There is no better way to get into the holiday spirit than to build a gingerbread house. What my family thought would be fun one afternoon quickly became a tradition, even getting to the point of finding local competitions to find ideas and later competing in.
- Step 1: Make Gingerbread Dough
- Step 2: Gingerbread House Model
- Step 3: Bake the Gingerbread
- Step 4: Build Gingerbread House
- Step 5: Decorate
Step 1: Make Gingerbread Dough
It is important that before you begin making gingerbread dough that you’ve first considered the size of the gingerbread house you plan to build. This ensures that you will have enough dough for your house. If another batch of dough is needed later on, be sure to use the same brand of molasses. A different brand of molasses is enough to alter the color of the dough. I always used this recipe, but you can use any gingerbread house recipe. Just make sure it is for building a house and not cookies. Once the dough is made, separate each batch into 2 portions, wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for later.
Step 2: Gingerbread House Model
The next step to build a gingerbread house is to come up with a plan. I’ve found the best strategy for me is to build a model of my gingerbread house. This way when it is time to bake the gingerbread, you already have templates that can by used to cut out the dough. In addition, this ensures that when you build your gingerbread house, you will know what piece goes where and all the pieces are the proper size. It is a lot easier and faster to cut out a new poster board piece than stopping to make a new piece of gingerbread.
For a Traditional Gingerbread House
Needed: Ruler, Poster Board or Cardboard, Tape
- Using a ruler and poster board/cardboard, make 2 rectangles (side 1) that are the same size. These will become the sides of the house and may be as tall or short as you like.
- For the ends of the house, make 2 pentagons (side 2). When making the pentagon, you will want the base to be the same height as the previous rectangles. The top of the pentagon may be as steep or flat as you like.
- Next is the roof. Make 2 more rectangles that are slightly longer than the length of side 1. The height of these rectangles will be slightly longer than the diagonal sides of side 2. If the peak of the pentagon is off center, the 2 roof pieces will be different sizes.
- Once you have an outline of all the pieces, cut them out.
- After cutting the pieces out, begin to assemble the the house by taping the pieces together.
- If a piece is too small or un-level, remake a level piece to fit.
Step 3: Bake the Gingerbread
Now that we have the dough and a plan, we can begin baking the gingerbread. The dough is easiest to work with when it is cold, the warmer it is, the stickier and harder to work with it is.
Needed: Step 1 Gingerbread Dough, Step 2 Templates, Parchment Paper, Flour, Rolling Pin, Paring Knife
- Preheat oven to 375
- Remove gingerbread dough from fridge and allow gingerbread dough to come to room temperature, typically 10 minutes.
- Layout parchment paper slightly bigger than the template on a flat surface and sprinkle with flour.
- Place the gingerbread dough on parchment paper, use rolling pin to begin rolling out dough to an even thickness of a 1/4 inch.
- Lightly flour and place template on dough. Use the paring knife to trace the template and remove any remaining dough. On the excess parchment paper, label the piece for reference later.
- Place piece in oven and bake half way.
- 5 minutes for small pieces (Total 10 minutes)
- 6 to 7 minutes for larger pieces (Total 12 to 14 minutes)
- Halfway through baking, remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Use paring knife to retrace the template, throwing out any excess cookie. Place back in oven, rotating to finish baking.
- Once done baking, remove from oven and allow cookie to cool completely before removing from tray.
If you plan to leave some gingerbread exposed, you may want to add texture to the dough before baking. Adding texture is easy with just a few adjustments to the Step 3 process.
- Additional Supplies Needed: Impression Mat
- Before rolling out the dough in Step 3.4:
- Lightly flour the impression mat and place the mat on top of the dough. Roll out until dough is 1/4 inch thick.
- Before retracing template in Step 3.7:
- Gently re-roll the impression mat into the dough being careful to keep the thickness.
- Continue with Step 3.7
- Before moving on to Step 4, you may want to do some decorating on the piece.
Adding Candy Windows
Instead of adding windows afterwards, you could choose to bake windows right into the gingerbread house. This allows the house to look more realistic and also be illuminated by adding a strand of Christmas lights inside the house.
- Additional Supplies Needed: Hard Candy
- Butterscotch/Caramel will make yellow windows
- Jolly Ranchers will make a colored stained glass window
- Put hard candies into a sandwich bag and crush using the rolling pin. You want to have a fine powder.
- In step 2, when making the templates, you will want to include and cut out a spot for the windows.
- Follow above process until Step 3.7.
- After retracing the piece, make sure any crumbs are removed from the window. If crumbs are not removed, they will be baked into the window
- Add the candy powder into the window hole. You want at least enough powder to completely cover the hole so the parchment paper cannot be seen anymore.
- Return to oven to finish baking, at least 5 to 7 minutes or until the candy is melted.
- Let cool completely before removing from the cookie sheet.
Step 4: Build your Gingerbread House
Once all the pieces are baked and cooled, it is finally time to build the gingerbread house. When building the gingerbread house, it is helpful to have at least 2 people.
Needed: Cardboard (Medium Density Plywood, if planning to transport the gingerbread house), Royal Icing
- Make at least a double batch of royal icing. Royal icing will be used as the mortar for the gingerbread house and later for decorating.
- Before beginning to build the gingerbread house, you want to have a surface to be able to “glue” the house down to. Cardboard or plywood could be used depending on size and weight. If you plan to move the house, better to have a sturdier surface.
- Put some royal icing into an icing bag or a freezer bag with a corner cut off.
- Using the icing bag, place a generous line of royal icing on the bottom of the first side and stick onto the surface.
- On piece 2, ice the bottom and side that will be next to piece 1. Place the piece 2 onto the surface and press the iced edge to form a corner with piece 1. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Repeat until all 4 sides are standing
- After a couple of minutes, if desired, use a spatula to smooth out the icing that squeezed out in the building process.
- Let the gingerbread sides continue to dry for at least half an hour.
- Once the sides are dry, ice the top of the 4 standing sides and place the 2 roof pieces on.
- Ice the 2 roof pieces together at the peak. Hold roof in place for 3 to 5 minutes. Let go and allow roof to dry.
- Allow the house is completely dry, at least an hour.
Step 5: Time to Decorate
Now that the house is built, it is finally time to grab some candy and begin to decorate the gingerbread house. Make the icing thinner and easier to use for decorating by adding a teaspoon of water at a time.
Tips and Tricks
- Necco wafers can be used as shingles if cut in half. Starting rows alternating between half and quarter wafers will allow you to make a realistic roof
- Chewing gum can be used as siding.
- Sugar Cone Christmas Tree
- I would always set the sugar cone on a candlestick instead of icing to a pretzel rod. This makes the cone stable, easier to rotate and lets you focus on icing the cone.
If added texture to gingerbread:
- Add a couple of teaspoons of water to the royal icing making a liquid consistency.
- Spread the icing over the textured gingerbread piece.
- Use a spatula to scrap excess icing off. You want to be able to see sections of gingerbread.