Categories: CampingGuides & hacks

Home Sweet Roam: DIY Gingerbread Van

When our friend, Julie Murrell asked us if we wanted to publish a journal post about how to make a gingerbread van, our co-founder, Eric broke his laptop’s track pad trying to hit reply fast enough. Julie’s a writer, adventurer, hula-hooper and self-described “die-hard bloody mary enthusiast.” Follow more of her work over on Instagram.

This holiday season, the van life gets a little sweeter as Julie shows us how to turn an iconic adventure mobile into dessert.

The times are a-changin’, and so should gingerbread houses, shouldn’t they? Inspired by my main man and his van, #tofutravels, I decided to ditch the classic cookie-cutter house for something that feels a little more like home. Do you know the gingerbread van? Well, now you can!

Combining the best of both worlds – adventuring and baking – this holiday-inspired project allows you to get your van craft on. Lucky you, I’ve done all of the tedious work from finding a solid gingerbread recipe to creating a template for the structure. Download, and print the custom template here, and find the steps for making the perfect gingerbread van with an indestructible icing below.

Disclaimer: Making a gingerbread van may result in the urge to own a real-life van.

Gingerbread Van Recipe (#gingerbreadvan)

Recipe from Epicurious, makes two vans. Takes 6+ hours.

For the Gingerbread

Ingredients:

  • 6 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 cups solid vegetable shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 roll kitchen parchment

Steps:

  1. Heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Sift flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and cardamom into a medium bowl.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat the shortening in a large bowl until fluffy. Add sugar and beat to blend. Beat eggs into the shortening mixture one at a time. Add molasses and beat on high speed until well blended.
  4. Add dry ingredients gradually to shortening mixture, beating at low speed until dough forms.
  5. Once the dry ingredients are completely mixed, roll dough into a log and divide into 6 equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a palm-sized rectangle, and wrap each section in plastic. Refrigerate until firm enough to roll, at least 6 hours. (This can be done a day ahead, just keep the dough refrigerated!

Rolling, Cutting, and Baking

On a flat surface, roll one dough piece between two 15-inch-long sheets of parchment (keeping remaining pieces refrigerated). If the parchment wrinkles, simply peel it off and reposition over the dough. Roll the dough to 1/4-inch thickness.

Place template pieces on top of the dough and simply cut around the edges using a knife. Leave cut pieces on the parchment, remove paper templates, and transfer gingerbread onto a baking sheet.

Tip: If you end up having extra dough, carve out a little gingerbread surfboard!

Bake gingerbread at 350°F for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden brown.

Slide the baked pieces, still on parchment onto a rack or countertop until they’re fully cooled. When all of your pieces are ready, that’s when the real fun begins! Next, let’s make icing from scratch to hold this thing together.

For the Icing

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups powdered white sugar
  • Pastry bag
  • Plain round pastry tip

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in a medium bowl until very foamy, about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar in 1/2-cup increments, continue to beat icing mixture at a high speed until the texture of toothpaste.

Spoon icing into pastry bag, and seal the open end (a clip or rubber band works well).

Putting it All Together

There are two ways that you can choose to make your van. Neither is the right way, but I’ve tried them both and have found pros and cons for each. You can decorate your pieces and then “glue” them together with icing; this tends to make it easier to decorate all of the little details. Or you can choose to glue the foundation together first and then decorate. I’ve always decorated the pieces separately and then assembled, but that’s just my preference. Try it both ways, and see which works best for you!

Start by piping the edges of the largest pieces to the front grill and rear hatch, and then build up from there. To hold everything together when first assembling, I used seasoning jars to keep the walls from shifting out of place. It’s not pretty (see example below) but it works. If you’re assembling then decorating, you’ll want to wait a few hours for the icing to settle before you go full Picasso on your van.

For Decorations

  • Unsweetened shredded coconut (snow)
  • Mint Oreos (wheels and wreath)
  • Mini M&Ms (optional)
  • Dots candies (optional)
  • Decorating icing in different colors, or food coloring
  • Icing (recipe provided above)

How you decorate your van is totally up to you! I created two very different versions as inspiration. One is a complete 70’s flower child bus, and the other, a replica (I use the term replica loosely) of an ‘85 Westfalia VW camper van.

For the wheels, use one half of an oreo cookie, and secure it to the van with icing.

For the wreath, I specifically bought mint oreos because the center is already green. Just cut out the center, and go from there! If mint Oreos are unavailable, mini M&Ms make a festive substitute.

When your van is ready to roll, make sure to share it by tagging #gingerbreadvan on Instagram. Happy holidays, and camping!

You can find Julie’s equally-as-sweet, but not-so-sugary adventures over on Exposure.

Or, keep up with her on Instagram

Inspired to hit the road and join the van life? Read on for an interview with @vancrafted.

Happy Holidays!

Julie's first camping memory was driving across the country with her family on a 3-week road trip in their cerulean blue Chevy van at age 4. She lived #vanlife for 7 years, & strives to make the outdoors accessible, and inclusive to all. Her top three unessential camping items are: a speaker, LED poi, and LED twinkle lights for ambiance.

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