I tend to go overboard sometimes with my culinary creations. This gingerbread house was no different. I wanted to make something special, so I began researching online. I found lots of videos and photos with different techniques and recipes, but the only templates out there seemed to be very basic houses. I wanted a Victorian design so I set out to make my own template. I drew everything out on graph paper, then cut up a cardboard box and went about starting to build a mock-up. I went through a lot of cardboard and blue tape, measuring, cutting, and starting over. In the end, I came up with a mock-up that stood on its own. I’ve posted photos of my templates below, so you can use those to make your own house if you want to!
After finally getting the cardboard model right, I took it all apart to make a template that I could use to cut out my gingerbread pieces. Then I had to decide on a recipe. The gingerbread you use to build a house has to be a lot sturdier than regular gingerbread that you would eat. It has to dry hard and crunchy in order to stand and hold the weight of the roof and candies used to decorate. I settled on this one from Stella Parks. After making a test batch, I decided to use a bit more than the amount that she recommends for one batch, since even when rolled out very thin it didn’t quite reach the corners of my half-sheet pan. I ended up making 8 batches total for 6 sheet pans of gingerbread. I might even go with a bit more than that in the future. I used her suggestion to make a pipeable mixture of the leftover gingerbread to pipe out some fencing that went around the balconies. That worked great! The only problem I had was that I forgot to take into account the candy cane posts, so I ended up cutting the balcony pieces after they were baked.
Here are a few important tips regarding baking and assembling your gingerbread:
- Before beginning, lay out your template pieces on a sheet pan, taking care to leave some space for borders, so you know how many batches of gingerbread you will need. (I went a bit too close to the edges and had to re-do my layout – see photos above)
- Depending on your mixer, you’ll probably want to stick to 3 batches or fewer at a time.
- Roll your dough out directly onto a sheet of parchment, then transfer onto the sheet pan.
- Use a paring knife or an exacto knife to carefully cut around your template, taking care not to cut through the parchment. Don’t forget to cut the lines where you will have windows, but don’t remove the inside of the windows just yet! For cutting out the round windows in the gingerbread, I used a small round cookie cutter.
- Leave at least ½” border around the pieces of gingerbread to minimize spreading.
- Cut along the scored lines immediately after you remove the baking sheet from the oven. The dough will harden very quickly. If it gets too hard before you’re done cutting out the pieces just pop it back into the oven for a minute to soften up.
- If you’re making windows, pull sheet pan out of the oven about 7 minutes before it’s done. Remove the insides of the windows and fill with crushed butterscotch candies. Make sure to really load up the candy, as it will melt down quite a bit. (see photos above)
- Use cans or bottles from your pantry to hold up the sides and roof of your house as you build it. Royal icing dries quickly but you’ll still need something to hold the pieces in place. I used clamps for the final roof piece. (see photos below)
- Decorate the walls and roof pieces laying flat, before you assemble the house. It’s much easier to pipe on a flat surface! I like to use these disposable piping bags and just cut a small piece of the corner so I don’t need to bother with piping tips.
- Take your time. Let your walls dry completely before adding the roof pieces.
- Assemble your house on a cake board larger than the house so you have room for trees and other decorations around the house.
I happened to pick a very rainy week to bake my gingerbread pieces. As a result, they began to soften, and I was worried that the whole thing would collapse. I ended up keeping the house in the fridge when I wasn’t working on it (which also kept my curious cats away from it) and that seemed to help. I also added a post-it note with the word BELIEVE written on it, a la Ted Lasso. I found these great remote-control tea lights on Amazon that I added as I built the house. It’s super fun to watch people’s reactions when I turn the lights on at night! By the time I moved on to adding the roof decorations and Santa in the chimney, I could safely leave the house out overnight. There was a bit of interest, but to my delight the cats did not eat the house… yet.
When it comes to decorating, let your imagination run wild! I checked out a few stores for candies. I found the cute reindeer gummies, wreath gummies, and cinnamon stars at Cost Plus, and then went with Christmas red and green M&M’s for a lot of the other decorations. I also found the mini candy canes and stars for the tops of the trees at Target. I made the Santa out of the piping gingerbread, and colored him with red and black royal icing that I had left over from decorating Christmas cookies.
I was very happy with the overall outcome of the house. In the end, the cats ended up eating 3 of the stars off the tops of the trees, so the entire house was taken upstairs to the rents’ place where, I’m happy to report, it’s still standing! Now that I’ve learned the basics, I can’t wait to make a bigger and better one next year.
Construction Gingerbread adapted from Stella Parks’ recipe
- 196 grams dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp + 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 4 ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- ½ tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
- 400 grams organic light corn syrup
- 158 grams unsalted butter
- 1 ¾ tbsp vanilla extract
- 620 grams all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
- crushed butterscotch candies for filling in windows
For royal icing
- 1 1-lb bag powdered sugar
- 3 tbsp meringue powder
- 7-10 tbsp warm water
For the dough
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F. Prepare 3 half-sheet pans and parchment paper sheets (see special equipment above).
- Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, corn syrup, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low until smooth, then sprinkle in flour and continue mixing to form a stiff dough.
- Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
- Divide into 3 equal pieces and place each piece inside a quart size ziplock bag (this will make it easier to roll out into a rectangle). Refrigerate for about ½ hour.
- Cut open bag and place dough square onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment. Roll dough out to the edges of the parchment and then gently lift the parchment and slide onto the sheet pan.
- Lay your template pieces onto the gingerbread and cut around them with an exacto or paring knife, taking care not to cut through the parchment below. Leave a border of dough about ½" wide around cutouts to minimize spreading, but trim away larger areas of excess dough to gather and re-roll, or turn into paste (see directions below).
- Bake for about 17-20 minutes, until dry to the touch and golden brown. Immediately cut along pre-scored lines with an exacto or paring knife. Let cool completely in the pan. If gingerbread begins to harden before you have cut out all of your shapes, pop it back into the oven for a minute to soften up, then continue to cut. If you are making butterscotch windows, pull gingerbread out of the oven about 5-7 minutes before it's done, remove the window pieces and fill with butterscotch, then return to oven until the candies have melted completely.
- Repeat for remaining two batches of dough.
For the gingerbread paste
- Return scraps to the bowl of your stand mixer and resume mixing on low speed. Begin adding water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until scraps form a stiff but pipeable paste.
- Draw a template onto a sheet of parchment, the flip over and place on a sheet pan. Pipe your design onto the parchment, following your pattern. Bake at 350°F until pale gold, about 12 minutes. Cool completely before handling.
Decorating and assembling your gingerbread house
- Make the royal icing: place powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water in the bowl of a very clean stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until stiff peaks form, 7-10 minutes. Adjust water amount until you have a very thick but pipeable icing for assembling, but set some thinner icing aside for decorating. Royal icing can be kept in a covered container at room temperature for up to two weeks.
- Decorate all of your walls and roof pieces with thinner royal icing before you begin assembling the house. Allow these to dry for a couple of hours, then start your construction.
- Begin assembling the house by piping two thick beads of icing at a 90° angle onto your cake board the same size as your first two walls. Place your walls onto the icing and hold in place with cans or small bottles from your pantry (or have a helper hold them in place!). Pipe some icing along the inside seam to join the two walls together. Allow to dry for a bit, then continue with the rest of your walls. Allow walls to dry for a few hours, or overnight. (see photos in blog post for ideas.)
- Remove the items that were holding your walls in place, and place some tea lights on the ground floor. Add your roof support piece and begin to add your roof pieces using the same technique as you did with the walls. I found that a pair of clamps helped hold my final roof pieces in place while they dried. Place a couple of tea lights onto the roof support to light up the upstairs windows.
- Once your roof pieces have dried, you can begin adding embellishments, such as a chimney, dormer window, and all of your decorations. Remember, royal icing can cover up all sorts of mistakes, so don't worry too much about the house being perfect!
Here is are the templates that I made. Feel free to download these photos and use these as a guide. I recommend using graph paper and a straight edge or carpenter’s square. I’ve marked measurements on most of these, but they ended up being approximate. The tiny triangle that says to make 16 is for the side supports of the window awnings. But, like I said, royal icing will cover up any small errors, so you needn’t worry about these pieces being exactly the right sizes.
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