I think I found the perfect recipe for Gingerbread Houses in the Pastry Queen book by Rebecca Rather. This recipe makes a dough that is dense and sturdy, easy to roll and cut, and bakes nicely with little puffing or spreading. And the fragrance of gingerbread wafting through the house while it’s baking is deliciously amazing. I did alter the recipe a bit by increasing the spices (cinnamon nutmeg and salt) and decreasing the amount of cloves.
This dough takes a bit more time than a traditional dough but I think it is actually easier to make and work with. The sugars and spices are first heated on the stovetop to a bubbling boil. Then butter is added to create a butter and sugary base, and then the flour is stirred in. That’s it. Let the dough sit in the fridge overnight to chill and you’re ready to bake.
Melted the butter and sugar creates a gingerbread dough that is denser and chewier with less rise, basically a non-leavened dough despite including the baking soda which helps the cookies crisp. Versus creaming the butter and sugar to capture air bubbles which would produce a tender dough with a more cake-like leavened texture.
This gingerbread dough also makes an excellent rolled and cutout cookie; however, you would want to bake for less time to have a bit softer but still crisp cookie. The dough for gingerbread houses is typically baked longer to make the house pieces strong and sturdy.
Many recipes suggest rolling the dough to a thickness of ¼ inch to create sturdy gingerbread house pieces. This thickness obviously uses quite a bit of dough. I experimented with ¼-inch and this does make a nice sturdy house with a longer bake time. I also rolled the dough to ⅛-inch which certainly uses less dough and I found these houses were very sturdy, yet lighter in weight, making them seem a bit more delicate. Last I tried 3/16-inch, right in the middle of ⅛ and ¼-inches, and I think this thickness hits the mark perfectly. The houses are extremely sturdy with plenty of dough to use for more than one house. Tip: if you have rolling pin rings this is the time to use them to roll the dough to an even thickness.
Royal icing is the edible “glue” that holds the houses together, adheres candy pieces, and is used for beautiful decorations. I’ve provided my favorite royal icing recipe below. It is a thick icing to act as a mortar to hold the house pieces together. Even though you may only be making gingerbread houses for display and not eating, it’s nice to have everything taste yummy, just in case you do want to eat! I prefer using actual egg-whites over meringue powder just because it makes the royal icing tastes better; it’s best to use liquid egg-whites which have been pasteurized to destroy any salmonella bacteria vs using fresh egg-whites. Last are the decorations. We had a gingerbread party with our small grandchildren and they loved putting all the candies on the houses. This is the part where you can go wild and buy all the candies you want for decoration. Or, my favorite, is to just decorate with royal icing using minimal to no candies for beautiful all-white decoration.
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- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup dark molasses
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces.
- 3 large egg whites, or 6 tablespoons liquid pasteurized egg whites. Tip: if using fresh egg whites measure the whites for 6 tablespoons.
- 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 4½ cups confectioners’ (powdered sugar)
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; sift or whisk together to mix. Set aside.
- In a large-sized heavy-bottom pan, combine sugar, molasses, water, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase heat to medium and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the butter pieces to the hot mixture, stirring occasionally until the butter is melted. Let mixture cool for 15 minutes.
- Add the flour mixture to the cooled sugar and butter mixture, stir with a wooden spoon until completely blended.
- Spoon the dough into a gallon-sized resealable plastic freezer bag, flatten and shape dough into a disc, and seal the bag. Refrigerate the dough until thoroughly chilled, 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Tip: the dough will keep in the refrigerator several days before using if necessary.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line at least 2 large baking sheets or jelly roll pans with parchment paper.
- Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit 15 minutes or more to warm-up so it is rollable. If the dough still seems to cold just let it sit a bit longer, or keep rolling. The more you roll the dough the softer and warmer it becomes.
- On a lightly floured pastry mat or pastry board, and using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to a 3/16-inch thickness. Tip: Use rolling pin rings to ensure the dough is evenly rolled. Tip: roll and the gingerbread dough on parchment paper cut to the size of the baking pan, then transfer the parchment paper to the pan. This will prevent having to move the dough pieces and causing possible distortion.
- Cut dough using gingerbread house templates. Use a thin metal spatula to carefully transfer house pieces to prepared baking sheets. Or, if rolling on parchment paper, remove any excess dough from around the cutout pieces and slide the parchment paper along with the cut pieces onto the baking sheet.
- Bake: Place cutout dough about 1-inch apart on baking sheets. Bake 17 minutes or until cookies are set and the edges are lightly browned. Tip: Gingerbread houses need to be baked longer than regular cookies to create the sturdiness they need for building. If you press your finger on the baked cookie it should feel pretty firm. 17 minutes was the perfect bake time for my oven. Tip: if baking additional decorations such as gingerbread trees, stars, snowmen, etc., I bake these with less time such as 15 to 16 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven but don’t move the cookies to a cooling rack right away as they may break while still warm. Place the pan on a cooling rack for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Then slide a thin metal spatula under the pieces and carefully transfer to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely. Or, slide the parchment paper with the pieces onto a cooling rack.
- In a large bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, add the egg whites and beat on medium to medium-high speed until the whites are frothy. Reduce the speed to medium-low, add the almond extract and 1 cup of the powdered sugar, beat until smooth. Add the remaining powdered sugar about 1 cup at a time; beating after each addition until the icing is smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. After all the sugar has been added, continue beating for another 4 to 5 minutes on medium-high to high speed so the icing becomes light and fluffy. Tip: The finished icing should be thick like toothpaste.
- Cover the icing until ready to use; place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the icing to prevent the icing from crusting. Tip: royal icing dries out quickly, it is important to keep unused portions covered.
- Place icing in a piping bag fitted with a #10 piping tip. Tip: the #10 piping tip is a perfect size for piping a thick bead of icing to mortar the house sides together. Use smaller opening tips for decorating such as a #1 piping tip.
- For basic Gingerbread House construction tips, see Gingerbread House Tips and Photos