Assembling and decorating a gingerbread house is one of the sweetest traditions of the season. With our tested recipes, easy-to-follow template, and decorating suggestions, it's not so difficult—just gather your supplies, get creative, and have some fun!
You'll want to give yourself several days to make a typical gingerbread house from scratch so you'll have time to make, cut, and bake the dough; to assemble the house and let it dry; and finally to decorate.
- Gingerbread house template
- Gingerbread dough and royal icing: double the recipe if you're making a large house
- Rolling pin
- Cookie sheets
- Aluminum foil
- Base: plywood, heavy cardboard, or cardboard cake board
- Pastry bags and decorating tips
- Butter knife, small offset spatula, or flat sandwich spreader
- A damp cloth for quick clean-ups
- Glue gun (optional, only if you don't plan on eating the house)
- Assorted candies and decorations
- Tweezers, toothpicks, small paintbrushes for decorating
- Cans and cartons to prop up the panels during assembly
Follow recipe directions to make, cut, and bake your gingerbread house pieces. To ensure they're truly firm enough to build with, you can leave them in your oven as it cools to give them extra time to dry out.
Visualize the "yard." Will you have a walkway? Trees? A fence? Or you might like to set the house at an angle instead of squared up.
- Start by laying the panels down on the base with the four corners touching, as though the house was flattened from the inside out. That forms a rectangle where the house will stand when the panels are put together. Trace the rectangle with a line of royal icing. This helps the panels meet at right angles when you "glue" them together, and provides extra stability.
- To assemble, you'll use royal icing to "glue" a side panel to the back panel. Stand up a side panel in the line of royal icing you traced along its base. Apply a generous amount of icing to the vertical edge that will touch the back panel.
- Stand up the back panel in the line of royal icing you traced along its base, so the back panel and and the side panel meet and are held together by icing . Hold in place until the icing firms up. (You can use a hair dryer on the "cool" setting to help speed things along.) Use cans and cartons to support the panels while they dry.
- Attach the second side panel to the back panel as in step 4, and support it until it firms up. Attach the front panel. Use cans and cartons to support the panels until they dry completely; overnight is ideal, but depending on temperature and humidity, your royal icing might dry faster.
- When the royal icing has dried rock-hard, you can attach the roof, one piece at a time. (Remove any cans/cartons from inside the house before attaching the roof.) Let the house dry completely before decorating—a minimum of 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
Have a plan for decorating. Think about how you want your house to look and what candy should go where.
- Save time and make accessory items ahead of time: snowmen, trees, carts, candles, and fences can be made while you're waiting for the house to dry.
- Apply candy decorations by putting a small dab of icing to the underside of the candy and holding it in place until set.
- Use extra dough scraps for decorative cut-outs.
- Keep the tip of your pastry bag covered with a damp cloth in between decorating to prevent hardening.
- Use tweezers to adhere small items to the house. You may need super glue to adhere top-heavy items, like lamp posts.
- Allow a weekend to complete the house.
- Read all instructions before you begin: you will need to double the gingerbread recipe to have enough dough.
- Allow the baked gingerbread to cool thoroughly before assembling.
- Make royal icing ahead of time and keep covered with plastic wrap touching the surface of the icing at all times to prevent it from drying out.
- Adjust the consistency of the icing by adding more egg whites if the icing is too dry or more powdered sugar if it is too wet. It should be thick and stiff.
Icing is too stiff. Add a bit of water, one teaspoon at a time, mixing thoroughly until the icing loosens up a bit. You don't want it too loose, otherwise it takes a very long time to dry.
Icing is too loose. Add a bit more powdered sugar.
House doesn't look picture-perfect. Don't worry; you'll be able to fill gaps and cover errors later with more icing and decorations. A fool-proof assembly method, if you're not going to eat the gingerbread, is to use a glue gun. And remember, perfection is overrated.
- Moisture is a decorated cookie's worst enemy: display the house in a cool dry place.
- Cover at night to seal out moisture and dust; lightly drape a clean trash bag over the house and base.
- Gingerbread houses can last up to a year, if you choose not to eat them. Spray with a clear lacquer for maximum protection. Cover with a plastic bag and store in a box with some Styrofoam “peanuts” to protect your house from damage.
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Who says gingerbread houses are just for Christmas? Halloween is a perfect time for a gingerbread house, too. (Just ask Hansel and Gretel). Here's how to decorate a Halloween gingerbread house. And when Christmas comes around, simply redecorate your gingerbread house for the holidays with plenty of white icing and brightly colored candies.