash it, but if you want to eat yours you should do so within two or three days.
To make the cookie structure of the flaming dumpster, you will need to make a recipe that is not mine: one batch of gingerbread house dough from Sally's Baking Addiction, divided in two, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and chilled in the fridge. You can make this a day or two in advance.
If the thought of working with sugar glue is stressing you out (it dries rock hard really fast, not giving you much room for error), you can assemble the entire thing using royal icing. Just make double what the recipe calls for, and pipe it onto each piece where it connects to another piece. Work slowly, giving the icing time to harden a bit before adding more pieces. Royal icing dries into a super strong glue, but it takes some time.
Do you need every single non-food item that I listed? Probably not. Use your judgement. I listed what I used, but I already had almost all of it (I bought the gloves especially for this project). All of those tools really helped me, but you might be able to improvise.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases (but you won't pay anything extra!)
Wilton Icing Colors, 12-Count Gel-Based Food Color
Watkins Assorted Food Coloring
Unbleached Parchment Paper
Rolling Pin with Removable Rings
Cookie Sheets, 2 Pack
Stacking Cooling Racks
OXO Good Grips Glass Candy and Deep Fry Thermometer
Commercial Baker's Half Sheet (2 Pack), Silver
4-oz Ramekins, Set of 6, White
Protective Glove Set
Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad Fry Pan, 10-Inch
Wooden Rectangles for Crafts, 4-pack
Flameless Tea Lights