Family Fun Making Gingerbread Houses

Making Gingerbread Houses is all about playing with your food - from creating the templates to mixing the gingerbread ingredients to adding lots of candy and icing to turn your ideas into reality.

Anything goes when making a gingerbread home - the more unique and creative, the better!

Keep in mind though, it's not all fun and games.

If you are creating your own house templates and not using a premade gingerbread house kit, there is some precise measuring and cutting and assembly that has to take place before the decorating fun begins.

You might be thinking, "Isn't it difficult to make really cool gingerbread houses? And don't I need a lot of expensive equipment and gadgets?"

No, you don't need any expensive, house-shaped bake ware or a commercial-grade oven.

All you need is a little instruction and the license to unleash your own individual creativity.

We'll share you with some basic and easy-to-follow instructions to get you started with your gingerbread house pattern, cutting and baking your house pieces and assembling them into a sturdy house that can be decorated to your heart's (or your inner-child's) content.

Be sure to check out Fairmont San Francisco's World Famous 2-Story Gingerbread House

Gingerbread Baking and Building Basics

When making your own patterns and doing your own baking - as opposed to starting with a premade gingerbread house kit - you should probably plan to spread it out over a few days - this will probably make it more enjoyable for you and your family rather than trying to rush and squeeze it all into one day.

Here's a timeline that you can plan by, or adjust as necessary:

  • When making the gingerbread, allow 30 minutes to mix your dough and at least three hours more to refrigerate it before it'll be ready to use.
  • Plan to spend about two hours baking the gingerbread, and then rolling it out and doing the cutting of the pieces and about four more hours to let it cool.
  • You should plan to spend about two hours assembling your house.

The History of Gingerbread
Gingerbread has been around since early Christian times and the ancient Romans used to bake it in portable ovens. This fragrant pastry was popular in early American cooking because it was relatively inexpensive to make - and also because it could easily survive the uneveness of wood-fired and coal-fired ovens.

One question we always get is, "Can you really eat your gingerbread house?" And yes, you really can eat them, but you may think twice if you've devoted a lot of time and energy baking and decorating!

Traditionally, gingerbread houses are meant to be created entirely out of edible items. But since it takes some much time and work to create them, we usually use them as table centerpieces or holiday decoration - rather than using them for snacks.

Gingerbread House Dough Recipe

This recipe will make enough dough for your basic gingerbread house - including front porch and chimney. And using a heavy-duty mixer will make mixing the dough much easier for you - if you don't have one, you may want to put one on your list if you plan to make a lot of gingerbread homes!

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt and set aside.
  2. electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add in molasses and continue blending on low speed.
  4. Gradually add in sifted flour mixture, along with 3/4 cup water, and blend until all dry ingredients are thoroughly absorbed.
  5. Spread the dough out on a sheet pan and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to roll out dough (ideally overnight; or at least 3 hours).

Royal Icing Recipe

Hands down, royal icing is the best choice for assembling and decorating your gingerbread house master pieces! Most other icings contain shortening or butter that will soak into the gingerbread and cause it to soften and possibly collapse.

This recipe will make enough icing to assemble and decorate your basic gingerbread house (including front porch and chimney).

Keep in mind that this icing will dry out, so if you are assembling and decorating your house on different days, you may just want to make half the recipe now, and half just before you are ready to decorate.

  • 5 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup egg whites
  1. After measuring the sugar, be sure to sift it into your mixing bowl.
  2. Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the sifted sugar.
  3. Mix with a hand mixer on low speed, then beat on high for 2 to 5 minutes, until mixture is snow white and fluffy.
  4. Keep icing bowl covered with a damp towel to retain moisture - this icing mixture will crust quickly when exposed to air.

Rolling Out Your Dough

Helpful gingerbread hints and tips

  • Before beginning your gingerbread house, bake a batch of gingerbread cookies to test your dough recipe and to get familiar working with the dough.
  • The colder your dough is, the better it will retain its shape. Leave any dough that you aren't working with in the refrigerator until you are ready to roll it.
  • When rolling out your dough, use lots of flour because the more you work with the dough, the softer - and stickier - it will become.

Any clean and flat surface will work for you when rolling out dough. Cover the surface with parchment paper and simply place a portion of dough on top of it, then begin rolling it out with a floured rolling pin. Roll out enough dough for a couple of pattern pieces at a time.

Try to keep the dough piece you are rolling out as square and even as possible, and slightly larger than the pattern pieces you will be cutting from it.

Your rolled out gingerbread dough should be about 1/2 inch thick - for base pieces because they will be thicker and more stable. For accent pieces, you can roll the dough a little thinner which will make the pieces a little more delicate.

Cutting Out The House Pieces

Lightly dust the surface of your rolled out dough with flour and place the templates you'll be cutting out on the dough.

Using the patterns as the guide, begin cutting.

A floured pizza wheel works best on longer and straighter pieces where as a paring knife works perfectly on smaller pieces with more difficult cuts.

After making your cuts, peel away any excess dough and place in an airtight container - you can use this later for small house decorations or even making some gingerbread cookies!

Before baking the dough pieces, be sure to brush off any excess dough to prevent caking.

After the pieces are all cut, it is best to let them sit out, uncovered for several days before baking. This will help them to retain their shape after baking.

If you want to add textures or colors to your pieces, you can score the pieces of unbaked dough to resemble bricks or wood planks or anything else you can think up. To color the pieces, simply brush liquid food coloring, watered-down gel coloring, or food coloring paste mixed with water on the dough before baking.

Baking the House Pieces

Cut the parchment paper around the individual pieces of your house and then transfer both the paper and gingerbread to cookie sheets, separating pieces about 1 inch. Try to keep the larger (and thicker) pieces of gingerbread together and the smaller (and thinner) pieces together, since they will probably finish baking at the same time.

In a oven preheated to 350F degrees, bake the gingerbread until the dough is deep brown in color - about 20 minutes. You can always put the cookie sheets back in the oven for a few more minutes if you feel they aren't quite done after pulling them out.

After baking, allow house pieces to cool on the cookie sheets for about 25 minutes before transferring them to a flat surface to cool completely. If you place them on an uneven surface, your pieces might crack or break.

Let the gingerbread cool for at least 4 hours but preferrably overnight, if possible.

Baking Tips

  • If your gingerbread turns out soft, it will be very difficult to build your house. Be sure to bake your dough until it's completely dry and crisp!
  • Bowed cookie sheets could cause the pieces to bake - ensure your sheets are completely flat.
  • It is best to cut your house pieces before baking - but you can do some quick small clean-up cuts immediately after removing the gingerbread from the oven. Just place your cardboard templates on top of the warm gingerbread to see if the dough expanded at all while baking and then trim and shape as needed.
  • Your gingerbread house pieces should always stay in the oven a little longer than the recipe says, even if you think it's burning, just to make sure it comes out extra hard.

Assembling The House

Any flat and sturdy object will work as a base - such as a serving platter, a cake board, or a piece of wood covered with silver or gold foil wrap. One inch thick foam boards also work well if you plan stick lollipop or candy cane trees right into the base!

How to Pipe Icing
Using 12-inch pastry decorating bags are the best size for building and decorating your house. Fit the pastry bag with the decorating tip of your choice, then fold the sides of the bag down about one third of the way and use a spatula to fill the bag half-full with icing. A coupler on your pastry bag will let you easily change icing tips to create unique effects.

Be sure to push the icing all the way down and into the tip to avoid air pockets! Seal the end of the bag by twisting.

To pipe, just apply pressure to the end of the bag and continue to twist as it empties. It may seem awkward at first, but feel free to experiment on a piece of wax paper first. Then, once you are comfortable, you can re-use this "test" icing.

Gingerbread House Construction

  1. With a pencil, mark one the base where the house will sit (don't forget the porch along the front, if your house has one).
  2. Starting the the back of the house and one of the side pieces, pipe icing along the bottom edges, the place them over the marks on the base forming a corner. Be sure to hold them in place for a few seconds until the icing starts to harden.
  3. Taking the other side of the house, pipe icing along the bottom and set into place - be sure to add icing up the side to secure the back piece to the side pieces.
  4. Next, add the front of the house securing the bottom and sides with icing.
  5. Royal icing is the "glue" that is going to be holding your house together, so pipe liberally to make sure the house stays together. Everywhere two pieces of gingerbread meet, there should be icing!
  6. If your house has a front porch, follow the same procedure, first securing the two sides of the porch to the front piece of the house, then securing the front of the porch to the two side porch pieces.
  7. The top of the porch (actually the porch floor) should be added after the base of the porch is set.
  8. If you have the time, let the house and front porch dry for at least 30 minutes, but preferrably overnight, before adding the porch overhang, house roof and chimney.
  9. Once the house and porch are set, you need to add the front porch overhang supports. Resize the candy cane supports with a heated knife so they are the correct height. You may not want to permanently install the porch supports until the house is decorated - if so, just set them in place, but don't secure with icing until you are ready to permanently install them.
  10. Set the porch overhang in place by piping icing along the front top edge of the house, placing the overhang piece, then attaching the front of the roof which will help hold the overhang in place.
  11. If necessary, shave any gingerbread pieces to ensure a tight fit.
  12. Attach the back roof piece by adding icing along the slants and top of the back wall. If the roof piece needs extra support until it sets, you can keep it in place with a box of brown sugar which should just about be the right height.
  13. Putting the chimney together:
    First attach the to small side chimney pieces to the tall chimney face piece with icing.
  14. Once set, use icing to attach the same two side chimney pieces to the side of the house.
  15. Then, attach the two small slanted side chimney supports, followed by the two tall side supports. The two tall side supports will have to be notched to correctly fit over the lip of the roof.
  16. Lastly, add the small back piece of the chimney which sits over the roof peak.
  17. For the window dormers, attach two triangle pieces to the roof about 1 1/2 inches apart and then place a square piece on top of them.

Candy Trimmings
Visit your local candy stores for inspiration. Browse through the bulk aisles and you're certain to find new ideas roof shingles (shredded wheat makes great thatched roofs and necco wafers are another option), window shutters (chocolate bars?), and walk ways (gourmet jelly beans?).

When you're finished, sprinkle everything with a fine dusting of confectioners' sugar and your entire creation will look like it's just been snowing!

If you are looking to preserve your gingerbread house for several seasons, you might want to consider applying either food shellac or regular shellac. Then, it can be padded with plastic and wrapped in plastic wrap until it's airtight. And of course, be sure to store in a cool, dry location.

Pre-Made Gingerbread House Kits
If you prefer, there are various assortments of Gingerbread House Kits available with premade gingerbread and most include all decorating candies and icing you'll need! Be sure to order early - these do tend to sell out every year:


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