The tradition of making a homemade gingerbread house goes WAAAAY back in my family. I’ve done one every year since I was a child, and so when Owen was born I knew I would have to step up and learn how to do it myself. With lots of of help and advice from my Mom, plus a few new twists of my own, our gingerbread house tradition was born.
This post is a big one! I’ve broken down the process into three steps: baking, decorating and assembling. And I actually do each of these steps on a separate day. So yes, this is a three day process in our house! But to me it’s less overwhelming that way and trust me, it’s worth it! Also please feel free to comment with any questions, or email me directly at email@example.com. I’m by no means a baking/gingerbread making expert, but I’ve done my fair share and I’m happy to help if I can!
BAKING the GINGERBREAD:
You’ll find the recipe at the very end of this post, but Day 1 begins with baking the gingerbread! I roll out the dough to about 1/8″ thickness and then cut out a front/back, two roofs and two sides. I use the same templates over and over again, and the sizes for those are listed below too!
Here are the two biggest tips for the baking part: It’s ok to overcook the gingerbread a little, you’d rather it be crunchy then soft, so that it stands up well (and we don’t actually eat it anyway!) Tip #2, once it comes out of the oven, lay the templates on top of each piece and trim around the sides. The gingerbread will expand when baked, but trimming the sides makes everything more straight and level, and ultimately easier to assemble later.
DECORATING the GINGERBREAD HOUSE:
Next up…the fun part!!! Decorating!! I fill muffin tins with a bunch of different kinds of candy. We love to use M&M’s in holiday colors, gumdrops, gummy bears, candy canes, Hershey kisses and pretty much anything else that catches my eye in the Target candy aisle!
I make a ‘paste’ with powdered sugar and water….just dump a bunch of powdered sugar in a bowl and add a TINY bit of water a little bit at a time until you achieve the right consistency. You want it thick enough to not drip off but thin enough to be spreadable.
Each kiddo gets two pieces of the gingerbread house on their own cookie tray. I usually do the job of spreading on the powdered sugar paste (just let them do one at a time so it doesn’t dry up). And then let them go to town with decorating!! We don’t follow any design or anything, I just let them do their thing. That’s the fun, right? There also tends to be a little bit of snacking that occurs. Quality control I believe, wouldn’t want to have a bad candy get on the house!
ASSEMBLING the GINGERBREAD HOUSE:
Okay so this is the toughest step, I’m not gonna lie. And it’s a mommy task only, no kids helping! My mom uses a powdered sugar paste to keep the house together. I tried that the first time I did it on my own and it fell over. Multiple times. Sooooooo……now I hot glue the dang thing together! YEP. Hot glue. Genius I think. It only touches the seams of the house, and since we don’t eat the gingerbread it works out just fine. And it’s SO MUCH EASIER. Sorry mom, but you are the master at the powdered sugar ‘glue’ and I just can’t compete!
To assemble: First off make sure the candy on the house has completely set. I let mine dry overnight. Then cover a baking sheet with tinfoil, this will be the base for your house.
Start with the front and one side of the house and hot glue them together at the edges! Press them together firmly and wait to be sure they are completely stuck. Then move on to adding the back and other side. The trickiest part is the roof, but again I just use hot glue all around the edges of the house and stick the roof right on top. Use enough so you’re sure it will stay!!
At this point your house might look a little wonky with gaps and pieces that don’t come together quite right. But don’t worry! Next step is to whip up a batch of royal icing (recipe below). Then use a piping bag and pipe all around the edges where the house comes together. This does NOT have to be perfect. Your main goal is to cover the gaps and hide the hot glue. I use a simple back and forth motion, but you could do dots all around too. And if there is one section that has an extra large gap, just wait for the first row of piping to dry and add another right next to it. See, not perfect. Mine never is and it always looks great in the end. Besides, looking homemade is part of it’s charm, right?
Last step is to add sugar around the base of the house for ‘snow’ – this is a great activity for the kiddos, assuming you don’t mind sugar all over your floor too! Usually we add a few accessories like bottle brush trees or mini reindeer around the house. And that’s it!! Our family tradition is to wait until Christmas day to eat any of the candy.
I hope you enjoyed this lengthy post! And now, since these pictures were actually taken last year…I better get on my own gingerbread house baking 🙂
This is actually the White House gingerbread recipe! I found it originally here. I’ve used this one the last few years, but before that my mom had a couple others she would use. Since we don’t actually eat the house I’m not sure it really matters, but this one holds up well! This article also has some wonderful tips for baking and assembling the house. The link can also be found on my ‘Tis the Season’ Pinterest board.
WHITE HOUSE GINGERBREAD
- 2 c granulated sugar
- 1 c plus 2 T brown sugar
- 1 c Crisco solid shortening
- 3 T molasses
- 4 eggs
- 1.5 t salt
- 2 t baking soda
- 6 c flour
- 1 T ginger
- 1 T cinnamon
1. Cream the shortening and sugar in a large stand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until fluffy. Add the molasses, salt, baking soda, ginger and cinnamon. Mix completely. Add the flour, one cup at a time. The dough will become very stiff, and the bowl will be quite full. Once the flour is incorporated, turn the mixer off. It is a very stiff dough, and the object is to incorporate the flour, nothing more.
2. Roll dough to a generous 1/8″ thickness directly on a lightly greased cookie sheet (I try to remember to do this, but honestly sometimes I roll on a board and then move over!). Trace around the paper stencils to cut out the walls and roof of a gingerbread house. Lift away excess dough on the cookie sheet with a spatula or knife. Be sure to leave some space between the pieces – the dough does expand while baking.
3. Bake at 375 degrees for between 10 and 14 minutes. Slightly over-baked (short of burning) is better than slightly under-baked as you need rigidity for constructing gingerbread houses.
4. Let gingerbread pieces cool overnight.
As you can see from the below picture, these are well used gingerbread templates! Somehow I’ve managed to tuck them in a recipe folder year after year and use them every time. Mine are made out of plain white paper and the measurements are listed on the photo.
ROYAL ICING RECIPE:
I use the Wilton royal icing recipe. Original recipe can be found here:
- 3 T Meringue Powder
- 4 c powdered sugar
- 5 T water
Beat all ingredients in the stand of a large mixer for about 7-10 minutes until peaks form.
Best of luck to all of you on your own gingerbread making adventures! I hope it becomes as special to your family as it is to ours.