How to Make a Gingerbread House
Making a gingerbread house is no simple task (unless of course you get one of those pre-fab houses, in which case these notes will be of little help). These houses took several gatherings, one to make the dough and the pattern pieces, one to roll out the dough and bake the pieces, one to assemble the pieces, one to decorate. The joy is really in the making, of the coming together to work on all the steps that are required to build a gingerbread house from scratch.
The following are instructions I used with a gingerbread house making endeavor with my young friend Audrey. If you plan on making a gingerbread house yourself, I hope you find them useful.
- 6 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 4 teaspoons ground ginger
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbsp) butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup dark molasses
- 1 Tbsp water
MethodMake the Gingerbread Dough
1 Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl, set aside.
2 Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed the butter and brown sugar until fluffy and well blended. Beat in the eggs, molasses and water until well combined.
3 Beat half of the flour mixture into the molasses mixture until well blended and smooth. Stir in the remaining flour. Knead (or use your mixer's dough hook) until well blended. If dough is too soft, add a little more flour.
4 Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours, preferably overnight. You can make it up to 3 days ahead of time. Let sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before rolling out.
Create and Cut Out Pattern Pieces
Create a gingerbread house pattern by cutting out pieces of stiff paper (like that of a manila folder) or cardboard. I like cardboard because it's almost as thick as the gingerbread house pieces will be, and you can create a house model easily using the pieces. The following links are to gif images of the pattern that we used to make these houses. They should print out with the correct proportions (1 inch on the pattern = 1 inch in real life), but if not, the dimensions are also given on the pattern so you can use a ruler and create your own.
Make the Gingerbread House Pieces
1 Preheat oven to 350°F, with the oven rack in the middle. Have several flat cookie sheets ready, preferably ones that you know will not warp in the oven heat.
2 Divide the dough in two. Spread parchment paper or wax paper on a large flat surface for rolling. Dust the paper lightly with flour. Working with one portion of the dough at a time, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to an even thickness of 1/4-inch. Add a little flour to the surface of the dough, and check for sticking as you roll it out. If it sticks to either your rolling pin or the rolling surface, dust with more flour. If the rolled out dough is very soft, you may want to freeze it for an hour before cutting out the patterns.
3 Rub a little flour over the surface of the dough. Place the pattern pieces on the dough, as many pattern pieces as will fit on the dough. Use a small sharp knife to cut out the pattern pieces from the dough, wiping the knife surface clean frequently. Depending on how soft the dough is, you may need to use scissors to cut the wax paper or parchment paper. You can cut out the patterns through the dough and parchment paper, placing the dough pieces with the paper directly on the cookie sheets. If you are not using parchment paper or wax paper, you may need to use a large metal spatula to transfer the dough pieces to a greased cookie sheet. Space the pieces on the cookie sheet an inch apart from each other. If dough pieces stretch during the transfer process, push them back into shape.
You can cut out a door and window(s) at this point, or you can wait until after baking, soon after the pieces have come out of the oven while the cookies are still warm.
4 Bake in a 350°F oven until the edges are just beginning to darken, 11-15 minutes for the large pieces, 6-8 minutes for the small pieces. Rotate the cookie sheets half way through the baking for more even browning. Remove the sheets to racks to cool, about 15 minutes.
While the pieces are still slightly warm, lay the pattern pieces over them and use a large straight chef's knife to trim off any parts of the pieces that have through cooking spread beyond the pattern.
Remove pieces to cool directly on racks to cool completely.
Make Royal Icing
Royal icing is not only used for decorating, but it is the mortar that holds the gingerbread pieces together to form the house. The following proportions should make enough icing for both the mortaring step and for decorating for one gingerbread house.
- 2 large egg whites
- 2 2/3 cup powdered sugar, divided
1 Whisk together until smooth the egg whites and 1 1/3 cups of the powdered sugar.
2 If you are planning to eat your gingerbread house, and are concerned about the safety of raw eggs, you can microwave the egg white powdered sugar mixture for several seconds (30-40) until the mixture reaches a temperature of 160 degrees, but not higher than 175°F. You can also use pasteurized dried or liquid egg whites.
3 Add the remaining 1 1/3 cup of powdered sugar to the sugar egg mixture. Using an electric mixer, beat on high speed until the icing holds stiff peaks. If it doesn't form stiff peaks, add more powdered sugar.
4 Place a dampened clean towel over the bowl of royal icing. Keep this towel over the icing to prevent it from drying out while you work with it.
5 When you are ready to mortar or decorate, fill a pastry bag with the icing. If you don't have a pastry bag, you can make your own with a re-sealable plastic freezer bag, just cut off the tip (a small cut) of one of the corners of the bag. Plastic or metal piping tips are available in supermarkets which you can also use with a freezer bag, for more controlled piping.
Construct the Basic House, Mortaring the Pieces Together with Royal Icing
This is where it really helps to have more than two hands working on a house, and why making a gingerbread house is so much more fun with company than alone. If you are working on this alone, it may help to grab some canned goods from the pantry and use the cans to help prop up the pieces while the icing mortar is drying.
1 Pick a solid base for your gingerbread house - either a flat cookie sheet, or a thick, sturdy piece of cardboard. If you want, line the base with aluminum foil or wax paper.
2 Pipe a thick line of icing along a short end of one of the side pieces. Press the iced side piece against the edge of either the front or back pieces. Hold in place for a few minutes until the icing is partially set. Repeat with the other side piece. Prop up with cans if necessary. Repeat with the other short edges of the side pieces and the remaining front/back piece. Pipe icing along the seams, inside and outside of the house, to fill in any gaps and to add extra stability. Pipe icing along the edges of the house where it meets the base. Let set for at least an hour before attempting to add the roof pieces.
If any of the gingerbread house pattern pieces breaks, as can happen easily when working with what are essentially cookies, most likely you can repair them. On my house I forgot to cut out the door and window until the front piece had almost completely cooled. When I went to make the cuts, the piece broke. Fortunately, it was easy to mortar back together with royal icing. We even created a "splint" out of cardboard and used royal icing to hold the splint to the piece. Let harden completely before using the piece for the house construction. When it comes time to decorate, you can pipe icing right over the broken seam and no one will be the wiser.
3 Once the royal icing has dried enough so that the base structure is solid, you can go to work on the roof. Pipe icing all along the top edges of the structure, front and back and two sides. The roof pieces are a rectangular shaped. Place the roof pieces so that the long ends of the rectangle are running along the top of the house. It helps if you have two people working together to place the roof pieces on the house at the same time so that they meet easily at the top center, and extend out a little bit, forming an overhang at each end. Gently hold the roof pieces in place for a few minutes until they are set enough so they don't slide off when you remove your hands. Pipe the top seam of the house with extra icing. Let the house stand for at least an hour, and preferably 8 hours before decorating.
Note: If you have pets in your house, keep them away from the gingerbread house during all phases of construction and decorating. Non-gingerbread-house-building-participating adults and children should be informed to keep their hands off the house as well.
4 The chimney. The dimensions of the chimney can be a bit tricky because of the angle of the roof. Although you may have cut your chimney out of a pattern, these small pieces likely have spread a bit through cooking, and you may have to use a chef's knife to cut the pieces and adjust the angles of the pieces so they align better with the roof. It's easiest to assemble the chimney first upside down, separate from the house. Pipe the pieces together with royal icing and let set until stable. Then, turn the chimney right-side-up and attach it to the roof using piped royal icing. You can do this either right after the house has initially set (1 hour after assembly) or later, during the decorating process.
Decorate the Gingerbread House
This step requires a trip to the candy section of your local grocery store. You can decorate your house with whatever types of candy pleases you. Be careful taking kids along to the store however, as you will invariably buy more candy than you actually need (though they do have the best ideas of what candies would be good for various decorative effects). Red hots are really practical, as are small gumdrops, and candy canes. Audrey used a whole bag of chocolate truffles for the stone wall around her house, and some type of waffle-patterned cookies for roof tiles.
Pipe royal icing to make decorative designs around the walls of the house and roof. Use royal icing to "glue" pieces of candy to the house.