So much for being able to catch up on the past year before Halloween…sorry! I did get the Baby Duckie Cake from last November posted, and I’m getting closer on the Spinning Disco Ball Cake, but it’s almost halfway through October, so I need to post my Halloween party prep progress already!
The Old Stone Walls technique from last year is back up…boy is that easier than covering the entire walls in flagstone gossamer! I love how it looks. That project is included in Enhanced Eerie Elegance and one of the episodes already released this season. The spooky Portrait Gallery is in the hallway again, with a few rearranged to keep things new. One has even moved into the living room!
All the holiday pillows are out, and all the curtains are changed to the black & gold tapestry curtains with the purple spiderweb lace. Since I’m still riding my exercycle in front of the TV until party day, I haven’t moved my new “thrones” into place in the large window yet, but they are carved wood antiques with burgundy tufted velvet that my mom found up north in my dad’s hometown…perfect for a castle!
My gargoyle collection has increased with some new Target purchases and moved to a new location clustered on the grand piano. I made sure to leave room for kitty sunshine through the spiderweb lace curtains, and it looks like Ebony appreciates that. I love it when my black cats cooperate as Halloween decor!
During Halloween shopping weekend I finally was able to stock up on black taper candles, since I had been low in stock since my favorite supplier Wishing Well had gone out of business…but then last week Shindigz.com had a 2-day sale with LED flicker taper candles on sale for $3.50 per pair! Everywhere I’ve seen has been $8 or higher for a pair, so I hadn’t invested yet. I bought 13 pairs on the sale, they arrived yesterday, and look great! I prefer cutting off the fake frosted plastic flame like on the right in the video, since then it looks more realistic like a low wick and gives off more light. Even though they are real wax housings, which I didn’t expect from the description, I will be spray-painting them black for Halloween, and saving a few other pairs to paint other colors for other holidays. Now I can start getting rid of my large stash of non-flicker battery candles with those ugly bare bulbs!
There are three giant projects for this year already in process. Two of them I am leaving publicly secret so my guests who read here will be surprised at the party, but the third I’m sure everyone can guess is the gingerbread haunted house! Third time’s the charm, right? Hey, for all those cake challenges on TV they usually practice several times, so I’ll consider the past two years as trial runs for learning experience. Soggy weather and a mandatory work trip immediately before my party foiled me last year when I had made so much great progress, and this year I already have the two days before the party off work on purpose. The bonus to not finishing last year is that I have learned what didn’t work, plus with my recent Etsy profits, I have finally decided to splurge on a printer dedicated for edible art! The printer, Kopykake food coloring cartridges, frosting sheets & wafer paper have all arrived, but I’m starting the baking this coming weekend 2 weeks before the party, so I haven’t practiced yet. I have way too many ideas how to use my new toy!
As for food, I usually wait until two weeks to start baking, but I tested freezing some spider biscuits after last years party and they worked fine. Now from this past week I already have 4 dozen spiders slightly underbaked and frozen, ready to pop in the oven on party day. The pumpkin pasty filling is baked and in the fridge to assemble the pasties tomorrow night, also for the freezer. Those I leave unbaked since the pastry works better that way. Since the spiders have leavening, I wasn’t sure if freezing unbaked would negate the rising while baking. All the other cookies and the haunted house will be baked this weekend.
Also speaking of food, I updated the Halloween Recipes page with some new recipes from both books, each recipe shows which book it’s in, plus the entire Halloween section now resides here on Britta Blvd with auto-redirects from the old britta.com location so no one will get lost. Camera.britta.com will remain the webcam page, and I really hope both webcams will work this year since I have a new Mac Mini home server! Still troubleshooting one cam at this point though…wifi is the bane of my existence out on the patio! *sigh*
My poor archway has seen better days, but it’s originally from 2004 so 7 years is decent value out of about $20 of foam! First it split at the top of the arch where it met the roofline, so I reinforced by adding more foam layers, but then the “legs” kept breaking in storage more each year, until last year it was barely held in place only supported by the gargoyle columns. I bought foam in February, measured and cut last weekend including an extra arch layer around the entire opening, and finally last night I had inspiration for the carving design so that is all sketched on the foam. Hopefully tonight I’ll get carving with the woodburning tool and film for a future episode of the Enhanced Eerie Elegance series.
A big disappointment was that when I took my stone walls out of the shed, where I thought they would be safer away from elements, I found lots of damage from a new rodent population that moved in this winter! Even the “ruins” have been chewed down to the white foam so need repainting. Since I have the new archway too, plus I will reveal that one of the secret projects includes a LOT of foam carving, I decided to finally invest in a paint sprayer. This Wagner 518080 Control Spray Max HVLP Sprayer had fantastic reviews on Amazon for the $100 range, not even needing to thin interior latex, so I hope to have enough carving done to start using he sprayer this weekend! Painting requires daylight outside but baking can be inside into the wee hours…
I was hoping to start my costume much earlier, but I didn’t find fabrics I liked that early. I finally found everything I needed at Halloween shopping weekend. The fitted blouse is completely finished as of last week, which includes button holes, finished hems & scalloped edging trim on the standup collar and cuffs, but the corset bodice & matching mini top hat only have pattern pieces so far. I have purchased a soldering iron & solder since the hat needs a wire frame, which is a new skill for me to learn. At least the skirt should be easy, and the stockings & boots I already have. I won’t say what the costume is, but when I start posting photos I’m sure many of you will be able to guess.
That’s it from me until my next update, hopefully next week. How are your Halloween projects going? Hope you’re enjoying the season so far!
I’ve made a lot of Halloween progress this past week! Since I can’t assemble the gingerbread haunted house until the last couple days, I’ve been working on the accessories so they’re all ready to put in place. I can’t show you the figures because they are part of the quiz, but at least they are as complete as they can be before putting in place. These are mini hollow jack o’ lanterns hand-sculpted from marshmallow fondant that are open on the bottom to sit over LED flicker tealights. I will paint them orange later but I was so excited they turned out so well I already took a photo!
I’ve also been experimenting with new Mojitoes, since the original recipe I thought was solid enough for the first book in 2008 was acting weird in 2009, so I took a year off last year. These are lime gelatin with mint extract, rum & evaporated milk, and conveniently one box of gelatin (1.5 cups liquid) makes a dozen of my toe molds. I think I finally have the best plan for making the food-grade silicone molds with the least amount of material, so I plan on selling them next season with the recipe included. I will be making “virgin” Mojitoes too, with different color toenails so everyone is aware which ones they’re eating!
Sunday evening was a continuing frustrating fight getting the gingerbread all baked first, so when I finally got out my new edible printer, set everything up, and printed my first frosting sheet of Tasty Tombstones, I was literally so happy I squealed for joy! These are the first batch, and I decided to try baking the sheets directly on the tinted gray shortbread, and they worked perfectly & taste great! (And since I used margarine, they’re even vegan, including the frosting sheets!) These are images of my foam carved & painted gravestones, with the original eiptaphs edited out in Photoshop, then with my favorite “punny” epitaphs instead. These will populate the haunted house cemetery (one you cannot see in the photo is a clue!) as well as I have 5.5 dozen more to serve at the party. Since I can mail the printed frosting sheets in flat-rate USPS Priority Mail envelopes, I plan to sell these next season too, as the set of 13 punny ones with the recipe included, as well as a blank set to write your own epitaphs with food coloring pens, or custom epitaphs for a higher price.
So for party food progress, I am very pleased that these are already done:
4 dozen Savory Spiders biscuits in freezer, ready to bake party morning
5.5 dozen Pumpkin Pasties in freezer, ready to bake party morning
5.5 dozen Tasty Tombstones ready to serve, plus 14 for the cemetery
3 dozen Mojitoes so far, easy to whip up a dozen to set in the fridge overnight so will continue
11 dozen Brittle Bones safely in plastic hoping they don’t go soggy
Freaky Witches Fingers dough is chilled, ready to form & bake soon
The Etsy-profits spending spree continued with these dragon sconces I’ve had my eye on for years from DesignToscano.com. I finally splurged on the set of 6 for Halloween decor now, plus permanent installation in the castle I will build someday. 2 will flank the pipe organ, 2 will be out front as part of secret project #2, one will be in the dining area, but I haven’t found a place for #6 so it’s safely in the box.
Since the current Airport Express models allow wifi and cabled ethernet now, I have solved the patio webcam wifi issue by avoiding it! A long ethernet patch cable from the Express inside the garage out to the webcam is working like a charm now, but the cable is thick enough it won’t fit through the door gap like the thin power cable does, so I will be drilling a hole this weekend for the cables to come through the garage wall to the patio up at the ceiling corner. Cron jobs are set up to capture final party prep & the party, so it looks like the webcast will be a go again!
Hopefully I won’t jinx myself that I think I have now solved all the technical difficulties that cropped up for secret project #1, so that is definitely a go! Secret project #2 is well underway, and the new paint sprayer has been working great with only a little water required to thin my paint, but has a LOT to finish this weekend. I am very pleased to have two house-elves who volunteered this year, one for extra hands & collaborating with the two secret projects, and another for Thursday evening, Friday evening & party day prep! I painted all the LED tapers black one by one over several days, but since it’s spray paint over wax, it can easily be scratch or bumped off, so I have saved the original plastic box packaging for later storage. All the gingerbread haunted house pieces were baked over the weekend & are safely in plastic bins with silica gel until decorating commences this weekend, but I still have to get my costume done first so all the non-food projects can clear the main worktable. Here are a couple hints since the shirt & skirt are now complete…can you guess what my costume is yet?
Here we are, last chance I’ll have time to write up my progress until my party is over! I’m taking Thursday and Friday off work so I can hopefully get everything done and even some sleep along the way if I’m lucky.
Another splurge arrived! Pottery Barn had sold out of these skeleton hand spigot jar stands last year before I even got the catalog, so this year I ordered online back in September, but they didn’t ship until Oct 17th. The jar was sold separately for $70(!) so I just bought the stand, which was expensive enough! It doesn’t fit my spigot jar, but it does fit my crystal bowl, so I think it will hold some lighted Mojitoes nicely.
Even though it was well past dark, all the major painting was finished on Sunday night, including the new archway for the patio. Here it is in place, along with the two freshly-painted plastic gargoyles that will hang on the walls flanking the archway after the door goes in. I’m letting my kitties enjoy the patio for as long as they can, since they’re cooped up during the party, and they can’t open the screen door but they can scoot open the arch door!
I was able to drill through from my garage to the patio, so the patio webcam is still working, now without ugly cables! I hope there’s enough lighting, since the main patio light fixture has failed, not working even with brand-new bulbs, so I’m relying on the chandelier, floor lamp & lighted lab display. A new patio light fixture is now on the list for the next Stitches Project Weekend with my dad in February.
Secret project #1 is a go, all technical issues resolved with replacements, stable stand built and painted, ready for testing in final setup Friday night. Crossing my fingers for no rain but the forecast looks good so far…I can’t wait to reveal this one!
Even though I was painting well into Sunday night and sewing by streetlight in my driveway, secret project #2 is all ready for installation tomorrow! I think this will rival the gingerbread haunted house as the most elaborate and time-consuming single Halloween project, but I do think my guests will be surprised and impressed. I would still be painting if I hadn’t invested in my new sprayer that worked like a charm!
I didn’t have enough trophies leftover from last year for all the contests, plus I couldn’t find those skeleton hands this year, so I whipped up some new trophies, now all ready to print out the labels on my new inkjet gold foil label paper!
Speaking of gingerbread, I decided that piping royal icing siding would give the look I want better than rolling fondant and stamping with woodgrain pattern, plus hopefully help protect the gingerbread against ambient moisture. All the exterior wall siding was piped Monday night, using about 9 cups of royal icing! I decided this year to splurge on meringue powder instead of having a ton of egg yolks leftover, but I’ve already almost used the whole can! Even though my hand and arm were sore from piping the stiff icing, I really do like the look. After I took the photo, I shaded the walls with black & purple sprays for some run-down haunted feel.
I peeled off all the black candy melt shingles from last year (no one has black candy melts this year so I’m sure glad I bought a ton last year!), melted some into modeling chocolate to rollout for the shingles & some window trim, then melted more plain directly in a plastic piping bag in the microwave. These are the railings, brackets & gate that I sure hope will survive assembly! I made them thick, and I hope the back side will be a cleaner look since it will all be flat, but we’ll see. I did a test peel at a railing corner and removed a spider, and those were okay already. If they seem too fragile or are warming up too quickly from handling, I’ll pop them in the freezer so they’re nice & solid before attaching to the house. Once they’re on I think they’ll be fine, but they will also be one of the last things for fear of anything falling on them or me bumping them while decorating other bits or adding figures!
Last night, I decorated the chairs and pipe organ with “carved” detail piping, brown icing on raw gingerbread. Tonight I will add purple fondant tufted cushions to the chairs, couch, benches & lounge chair, then royal ice them together and brace them to dry in proper shape.
Of course my haunted house must include a pipe organ! The pipe organ pipes are hard candy sticks sprayed with silver luster dust from the Ace of Cakes decorating line since handbrushing luster dust wouldn’t look as smooth. You can see the other pipe organ pieces in the carving photo, with the two curved sides, music stand, and the curved double keyboard. I’ll add white fondant for the keys, then pipe black chocolate for the black keys, then add the pipe rank to the back during assembly. It also has a matching bench that will get a fondant cushion but will probably be mostly covered by character clues.
I have finished my costume enough to wear, but I’m really hoping to squeeze in a little more accent decorating if there is any chance. Here is the matching hat I made from scratch. Any guesses yet?
Thankfully the inside is mostly cleaned and decorated except for the kitchen that is always a war zone, especially with all the gingerbread work going on. Friday the housecleaners come, some of the best money spent so I can avoid the drudgery of party prep and concentrate on the fun stuff.
Still to do…
Design & print the inside walls on frosting sheets for the wallpaper only, leaving the raw gingerbread for brown piping as dark wood wainscoting. Since I’m printing anyway, I’ll print wood flooring (already found good clip art to tile into large sections), some portraits directly on the walls, and Lord Byron’s big bookcase I photographed last fall. All of those will be accent-piped for 3D detail for frames and furniture edges.
Roll out black modeling chocolate for shingles & window trim – shingles won’t go on until after assembly anyway so the roof can be completely stable before adding extra weight.
Figure out exactly how I can put other food on the gingerbread table. This is getting tricky! For the large enough yard to include all the gravestones & the jack o’lantern walkway, I won’t be able to rotate the house, so it’ll have to be at an angle so people can walk around to see the inside rooms.
Assemble the haunted house! Extra hands scheduled from 5-7pm Thursday for this task!
Decorate outside! Both secret projects are outside, plus pirate corner, ruins & gravestones will go out on Friday & be tested with fog machines & lighting. Some touchup is usually required for the gravestones from being in storage all year.
Set up the lab! I can’t do too much setup on the tables before the library walls go up, otherwise I’m in danger of knocking over lab glassware. Since the walls are only paper and it gets moist at night, I don’t want them up too many days since they can get soggy, so they will go up on Friday, after the housecleaners vacuum both patios for me & clean the rest of the house!
Final party food! Donut Be Scared Peekaboo Pumpkins, Bizarre Brain Pate, Haunted Human Heart, Eerie Eyeballs, Vicious Veggies, Ferocious Fruit, Freshly Flayed Flesh, are all coming in the next couple days, plus the freezer prep will need rebaking the morning of party day.
Print & cut voting ballots, including Ghoulish Gingerbread quiz sheet!
Set out the owls for Ogle the Owl – have a couple new owls so I’ll need to pay attention to how many, plus retire a couple from rotation.
Set up the outside food table! Since my patio couch is facing the pipe organ, and the forecast is decent, I’m putting the Creepy Cuisine table out on the brick patio, complete with extra lighting so people can see well enough. This will probably help the witch cauldron lemonade get more traffic by the shed. I might put the skull fountain out there too since the lab is cramped with the love seat in there now, but it needs power for the fountain. We’ll see what I figure out. At least I finally fixed the pinhole leak in that cauldron!
Hope you are thoroughly enjoying your Halloween season! I’ll let you all know how the party goes with complete photos!
Another Halloween party is over! We set a new Halloween record this year with 66 party guests…wow! It didn’t feel cramped so that surprised me when I counted everyone the next day! Thankfully the weather cooperated both for having all the patios available for guests and food, as well as for the new decorations and FINALLY the Ghoulish Gingerbread Haunted House!
…and the winners are…
Ghoulish Gingerbread Haunted House – Angie got all 13 spooky stories first!
Name That Tune Spooky Movies – Angie & Doug tied with 9 of 13
Creepy Cuisine – Tastiest – A Deathly Bite (Maple Coffin Cake with Spider) by Robert & Maureen
Creepy Cuisine – Best Presentation – Bloody Glass Cutcakes by Scary Jerry
Scariest Costume – Galt & Lyle Loving Each Other to Death
Most Original Costume – the Barbieri Solar System
Ultimate Costume – Cyd the Vintage Tintype
The costumes were fantastic and so much clever Creepy Cuisine that it was challenging to judge! Everyone had a great time, even after last-minute gingerbread chaos as guests were arriving led to food prep chaos, I was still in full vintage Webmistress of the Dark costume by 8pm, and the Rock Band after-party continued until 3:30am! I’m still recovering from only getting 6 hours sleep total from Friday to Sunday, but it was a blast! Hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!
Keep reading for the full party post-mortem & to see the entire photo gallery. There will be a separate post for the Gate Ghost (Secret Project #1) and Castle Brittahytta (Secret Project #2), plus another post for the Ghoulish Gingerbread Haunted House, telling its three-year story of planning & execution!
Wednesday night I was already behind from staying at work decorating until almost 8pm then had to get the final party groceries on the way home, so I was delayed a couple hours even getting started with the graphics for the interior walls of the gingerbread house. I finally had them printed, cut & on the walls by 2am, then the accent piping done finally by 5am…so much for my last night of decent sleep!
Thursday I finished piping the other side of the last double-sided interior wall, then prepped for help to arrive. Glen came to help me put up Castle Brittahytta in daylight, and before he arrived about 1pm, I was able to get the stained glass window, window surround, and the chimney tower up plus all the foam pieces arranged where they would go. My wind-stability plan of large wood plank washers didn’t work out because when I measured for the screws, I didn’t account for the fact that the wood eaves taper inward, so my screws were just a hair too short. So I gave up & screwed directly through the foam into the eaves, hoping for no breeze until after Halloween night…thankfully I got lucky! More detail on the Castle Brittahytta prep in the other post. I had just enough time to clean up the tools & ladder, arrange the hand lights around the Waterfall of Doom, add the canvas & lace tablecloths to the outside food table, and add gold luster dust to the picture frames on the gingerbread walls before Scary Jerry was scheduled to arrive at 5pm.
After lack of inspiration for way too long, I was still hemming & hawing about the gingerbread base board when Scary Jerry arrived to help assemble it! With his help, we finally decided on the original large board on a turntable, since it barely turned all the way around, had just enough yard space, and still left room for a couple plates on either side of the table. We got the two stories assembled by 7:45pm Thursday night, with the roof & bay window waiting until the base stories were fully stable overnight. Thankfully the weather was also cooperating, but Jerry’s hands were extremely helpful! Much better than my “cake challenge” horror story from last year doing it by myself in soggy weather!
After Jerry left, I blitzed all the gelatin body parts, a last batch of Mojitoes, the eyeballs, heart & brain, and prepped three cream cheese Sinister Skulls, then mixed up a double batch of pumpkin donut dough, which had to chill 3 hours before using. Since the housecleaners were coming the next day, I made the cotton candy mess out on the glass patio table for the graveyard fog, and the sugar glass & pulled sugar mess on the stove so they could clean them up for me. By the time I was done adding brown royal icing over the pulled sugar trees & picking up everything to be able to clean, it was 6am!
Friday I slept until the housecleaners came at 11am since I was exhausted already! As they were cleaning I arranged the giant spider & skeleton on the giant web on the front porch, then after they left, I unmolded all the gelatin body parts to soak the molds clean in the sink, then I cranked away on outside decor while I had daylight. The witch & cauldron went up by the shed with extra lighting for the patio food table, then the ruins & pirates went up out front with the gravestones, plus the scrim, projector & tripod & fog machine for the Gate Ghost. I was still arranging outside decor when Jerry arrived for a couple hours of evening help, so he helped me get creative arranging the “new” ruins and giving his opinion on the lighting as I set the LED puck lights around.
Since I didn’t get the dough mixed & into the fridge to chill until too late on Thursday night, I saved the frying for Scary Jerry Friday evening, since he mentioned he’d wanted to try deep-frying but never had the chance. As I rolled & cut the first donuts, he arranged the spooky glassware, put the batteries in the new LED taper candles, and cut up some quiz sheets for me, then we changed the screen door to the arch door. We got through about 5 dozen donuts as a super-efficient team, then he had to leave at 9pm, so I finished the last 2 dozen donuts & had to wait for the fryer to cool down, which delayed my ability to set up the lab table how I’d like. So I can clean up the patio table & prep the lab setup properly much earlier, I need to get the donuts fried earlier & frozen like last year, then just heat them up with the rest of the freezer baking. At least I don’t think I’ll be making a cotton candy mess for next Halloween! The lab ended up arranged by Jerry when he arrived for the party, which worked out fine, just not my persnickety preferences, especially with the cool new stuff I bought this year and the new chalkboard placement. Even the chalkboard wasn’t done, so I gave the old paper version & chalk to Elisabeth & gave her free reign. Nice job, and definitely a different style than I usually do, so that’s great!
After Jerry left & I finished the donuts, I quickly rolled the Violent Vertebrae to chill in the fridge, then went outside for the fog test & projector test. This took longer than I’d hoped since just as I thought I had everything set, the whole table supporting the projector tripod wobbled so everything fell on me as I was on the ladder, so as I was trying to keep from hitting the ground myself, I was barely able to cushion the projector from hitting the ground too hard! Very glad for my tiny LED flashlight I can hold in my mouth, since I was able to set everything back up again & get it all working finally before midnight. I couldn’t place the fog too close to the scrim or all I saw was the beam of light through the fog, so I had to play around with fog machine placement. I also discovered that I am down to only one fog machine now. *sigh* Also the ghost edit I had done needed work for the end transition, so I took the PS3 back inside in hopes I’d have the chance to quickly edit & reload a new version before the party.
By midnight the outside was arranged to my satisfaction, so I finally was back inside doing more food prep & gingerbread house work. I mixed some marshmallow fondant purple with the mixer while I prepped the spiderweb pastry brie, then rolled out all the purple fondant furniture cushions, wishing the whole time I could sit down in one of those plush comfy chairs myself! I got the pipe organ & furniture assembled, the tower & main roof separately assembled on the table, and the bay window added to the house, so they could all dry overnight.
4am I knew I couldn’t start rolling any black chocolate shingles yet since I was hitting the wall, but as I was printing more quiz sheets & clearing boxes away, I re-edited the ghost footage & reloaded onto the PS3…which kept not cooperating with the final fadeout! That took 45 minutes to finally figure out how to get the PS3 to do the same thing as QuickTime…argh! There was another 6am bedtime unfortunately…
On party day I got up about 9:30am, quickly checked the webcams that were thankfully still working fine & aimed properly, then got straight to work on the gingerbread house & final character work again, while baking everything I had prepped for the freezer weeks earlier. The night before Jerry had offered to get the dry ice for me, so he already had my red ice chest and would go on his way over to help for another couple hours. That was a big help that I didn’t have to leave my house at all on party day!
When I got to a stopping point for the gingerbread work, waiting for more things to dry again, I set up the pipe organ electronics, which should have been done much earlier in advance of course! I was able to set up my old analog 4-track recorder as a live mixing board for the keyboard & my iPod so that the iPod was continuously playing pipe organ music, but people could also play along on the keyboard…finally! I heard mostly kids playing it, but at least they had fun!
When Jerry arrived around 1pm, I had just barely taken the lab bottles & accessories out to be ready for him to fill them with the fresh potions, then he cut the cheese discs for the Violent Vertebrae and was able to finish all the Freshly Flayed Flesh before he had to leave at 2:15. After he left I quickly pruned what was absolutely necessary (I had left pruning until the end to see what might help hide the light spillage around the Gate Ghost during night testing), swept everywhere outside & put the labels on the trophies before I popped in the shower & got my makeup & hair done.
As of 5pm none of the gelatin body parts were painted, which was okay for the heart, brain & Mojitoes, but that meant the eyeballs weren’t served, a tragedy that has only happened one other year. Since it still wasn’t trustworthy, I gave up on setting the gingerbread roof on, so I used the woodplank frosting sheet scraps to cover the bare ceiling piece and set the tower on that. I also knew there was no way to get the window trim done or the jack o’lanterns painted in time, let alone fuss with any of the extremely fragile black chocolate railings, so I decided I would get it ready enough for the quiz, then leisurely finish the details after the party to my satisfaction. I started placing characters and decorating the yard, which went fairly quickly. The pipe organ was giving me grief all afternoon since the candy sticks on the gingerbread backing were too heavy for the royal icing to anchor them to the wall, and I realized I attached them wrong so I was out of luck. I was finally able to use a scrap of gingerbread as an extra full backing piece, and with some clever bracing while it set until the very last, it finally stayed up for the party! That was finally about 7:45, one of the last pieces to go in place, then I finally got into costume by 8pm, sadly often the norm that I’m not in costume until after a bunch of guests had already started arriving.
All the freezer baking was done by 2pm on party day, but not set on serving trays until the first wave of guests arrived & were enlisted as house-elves. The Barbieri clan comes long-distance to get in costume when they arrive, but they weren’t available to help until they were dressed, so about 7:15-7:30 was when food & drinks started going out with their help & Elisabeth, with me still finishing the gingerbread house and directing what should go where. I am also so thankful Troy, Ginger & Craig were as willing & able to help as Scary Jerry who brought them! Even with all that last-minute help, the kitchen was such a disaster there was no workspace, so we weren’t able to get the fruit or veggies out at all. I think I will have to make a new rule that unless I have a helper able to come about 4 or 5pm for the final fresh stretch, there will be no fruit or veggies going out. Most of the prepped food went out, which was still a lot, but we all forgot about the Violent Vertebrae or the Sinister Skulls that were already prepped, so they didn’t go out. Darn!
The Creepy Cuisine table out on the brick patio ended up also housing a lot of my food since the gingerbread house took up so much space inside, plus when I was still working, the table was covered in plastic so wasn’t clear for extra food until the end. I never saw if the witch cauldron lemonade got more traffic by the shed but people definitely consumed the cans & bottles in the giant cauldron next to her. The extra lighting aimed on the patio table helped hide the 10-ft tall projector setup for the Gate Ghost in the backyard corner. I was pleased with this setup, and very glad the weather cooperated…whew!
Since I was insisting people do the Ghoulish Gingerbread quiz, there was such a crowd around it that people had to wait for an opening to move in close to inspect for the clues to the 13 spooky stories they needed to identify! I intentionally had low lighting inside the rooms because of the glow effects for the sugar glass, but that made some of the other clues on the walls hard to see, so people started using their cameras or smartphones to light up the inside…haha! I ran out of time to set out Ogle the Owls, but two activities were already too many, since several people left even before the music quiz, let alone costume voting. We must have had about 20 still left around 11pm for the music quiz who gave their costume votes as they left, then as others kept leaving and I tallied the costume votes to award trophies to those winners still present, the ones staying for the “after-party” requested Rock Band…hah! I had to go out in costume, climb up the ladder in my long skirt & high-heeled boots to turn off the projector 10 feet up, then gather the PS3 to come inside to hook up Rock Band. Glen had followed me outside to collect the equipment, and he was a bit worried when I asked him to spot me in case I fell, but thankfully I was fine.
Rock Band continued for a few hours including Ghostbusters (hooray!) until about 3:30am, when Glen, Victor & Laura left and the Barbieri clan went to bed. Ashlyn stayed up helping me clean until about 5am, and I was so exhausted I could barely see! 3 hours later, Tracia & Kian were up already, trying to be quiet to let everyone else sleep, but my kitties didn’t get that message. 9:15 I got up & started making breakfast for everyone, and since the gingerbread house was occupying the dining table, we used the Creepy Cuisine table in the backyard for Halloween brunch in the nice sunshine next to the waterfall. With only 6 hours sleep between 2 days and such little sleep before then, I’ve been trying to recover all week!
The secrets of the Gate Ghost and Castle Brittahytta will be in another post, and the extended saga of the three years of the Ghoulish Gingerbread Haunted House will be yet another post…until then you can view the entire party photo gallery here.
Since they had more impact as surprises for my guests, my big secret projects this year were the Gate Ghost (#1) and Castle Brittahytta (#2), but I had trouble keeping them secret since I was so excited! The castle roof foam stone ramparts was an idea last year that I had no time for after coming back from my Ireland trip, plus I needed to coordinate getting the large sheets of foam home. I’ve been wanting to project ghosts for many years, one of the reasons I bought my first projector 5 years ago, but weather last year defeated me as I had finally gotten progress made, and this year I had an enthusiastic helper who egged me on to making it even better than I had originally planned.
Secret Project #1 – The Gate Ghost
My first projector was a toy and not very powerful, and I did buy it for the dual purpose of movie nights plus Halloween projects, but didn’t get the ghosts working until now since other projects got in the way. Since movie nights improved with a nice screen, I invested in a proper projector a couple years ago, much more expensive, but it isn’t an all-in-one DVD player & speakers combined, so there’s more setup to hide. My original plan was to front project onto my gate and hedge, and I just had a moving slideshow of vintage costumes of myself & friends made ghostly and floating back & forth across the field. I did have that running for trick or treaters a couple years ago but you could only see pale blobs, no detail. When I mentioned projecting ghosts at dinner, my friend Glen, who is an avid video enthusiast with his own movie theatre in his house, really got into researching setups & ideas. He suggested rear-projecting from the backyard onto a scrim across the open gate, so I bought a few test fabrics at Halloween shopping weekend, and filmed some test footage to try.
Glen came over to help me figure out projector placement, since with rear projecting, we needed to aim so the bulb wouldn’t be staring the viewer in the face. We ended up having to stand on the top of the ladder & hold the projector about 10 feet up aimed at an angle down at the gate for the bulb to be hidden behind my arbor grape leaves, so then I needed to figure out a platform & tripod to hold it that tall!
I had used an old heavy-duty tripod for the same projector before for its first summer of movie nights, but it needed to be taller and stable. My old white round plastic table was almost tall enough, just needed to be about 2 ft taller, so I used some scrap wood to make leg insert extensions into the hollow plastic table legs. With some bricks on top of the table that added downward weight, strategically placed to stop the tripod feet from sliding, it was fairly stable but not against a storm or any curious animals. I left the ladder next to it so I could easily access the projector up top at any time, and for the party I covered everything under the projector with black weedblocker fabric to hide it from party guests. It all stayed up just fine well over a week without the projector inside, but it did fall on me during the test run the night before the party!
Since the projector had to be at such a downward angle, I couldn’t use the flat shelf I had made for the tripod originally, so I decided to build a box. Glen warned me a box wasn’t a good idea because of ventilation, but I had scrap wood so figured I could try it. The trickiest part was finding the correct machine-threaded nut for the tripod mount and getting that stable inside the floor of the box. I hinged the top since the buttons are on top of the projector, plus to get it in & out easier. Yes, the first box attempt worked to hold the projector, but it overheated in about 5 minutes, so I cut a bunch more ventilation holes out of the front & both sides, then it was fine. I spray painted it flat black to help hide it from view.
For the scrim, a semi-sheer black polyester dress fabric that didn’t stretch worked great. I had researched theatrical scrims and you aim for 50% air vs. fabric for transparency effects. I used one leftover thin metal rod from my previous patio curtains, then bought a second 6 ft rod, sewed rod casings up both sides of the scrim so it would be pulled taut, then used cup hooks screwed into the gate posts to anchor the poles to the gate posts. No top or bottom brace to ruin the illusion, plus it rolls up nicely for storage!
Yes, that is me (click for video!) with darkened eye sockets in my ghost costume & wig from 2003, wandering around my backyard in only clamp light & black light, with plants and garden wall behind me masked black by weedblocker fabric rolls, then the footage heavily masked & filtered in Final Cut Pro, converted to QuickTime, uploaded via media server to my PS3, which could loop it seamlessly, then the PS3 out in the backyard connected via long HDMI cable to the projector. I thought it came out quite well for my first attempt, and it was a lot of trial & error, including last-minute editing the night before the party when I saw that my “climax” transition didn’t read the way I hoped. I filmed first knowing I’d probably need to film again after seeing what worked & what didn’t, which was perfect for testing proof of concept with the rest of the setup. Both Glen & I were surprised it looked so good on the scrim across the gate! After knowing the project was a go, then I dressed up again to film several runs, then selected my favorites, and learned new FCP tricks I had never used before. I faded in & out intentionally, pacing along with the energy she was expending to try to communicate with the living. I really need to learn Motion to do the masking better, but I was only 2 weeks before Halloween at that point, so was feeling rushed to be sure it got done for this year!
To help hide the light spillage on the pathway plus prevent people from trying to walk through the gate, I placed a large gravestone mostly across the path, plus I had a fog machine running closer to the porch, and I strategically placed lights for the gravestones too. I don’t think anyone noticed the light spillage issue except Glen & me. Placing the fog too close to the scrim just showed the cone of light from the bulb. Another lesson learned is that even though I intentionally made a short 1:30 loop (click the photo to the left to watch the entire loop), with the ghost coming closer across the field of view in several passes to build suspense, that was still too much dead time so many people missed the ghost in their quick walk up to the front porch & into the party. I was asking everyone “did you see the ghost?” so many went back out to see it if they missed it. Glen was doing the same thing, making sure everyone saw the ghost…haha! I already knew I would film new footage after this year, so now I have a better idea how I should film and what my performance should be like. There was also no sound for this year, since I ran out of time to record a soundtrack, so that can be an improvement for next year too. Everyone was impressed, even a “spectacular” was heard at the party, and all my trick or treaters were wowed, or too scared to walk up to the porch! Fantastic reactions & worth a the effort!
Secret Project #2 – Castle Brittahytta
Moving on to Secret Project #2, last year I realized my front landscaping had grown up along my house so much that the walls were mostly hidden already, so perhaps I could just mask the low-slant roofline with castle ramparts. When my dad was here for Stitches Project Weekend in February, we used his van to get 4 sheets of 4ftx8ft thick rigid insulation foam, but that was already slated for the new archway and other repairs. I quickly did some drawings & calculations before he came to deliver my new antique chairs in early September, and I convinced him to do a quick store run so I bought 8 more sheets of foam & stashed them in the garage. I wasn’t able to get started on the actual cutting & carving until 2 full weekends before the party, and by then my new paint sprayer had also arrived. Sadly my trusty garage-sale electric knife died just as I was getting started carving the walls (at least it lasted through carving the new archway!), and my jigsaw blade was just barely not long enough for clean cuts, so I ended up using my kitchen knife by hand…boy was my hand tired by the end! I was carving all this in my front yard, so my neighbors kept asking what I was doing this time. They’re used to seeing me do crazy things from all my remodeling projects. I had to stop when I couldn’t see anymore, but my hand was getting numb from the carving anyway.
I started painting with the sprayer the next day, since the backs of the already cut pieces weren’t going to be carved with the stone block pattern, and I wanted to paint the backs to protect them, especially from the spray paint aging technique that can eat through the foam. Thank goodness the sprayer worked so well! I had a whole gallon of interior latex leftover from my living room paint project, and that was close enough to the exterior wall color, great as a base coat, especially since it was FREE! (well, already paid years ago & non-returnable counts as free for this project!) As those first panels were drying, I cut the rest of them to final shapes, including the interlocking corners for the towers, but wasn’t able to start the woodburning tool carving for the stone blocks until the following weekend. Good thing too, because Glen reminded me about windows in the towers for some future enhancements, so I was able to cut them before painting or carving.
Finally the last full weekend before the party, I kept carving and painting in shifts, first the rest of the backsides while I carved the fronts of the already-painted ones, then carving until I couldn’t see anymore. I also put up the new dragon sconces flanking the garage door & figured out the extension cord issue without strangling myself walking through the garage or getting anything tangled when the garage door opened. Sunday I painted the front base coats on everything carved, including some plastic gargoyles, then when those were dry enough, I continued the spray-paint & garden hose aging technique well into darkness, since I had to keep taking breaks because my trigger finger kept going too numb to continue.
Part of my breaks were cutting, pinning & sewing the garage door curtain out on my driveway, using the back of my Honda as a sewing table directly under the streelight…heehee! I had made my peace with leaving my chimney as brick, since I have seen real castles with a mix of construction materials, but my white modern garage door does not look at all like a castle, so I couldn’t just leave it. This isn’t my final vision yet, since I would love to either add some cool giant strap hinges or a criss-cross portcullis effect, probably out of black felt, but those will be next year. I used leftover patio curtain rods and cuphooks along the top of my garage door jamb, then made two curtains by cutting two large canvas dropcloths so there would be an overlapping opening so I could still get in & out of the garage. After sewing the main shape & rod casing in the canvas, I rolled out 5-ft wide woodgrain gossamer fabric I already had, then pinned & sewed that to look more like a heavy wooden door. Not a perfect illusion, but I could actually back out my Miata through the curtain just fine!
Thankfully by Sunday night I was as done as I could be on this project, so I could work on other projects until Thursday, when I had Glen scheduled to come help me put up the castle walls in daylight when I was off work. I was worried about too much wind against the foam before the party, in case they snapped off, and the timing ended up perfect with the weather this year, since they stayed on great from Thursday, through the party and Halloween night, then two pieces blew down on November 1st, so I took everything down on the 2nd to put safely away for next year.
I was finally able to recycle my old fabric stained glass window for this house! I originally made that for my apartment and was able to make a felt wall to block the kitchen at my duplex, but I had never found a use for it yet at this house. It’s a little smaller than my front window opening, but with foam surround to make the window blend in with the castle walls, just cutting it off a bit at the bottom fit perfectly. The normal lighting from inside doesn’t illuminate it enough to see, so perhaps a clamp light near the piano shining out will help it next year.
I was able to get all the walls out front, some up on the roof, and the front window put up with the stained glass & foam stone surround before Glen arrived to help on Thursday afternoon. My original plan of wood plank giant washers was foiled by my screws being just barely too short, since when I measured the screws against the foam & wood thickness, I didn’t account for the fact that the wood eaves on my roof taper inward slightly, just enough for the screws not to reach. So instead, I screwed directly through the foam into the eaves, which obviously didn’t hold through decently windy weather since two fell off on November 1st, but they held just fine in good weather, plus I didn’t have to worry about painting the wood planks to blend in with the foam stone. I think it was about an hour or so with Glen on the roof holding the pieces steady while I moved the ladder and manned the screwdriver, then it was done! Hooray!
I am extra pleased that the pieces break down for storage well and stack so nicely above my new corner shed in the backyard. I was trying to design this project so the pieces could fit inside the shed, but after I discovered rodents did so much damage, I think roof storage is a better plan. I was able to take down all the pieces by myself in about 30 minutes, mostly moving the ladder to safe locations, since I can’t reach far enough over the crenellations to unscrew anything while kneeling on the roof.
I am so ecstatic that both secret projects were so successful! There are even more photos in the gallery below, so enjoy!
Way back in 1999 after I made the gingerbread thatched cottage in the summer, I thought it would be fun to make a gingerbread haunted house for Halloween, complete with fun tiny details. That very same fall Martha Stewart’s magazine had a big fancy kit for one, so I decided against it that year for fear of people accusing me of copying her. As my parties got bigger and bigger the idea kept getting postponed, until I was able to do the lighted gingerbread Hogwarts castle for the final Hogwarts Celebration in 2007, so I thought I had solved how to accommodate a major gingerbread project into my hectic party prep schedule. It was just as well that I waited so long because I have learned so many more cool edible art techniques over the years that the end result was much better, I designed it so that I could scratch some of my dollhouse miniatures itch that has been unsatisfied for years, plus I was even able to make it into a quiz activity for my party guests! You too can play the quiz from looking at these first photos, then I’ll reveal the answers at the very end after explaining the three-year saga, including a 4-minute webcam recap movie of the 50+ hours of construction.
Ghoulish Gingerbread Haunted House
Spot the 13 spooky stories shown by the creepy clues & characters in & around the haunted house. Bonus points if you can also find all the denizens of Castle Brittahytta.
(answers are listed at the end before the photo gallery)
Keep reading for the full details of the Ghoulish Gingerbread Haunted House!
The Saga Begins…
Well, best laid plans and all, this has taken THREE YEARS to accomplish! 2007 I had just finished the Hogwarts castle, so that was enough major gingerbread for one year, then 2008 was the first Eerie Elegance book with filming & editing video podcasts during Halloween season, plus a major work event right before my party, so no time for gingerbread that year either. The main quiz planning and cardboard mockup was done in 2009, along with sculpting several of the characters & clues from modeling chocolate or gum paste, and I got all the house pieces baked, but coming down to 17 hours before the party, there was no way I could finish to my satisfaction, so I stacked the pieces in the pantry & tried not to be disappointed. 2010 I had another work event the 3 days before my party, but I really wanted to get the house done! I tried my best to get it constructed before the work trip, but even though I had all the walls decorated inside and out, the unusually soggy weather defeated me, with a horrible reality-TV-worthy episode of walls falling apart in my hands the night before the work trip, and me very close to tears of frustration. So that was another year down…and now we’ve come to 2011 already!
This year I was so thankful there was no work trip, and I took 2 days off work before my party, wishing it could have been more but too much going on, so my hopes were high! Of course because I am a glutton for punishment, I also decided to take on two other very major new secret projects in the Gate Ghost and Castle Brittahytta, so those took some time away from advance gingerbread prep, plus my elaborate costume didn’t get started as early as I hoped, but I did get a lot of the advance edible art done. All the characters did get decorated early as much as they could before final placement, my fondant jack o’lanterns were sculpted even if not painted by the party, chocolate railings and gate were piped, and I even got lucky that I could have extra hands available for the main construction, which would be a huge help! I invested in an edible printer mainly for the Beware the Brocade wallpaper I had planned, but that led to other fun printables that ended up quite impressive and easier than hand-decorating, like wood plank flooring, the Picture of Dorian Gray from the 1945 film, some Haunted Mansion portraits I had, a ton of fun vintage anatomy charts and the Captain Hammer dartboard for the lab, and even a portrait of Miss Hermione G. Wells.
I had saved the 2010 attempt in my garage in plastic bins mostly to see how long anything lasted, and just in case anything could be recycled. Good thing because it helped remind me what final fitting issues I had between the cardboard mockups and the baked gingerbread – there are often issues in thickness for how corners fit together, plus I realized that the roof didn’t fit the house ceiling for some reason. After so much grief with the roof last year, it had finally stabilized very well in the plastic bin I stored it in, so well that I was thinking of using it until I set it on the ceiling and realized it didn’t fit properly. I pulled off the candy melt shingles since I knew I could reuse those, carefully cut away the gingerbread pieces that didn’t fit, but saved the foamcore-braced top and corner pieces intact to add new baked pieces in hopes I could make it fit. I really wanted the mansard roof!
I use structural gingerbread, which has no eggs and uses shortening as the fat. It’s so dry that it never spoils, and honestly tastes fine even a year later, since I was snacking on broken bits of the 2010 house while I was working on the new one. Many of the accessory & furniture pieces were still fine in the plastic bins all year, but I did bake new pipe organ sides and the curvy chair sides, plus anything that had warped or seemed too thin. Even the tower mansard roof survived completely stable, so I reused that intact! It’s harder than I expected to brace royal icing and gingerbread to the correct angles and have it set in the proper shape for the mansard roof shape. I had no problems with all the Hogwarts Castle buildings with peaked roofs! All the baking was done 2 weeks before the party, on schedule! I should have started decorating the walls sooner, but I need the entire dining table for the pieces to dry completely, and I was still using the table for my costume sewing that week.
The following weekend my costume was done, so the table was available, perfectly on schedule for the walls to be decorated. I had tried marshmallow fondant walls for 2010, but I wasn’t as happy with the result plus I hoped once the royal icing was hard, it would help keep the gingerbread from sagging in ambient moisture, so I used 9 cups of pale lavender gray royal icing to hand-pipe siding using a large petal tip on all the exterior walls, then shaded them with black and purple food coloring sprays. Sadly 6 cups ran out, which is all that fits in my mixer at once, so it was tricky to match the color between batches, but at least then I still had 3 cups for construction so the seams matched the siding. Can you tell which walls were which batch? Hope not!
I am SO thankful that kitties don’t like gingerbread, since the siding had to dry completely before I could turn them over to decorate the inside walls, so they were out on the table overnight. I liked how the half-wallpaper looked for 2010, so that was the plan again, but this time with frosting sheets and edible ink vs. rice paper and real ink not allowing anyone to eat the wallpaper. I was able to get two wallpaper sheets from each 10″x16″ frosting sheet, since I left the wainscoting as raw gingerbread brown with brown royal icing handpiping. I had thought I could print the portraits directly on the wallpaper sheets, but I wasn’t exactly sure of the final measurements after construction, so I printed those separately, cut them to each wall including window cutouts, attached them with frosting, then added frames or other 3D accents with piping over the top. I really love the huge bookcase, and extra cool that it’s from a photo I took at Lord Byron’s ancestral home last year in England!
Thursday began the final crunch, two days before the party. I finished piping the other side of the last double-sided interior wall, then got ready for outside decor when help was scheduled to arrive, finishing barely in time to gild all the icing picture frames with luster dust.
After lack of inspiration for way too long, I was still hemming & hawing about the gingerbread base board when Scary Jerry arrived to help assemble it! With his help, we finally decided on the original large board on a turntable, since it barely turned all the way around, had just enough yard space, and still left room for a couple plates on either side of the table. We got the two stories assembled by 7:45pm Thursday night, with the roof & bay window waiting until the base stories were fully stable overnight. Thankfully the weather was also cooperating, but Jerry’s hands were extremely helpful! Much better than my “cake challenge” horror story from last year doing it by myself in soggy weather!
After Jerry had to leave, I made the sugar glass & pulled sugar mess on the stove, and used the leftover hard candy to make the cotton candy mess out on the glass patio table for the graveyard fog, so the housecleaners the next day could clean up both messes for me. By the time I was done adding brown royal icing over the pulled sugar trees & picking up everything to be able to clean, it was 6am!
Friday I couldn’t continue edible artwork until after the cleaning was done, and I worked on outside decor during daylight while I could see what I was going. After other party food prep with another couple hours of evening help from Jerry, by midnight the outside was arranged to my satisfaction, so I finally was back inside doing more food prep & gingerbread house work. I mixed some marshmallow fondant purple with the mixer while I prepped the spiderweb pastry brie, then rolled out all the purple fondant furniture cushions and tablecloth, draping it over the gingerbread seance table, making sure no light could peek through at the floor, then cut the top hole so it could dry enough overnight for surface decorating. I got the pipe organ & furniture assembled, the tower & main roof separately assembled on the table, and the bay window added to the house, so they could all dry overnight.
I had thought I would assemble the furniture before piping, but then realized after the first couple were assembled that would be much more difficult, so everything was piped in flat pieces as a “carved” pattern earlier in the week, then assembled after they were completely dry, before the purple fondant cushions went on. I struggled with the fondant trying to get it a more lush vivid purple velvet color, but very glad of the dough hook on my stand mixer, since I was able to multitask while it mixed the color into the fondant for me. When I was adding the cushions to the chairs, couch & benches, I kept wishing I could sit down in one of those nice thick cushions!
Oh how I love how the pipe organ came out! It was one of my favorite pieces I designed, so I’m very happy it turned out that well! I piped black chocolate over white marshmallow fondant for the keyboards, and the “carving” was the same brown royal icing as the rest of the furniture. The pipes are candy sticks royal iced to a gingerbread backing board and sprayed with silver luster dust, then the rest of the gingerbread front sits against the pipes glued to the wall. Sadly I didn’t realize until final construction that my original plan was to offset the pipes higher so the backing piece reached the floor, so that was a last-minute rush of royal icing prayers and anything small & heavy in the kitchen for bracing to get it stable while guests were arriving at the party!
By 4am I knew I couldn’t start rolling any black chocolate shingles yet since I was hitting the wall, plus I thought it would be better to shingle after the roof was in place, and I was still hoping the main roof would be stable enough by morning to add to the house. After a little much-needed sleep, on party day I got up about 9:30am, quickly checked the webcams that were thankfully still working fine & aimed properly, then got straight to work on the gingerbread house & final character work again, gluing head on Emily’s head onto her body, piping hair on Sally & Emily, drawing the design on seance tablecloth, and gluing the sugar trees in place, all while baking everything I had prepped for the freezer weeks earlier. While that work was drying or setting, I went back to other pending party prep.
As of 5pm since it still wasn’t trustworthy, I gave up on setting the main roof on, so I used the woodplank frosting sheet scraps to cover the bare ceiling piece and set the tower on that, unglued in case I had time after the party to try the main roof one more time. I also knew there was no way to get the window trim done or the jack o’lanterns painted in time, let alone fuss with any of the extremely fragile black chocolate railings, so I decided I would get the house ready enough for the quiz, then leisurely finish the details after the party to my satisfaction. I started placing characters and decorating the yard, which thankfully went fairly quickly since those had been finished in advance and mostly just set in place without needing any royal icing to anchor them. Only Jack gave me grief in the window! After I glued the Tasty Tombstones in place on the foil with royal icing and propped them up with cookie crumb dirt and chocolate rocks, I piped a dam of royal icing and set cookie crumbs into the dam all around the baseboard and the edges of the house, then I spooned cookie crumb dirt loose onto the foil-covered base, artistically sprinkling the chocolate rocks last. From necessity of the time crunch, I just slapped green royal icing directly on the sides of the battery tealights and dipped them in the cookie crumbs, which actually worked really well! Royal icing snaps off of non-porous surfaces so I cleaned the tealights fine later.
I had saved placing the sugar glass for last because the weather was already getting more humid, and the lab glassware was a bit fussy not sitting upright in the holes so needed anchoring with royal icing, but they looked great with the underlighting. I was also so very pleased that Madame Leota’s crystal ball worked so well! I had made a 2-part food-grade silicone mold of a ping pong ball, and sculpted Leota’s head sized for the mold from white chocolate with royal icing hair, with features drawn with green food coloring pen. When I poured my sugar glassware for the lab, also in smaller silicone molds I had made, I poured the crystal ball halves, making sure each mold was coated completely and evenly but then dumping the excess out right away so only a thin layer of sugar was in the mold. I set them open side down on the silicone mat to cool so they could drain & set as evenly as possible. I could have made it easier on myself to make more glassware molds so I didn’t have to pour so many batches of sugar glass, but that food-grade silicone is expensive stuff! By making so many batches, I made a crystal ball set each time too, so I had plenty to choose the best, plus have backups in case anything happened. This was also when I made the two pulled sugar trees, using the rest of a batch of sugar after filling the few molds. After all the sugar glass was fully cooled, I stored them in plastic tubs with silica gel packets so they wouldn’t go gooey. The trees I covered with brown royal icing spread as bark in hopes that would protect them from moisture plus look more realistic.
The afternoon of the party, I glued the sugar beakers and flasks in place on the lab table holes with royal icing so they would be lighted from underneath as the lights changed colors. Then I chose the best crystal ball pieces, set Leota’s head inside the back half, and I used an open flame very quickly to heat the seam so the two halves would stick together without discoloring the sugar. It worked, stayed together resting in place on the hole in the table, and with the color-changing light hidden under the table, it looked even better than I had hoped! (This was the only effect that didn’t last as long after Halloween, since the sugar stayed hard even through some rainy weather outside, but began crystallizing internally after about a week so it became too opaque to see Leota’s face anymore. The lab glassware lasted fine because the crystallization just refracted the colored lights even more. The rest of the house was still looking great through mid-November!)
The pipe organ was giving me grief all afternoon since the candy sticks on the gingerbread backing were too heavy for the royal icing to anchor them to the wall, and I realized I attached them wrong so I was out of luck. I was finally able to use a scrap of gingerbread as an extra full backing piece, and with some clever bracing while it set until the very last, it finally stayed up for the party! That was finally about 7:45, one of the last pieces to go in place, then I finally got into costume by 8pm, sadly often the norm that I’m not in costume until after a bunch of guests had already started arriving…but most importantly the house was ready to play the quiz!
I insisted everyone play the Ghoulish Gingerbread Haunted House quiz to “Spot the 13 spooky stories shown by the creepy clues & characters in & around the haunted house. Bonus points if you can also find all the denizens of Castle Brittahytta.” Everyone enjoyed my creation, even though slightly unfinished, since there was such a crowd leaning in to inspect the details that many people had to wait their turn for a closer look!
After I recovered from the party for a few days, I got back to work on final details. I had bought cute tiny bone shape candy sprinkles that I wanted to use for window trim, so I melted more black chocolate then piped the window shapes on wax paper where I had traced the windows from the cardboard templates. I wasn’t using my silicone mats since I discovered while unpeeling the piped chocolate railings that the mats don’t bend easily enough. Wax paper works much much better, especially when you need to draw to plan exact shapes. The chocolate would actually set too quickly to get the bones placed, so I often needed to heat an area with my candle lighter first. I made sure the chocolate was in the approximate shape, then after it set a couple minutes but before it would shatter, I gently trimmed with a paring knife to get crisp clean edges. I’m really pleased with how these turned out as separate pieces, since piped directly over the house siding they would have been lumpy.
Since the doors were already in place standing open, I made the door trim in separate pieces which worked well. The chocolate starts melting in your hands of course, so I used more melted chocolate to pipe “glue” in place so they set firmly much more quickly than royal icing. It took a very gentle touch so I’m glad that only one window broke during assembly and it pieced together in place fine. It definitely made the house much more finished already with all the trim in place!
The only quiz clue I didn’t get done before the party was the Dark Duo, my black cats Ebony and Onyx. I gave bonus points for finding the denizens of Castle Brittahytta but only Miss Hermoine G Wells’ portrait was on the wall. I sculpted both kitties from black chocolate, giving Onyx wider eyes and bigger fluffy tail hanging down from a comfy spot, and Ebony was in a classic windowsill pose with her skinnier tail curving nicely, just like she does.
The railings had to be placed last since I was worried about reaching over them, so I finished the shingles on the tower next. I had thought I would roll out thinner shingles, so I had melted most of my candy discs, but since the bay window roof was already discs and I only had the tower left after giving up on the main roof, I just used the discs I had, including other colors when I ran out of black and painting with food coloring after they set. Sadly I shouldn’t have painstakingly removed the shingles from the tower roof after all! However I did decide I didn’t like the roof windows, so with re-shingling anyway, I shingled over them. Since I was already painting with black, I just painted all the roof seams, and I think that looks just fine without any extra seam trim.
I finally handpainted the glowing jack o’lanterns with a custom orange mixed from brown, red and yellow. I tried shading a couple but they looked better with the natural shading from the orange and carved grooves, especially when lighted. All 13 of those painted immediately made it look a lot more like Halloween!
Next I piped the green royal icing spooky ivy all over the house and the now-crumbling gravestones after the real Dark Duo nibbled them! (hrmph!) I liked the look that not as many leaves were growing but the scraggly vines had taken over for years. I covered the whole bay window and up to the main roof and around the front door, plus climbing the tree and all over the opposite side wall under the balcony. Even though the icing was too runny to hold the leaf tip shape, I think it still was effective. It sure was hard to mix a green that dark!
Last but definitely not least were the web-pattern “iron” railings! I am so relieved the chocolate railings worked since they really improve the overall look! I’m actually okay with the fact that the mansard roof was never trustworthy enough to set in place, since not only did it save me from all that re-shingling, but I think I like the extra railings better! I had repaired the railing breakage from removing from the silicone mats, but I probably should have left them in sections since the long sections broke in multiple places anyway while setting in place. With so much railing around the main roof I decided the tower didn’t need railings, so I added piping onto those to make the longer main roof railings. After I finished her full-length, handpainted, two-layered, tattered veil out of white fondant, Corpse Bride ended up fitting better on the main roof instead of the very top of the tower anyway, so it worked out well. I had a couple spots where the railings didn’t fit (what the heck did I measure so many times?!) so I used some spiderweb brackets to fill in, or explained that the tree had grown into the railing and broke it. I had piped the spiderweb brackets not knowing for sure where they would fit, but I absolutely love them on the tower!
I’m very glad the graveyard gate also survived assembly only glued to the foil on the baseboard! I filled in with more chocolate rocks as a graveyard pathway too. I had saved some cotton candy fog for the final photo shoot and took about 150 MORE photos once it was finally finished to my satisfaction!
Of course there are a ton of detailed photos in the gallery below, and as promised, here is the webcam stop-motion movie including a 360-degree view of the finished house, made from about 3000 minute-by-minute image captures AFTER sorting through removing the dead time…that’s 50+ hours not even counting the off-screen work…whew!
After all this work I have now decided I will keep this gingerbread house around through Christmas and give it an “overlay” of snow and Christmas spirit, just like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland!
So, did you find all 13 spooky stories plus the bonus question? Here are the answers!
Ghoulish Gingerbread Haunted House Answers
1. Nightmare Before Christmas = Jack Skellington & Sally mischieviously peeking out of the balcony windows
2. Emily the Corpse Bride = standing sadly up on roof on widow’s walk
3. Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog = Captain Hammer dartboard on bulletin board in the lab
4. Edward Scissorhands = hand hedge in front yard
5. Phantom of the Opera = face mask & red rose on pipe organ
6. The Picture of Dorian Gray = large portrait on inside wall in “attic” seance room – freaky multi-colored version from the 1945 film
7. The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe = the Raven “still is sitting” perched “above my chamber door” to the balcony
8. Wizard of Oz 1939 film = the Wicked Witch of the East’s legs in striped socks wearing the Ruby Slippers sticking out from under the house
9. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion = Madame Leota inside the color-changing sugar crystal ball, also two spooky portraits in the seance room
10. Harry Potter = Hedwig holding a scroll perched in the bay window tree
11. Addams Family = Thing (disembodied hand) crawling on the coffeetable
12. Jekyll & Hyde = envelope to Dr. Utterson with explanation letter signed Henry Jekyll on lab table
13. True Blood = Bill Compton’s gravestone in the graveyard
Bonus: Denizens of Castle Brittahytta = Portrait of Britta as Miss Hermione G. Wells behind couch, Onyx on the lounge chair in the bay window, Ebony sitting in the front window behind the hand hedge.