I don't remember ever making gingerbread houses growing up, but it was a big tradition in Bobby's family. His mom would make her own gingerbread and then construct a gingerbread house for each of her children to decorate! Amazing. And last night Bobby told me that she used to make a bunch of extra houses and decorate them to give out as gifts! The girls were a bit disappointed when they realized I was only making the one gingerbread house, but I think it was a good way to start for us. Bobby has suggested this become one of our family traditions a few times and I feel bad that in our 8+ years of marriage this is the first time I've ever attempted it. We did make them once with Louise the day after Thanksgiving, but she provided everything for us. It was then that I first saw Bobby's talent and skill for gingerbread house decorating. He's a pro. Did you notice the Necco wafers as shingles in the first picture of Franny? That's a Bobby original. He totally came up with that idea on his own.
So! Recipes and patterns. There are tons of patterns online- some you can buy, many are free. I chose a very simple and traditional pattern for our first year. I really wanted to cut a window and make my own stained glass window panes, but I forgot to cut the windows out during the baking phase. I'll have to make a note of it for next year.
from Simply Recipes
- 6 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 4 teaspoons ground ginger
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbsp) butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup dark molasses
- 1 Tbsp water
Make the Gingerbread Dough
1 Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl, set aside.
2 Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed the butter and brown sugar until fluffy and well blended. Beat in the eggs, molasses and water until well combined.
3 Beat half of the flour mixture into the molasses mixture until well blended and smooth. Stir in the remaining flour. Knead (or use your mixer's dough hook) until well blended. If dough is too soft, add a little more flour.
4 Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours, preferably overnight. You can make it up to 3 days ahead of time. Let sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before rolling out.
Icing Cement Recipe
- 2 large egg whites
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 teaspoons water
- 3 cups sifted powdered sugar
Beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and water until frothy. Blend in sugar on high speed until stiff, 5 to 10 minutes. Use immediately or cover and use within 8 hours.
Yield: about 1-1/2 cups icing (this was just enough for one house.)
Instructions for Constructing Gingerbread House:from Simply Recipes
This is where it really helps to have more than two hands working on a house, and why making a gingerbread house is so much more fun with company than alone. If you are working on this alone, it may help to grab some canned goods from the pantry and use the cans to help prop up the pieces while the icing mortar is drying.
1 Pick a solid base for your gingerbread house - either a flat cookie sheet, or a thick, sturdy piece of cardboard. If you want, line the base with aluminum foil or wax paper.
2 Pipe a thick line of icing along a short end of one of the side pieces. Press the iced side piece against the edge of either the front or back pieces. Hold in place for a few minutes until the icing is partially set. Repeat with the other side piece. Prop up with cans if necessary. Repeat with the other short edges of the side pieces and the remaining front/back piece. Pipe icing along the seams, inside and outside of the house, to fill in any gaps and to add extra stability. Pipe icing along the edges of the house where it meets the base. Let set for at least an hour before attempting to add the roof pieces.
If any of the gingerbread house pattern pieces breaks, as can happen easily when working with what are essentially cookies, most likely you can repair them. On my house I forgot to cut out the door and window until the front piece had almost completely cooled. When I went to make the cuts, the piece broke. Fortunately, it was easy to mortar back together with royal icing. We even created a "splint" out of cardboard and used royal icing to hold the splint to the piece. Let harden completely before using the piece for the house construction. When it comes time to decorate, you can pipe icing right over the broken seam and no one will be the wiser.
3 Once the royal icing has dried enough so that the base structure is solid, you can go to work on the roof. Pipe icing all along the top edges of the structure, front and back and two sides. The roof pieces are a rectangular shaped. Place the roof pieces so that the long ends of the rectangle are running along the top of the house. It helps if you have two people working together to place the roof pieces on the house at the same time so that they meet easily at the top center, and extend out a little bit, forming an overhang at each end. Gently hold the roof pieces in place for a few minutes until they are set enough so they don't slide off when you remove your hands. Pipe the top seam of the house with extra icing. Let the house stand for at least an hour, and preferably 8 hours before decorating.
Note: If you have pets in your house, keep them away from the gingerbread house during all phases of construction and decorating. Non-gingerbread-house-building-participating adults and children should be informed to keep their hands off the house as well.
4 The chimney. The dimensions of the chimney can be a bit tricky because of the angle of the roof. Although you may have cut your chimney out of a pattern, these small pieces likely have spread a bit through cooking, and you may have to use a chef's knife to cut the pieces and adjust the angles of the pieces so they align better with the roof. It's easiest to assemble the chimney first upside down, separate from the house. Pipe the pieces together with royal icing and let set until stable. Then, turn the chimney right-side-up and attach it to the roof using piped royal icing. You can do this either right after the house has initially set (1 hour after assembly) or later, during the decorating process.