It should comes as no surprise that I love gingerbread, my ginger man and cooking—see Cooklander cookbook page 281-282. Sooooo I’ve made gingerbread house or few, before, but it had been quite some time. This seemed like a good year to try my paws at it again. If you’ve never made one, they really aren’t that hard. But you need to allow several days for drying time between stages. This project took about a week. I typically like to design my own patterns to create the shape, style or details that I want. But there are several cookie cutter kits that make this process easy. Amazon has several nice options: R & M 2090 Gingerbread 7-Piece Cookie Cutter and Baking Set with Recipe and Directions, Christmas House Cookie Cutter Set, Bake Your Own Small Gingerbread House Kit, Chocolate House, Haunted House, or Fox Run Gingerbread House Cookie Cutter Bake Set.
If you opt to design your own, keep this very important mental note in the back of your head when designing. Make sure any panel pieces (ie. walls and roof) will fit onto your cookie sheet and that it fits into your oven. Yes, I made that mistake once 😂😂😂 and had to redesign and make my Dickens style townhouse duplex smaller AFTER I was already in the process of cutting out the dough.
I find card stock works well for designing and creating a pattern for cutting out shapes from. It also allows you to build a 3D model (with help from a little tape) to make sure things fit together. You then use this as your pattern when cutting out dough.
Once you have your design picked out, you will need a base. Smaller houses work well on cardboard cake rounds. I’ve also used real plates from thrift stores for small ones. This gives a sturdy nice base, but allows me to give the gingerbread house as a gift. For larger ones, I use wood. Either plywood cut to size or round table rounds from local big box hardware stores. This year, I included a small LED nightlight to illuminate the inside of the house. This is a fun thing to do, especially if you cut out windows and/or use hard candy to make window glass.
Next step is to make gingerbread cookie dough. For this house one batch of dough was enough for the walls. I needed to make a second batch to do the roof. My left over bits were used to make details or cookies for eating. The dough will need to chill for 1 hour at least, but can be chilled for several days.
Don’t laugh. I forgot to make pictures of rolling and cutting out the gingerbread—we had company and I got distracted 😱. I recommend rolling your dough out on lightly floured parchment paper. This allows you to transfer the cutout directly to cookie sheet. If you are using your own design, a pizza cutter works really well to cut walls.
Bake the gingerbread as directed. This dough makes a fairly crisp gingerbread cookie, but if you have rolled your panels out a tad thick, it may take a little longer to bake. If you plan to cut your window panes out, check part way through cooking—the edges sometimes grow on you 😂. If you plan to use hard candy to create “glass” panes, this is also a good time to place your your candy in the windows openings to allow them to melt down to form flat “window glass” in the window, while the cookie continues to finish baking. Any hard candy seems to work, it just depends on what color you want your glass to be. Butterscotch discs work well for a nice yellow candle lit glow from within. You can break the candy into medium chunks with a ziplock bag, wrapped in towel and tapping with hammer 🔨. But I’ve also left the candy whole, and it usually does just fine.
After making, transfer the parchment sheet and cookie to a drying rack to cool. After it has cooled for an hour or so, I remove the parchment sheet and let continue to dry for several days. This is to allow the panels to be dry and crisp enough to start assembly of the structure.
When you are ready, the next step is assembly. Get everything you need together before starting. You will need your base, cookie walls, something to help support your walls after they are “glued” together with royal icing and left to dry for at least 1 day, I’ve used canned goods, because a couple of these stacked together, on both sides, is usually enough weight to keep things in place. But this year I happened to have some heavy duty, no slip book ends handy, so I used them.
Next step, time to make the royal icing. If you aren’t familiar with this whipped egg white/powdered sugar icing, it dries to become a very hard icing and is often used to decorate cookies. It works very well for glueing gingerbread houses together and decorating them. While, I don’t usually eat my gingerbread houses afterwards (they are quite stale at after sitting out for the holidays), some people do, so mentioning this. When working with egg whites, there is very small chance of salmonella poisoning from improperly stored eggs, when icing is consumed. So pasteurized, refrigerated egg whites or meringue powder can be substituted. Follow the Cooklander recipe or directions on meringue powder, if using. I tend to make this batch a little thicker and stiffer, than the batches I use for decorating. This is to prevent the icing from running as I work with it. I think of it as brick mortar and go for that consistency with this batch.
The icing is white and can be colored with food safe dyes. This year I mixed a bit of brown coloring to get graham cracker colored icing. When it comes to assembling the house, I usually use a pastry bag, with no icing tip added, to pipe the icing along the edges, but if you don’t have one, feel free to spread it carefully with a butter knife.
Once I’ve iced the right and left edges of wall panels, I begin assembly and set up supports for walls. I smooth the seams either with a finger or butter knife, to make things flatter and fill in any holes. Make sure your supports have walls in the position you want the structure to dry to. Then let it set. Check on in in the first couple of hours to make sure nothing has shifted, before it dries hard. I like to let this structure dry 1-3 days before trying to attach the roof, to prevent structure from collapsing from weight of roof. If you are doing a rather small house, one day dry time is sufficient.
I use this next couple of days to make any decorations, structures or trees that I want to go along with the finished project.
This year, I was opting to have the inside of the house visible through the open door. It’s the first time I’ve ever attempted to show the inside of a gingerbread house, so I wanted to have a fully decorated Christmas tree for the inside. I usually use ice cream cones or paper plates cut and stapled together to form the desired size tree. For this tree I used a waffle cone, which can be more fragile than a regular smaller ice cream cone, and a bit lopsided. To remedy this, I placed some some royal icing inside the waffle cone and inserted the smaller ice cream cone to give support and keep the tree straight. I let this dry overnight.
I mixed up a batch of icing, tinting it the desired shade of green. This icing I make normal consistency to just a tad runnier for piping. I first spread some icing on cone as background. This isn’t necessary for any reason other than it made it easier to make sure I had green showing between “tree branches” and not ice cream cone. I use a star tip with pastry bag. Size is your choice. I start at the bottom and start piping stars in a natural tree sort of irregular pattern.
Side note: I should probably point out at this stage of the blog, that while I’m pretty creative, working in a bakery and piping icing, is a job I’ll probably never get, because I don’t think I could pipe a row of bakery cake perfect stars if I tried 😂. I’m telling you this because, even though I can’t paint a straight line or do this, that’s the beauty of making a gingerbread house. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Trees in real life have a nice organic irregular nature about them. The icicles that I put on the house later are the same way. Fortunately my inability to pipe perfect stars ultimately gives it a real natural feel. So don’t let your inexperience with working with a piping bag hold your creative side back. Just go with it. And if you are lucky enough to be good with decorating tools, then use this experience to push yourself to try new stuff. Ok, pep talk over, back to gingerbread decorating.
After piping my branches on the tree, before the icing started to dry, I added bits of cookie decorating nonpareils for ornaments and candy canes. I let the tree dry a few hours then piped garland on the tree. Normally I would used white royal icing, but I hadn’t made up a batch yet, so I used melted white candy coating. Wilton and Ck products both make a meltable tube of candy “writing” coating. It’s the same stuff as the meltable coating wafers, but in a handy little tube. You just place it in hot (not boiling) water to let melt. Then squeeze it to decorate. It harder back to candy state pretty quick. It’s very handy for this or other projects (chocolates, cake pops, cupcakes, etc) and the tubes can be remelted numerous times. So rather than make up a batch of royal icing that day, I used it to make my garland and sprinkled it with gold sugar as I went. Then I sat it aside until I needed it and started working on the other things I planned to put on this inside of this house. I used left over green icing to pipe some wreaths for the door and house on parchment paper.
I let my creative side have fun. Made a baby Ruth candy bar fireplace, complete with family portrait (with a little help from those handy candy writing tubes). I melted some orange and yellow hard candies to make flames for fireplace. Made a kitchen cabinet out of graham crackers with some baking supplies. Then I attempted a snowman with some white chocolate truffles and malted milk ball, rolled in royal icing. This was much harder than the other details. If the icing didn’t stick well and was kinda hard to roll out a “snowball” with it. But nothing has no be perfect, including his lopsidedness and quirky smile. I laugh, because it reminds me of a dog I once knew.
Then I started working on the roof. Sometimes I attach the roof first, then add shingles. But because I was still working on the inside of the house, I shingled the roof with golden graham type cereal pieces. You can use all sorts of things. Mini shredded wheat, candy wafers, or chocolate coated candy pieces. It all depends on the effect you are going. You can pipe or spread royal icing onto the roof and start applying shingles from the bottom and overlapping in an irregularly regular pattern to resemble offset shingles. I like to let the icing peak through like snow. I sprinkled it with some white decorating sugar. I sat this aside to dry for another day.
The time to assemble the inside of the house finally came. Yes, I was excited to see if things would work. I made a graham cracker floor and placed pieces where I wanted, then held them in place with a dab of royal icing.
Next step was to attach the roof. Made another thick batch of royal icing and piped a row of icing along the top edge of the walls. Place roof carefully into place and helped hold it up into place with canned goods to prevent it from sliding off. This can be a tricky part, so have a variety of size cans ready to see what fits. I also had the help of several cardboard coasters to raise things up a tiny bit more until the roof it perfectly and could stay support for 1-2 days until it dried completely. Once this step was done, the gingerbread house was complete except for landscaping the base. This is probably my favorite part and probably the easiest.
Fun stuff. Made more royal icing to create icicles hanging off the roof. Added some drifting snow to the roof. Placed a candy stepping stone path to the door. Attached wreaths to the door and house. Made another batch of icing to spread the snow on the ground and the other details, including a marzipan pig as my homage to the great white sow.
Last thing to do was wait until that night, turn on the light and hope that it all came together and worked like I imagined and planned. Thankfully it did. It was a fun creative holiday project and the bonus was my home smelled like gingerbread for days. Yummmmm
If you decide to make a gingerbread house and have questions, feel free to ask. If you’ve made one, PLEASE share pics and comments.
If you want to save 15% off Cooklander Cookbook, use coupon code BoutonsGingerman (expires December 30, 2017)
Meanwhile, happy Cooklander cooking and baking this holiday season 😘.