Those magical, beautiful, colorful holiday creations that everyone loves, young and old alike. Whether decked out with sweet candy delights, or simply decorated with snow-white royal icing, each house is a special and delicious treat for both the tummy and the eyes.
You may choose to make your gingerbread house then immediately tear it down and eat it up. Or instead, put your gingerbread house on display as a unique, one-of-a-kind decoration in your home. Or possibly make a few houses and create a Christmas village.
I always remember the year we went to Disney World in December, walked into the Grand Floridian, and saw the most amazing life-sized gingerbread house EVER! I can’t even imagine the pounds of gingerbread, sugar, and royal icing that it took to create that stunning house.
You can buy a pre-made gingerbread house kit to decorate, and these are always fun and of course much simpler and faster to make than baking your own house. But for the adventurous baking soul, get out your flour, spices, and rolling pin and bake your own gingerbread house from scratch. They are actually very easy to make and the end-result is well worth the extra time and effort you will spend.
Click here for Gingerbread House Recipe
Day 1 – Plan the House
Gingerbread houses take time to make. And as with anything, a little advance planning is very helpful to make your gingerbread house baking successful.
Start with a house pattern or template. A gingerbread house can be any size you want, but a smaller sized house is easier to work with. Design and make your own pattern, or search the internet for many free patterns that are available to print. Label each pattern piece.
After designing or printing your gingerbread house pattern, glue the paper copy onto something heavier such as poster board or cardboard. After the glue dries carefully cut out your pattern. Having the pattern on the heavier board will make it easier to cut the gingerbread dough since there is a thicker pattern edge to cut around.
Keep the pattern pieces for each house design together in a re-sealable plastic bag. Tip: It’s especially helpful to keep pattern pieces in a plastic bag if using more than one house design. Store them to re-use patterns next year.
Free Printable Templates:
Here are just a few links to some incredible gingerbread house templates to download and print.
Day 2 – Buy the Candy Store
Just kidding about buying the candy store, but it’s so much fun to go to stores in search of the perfect candies to decorate with. Don’t forget to check craft stores and grocery stores that sell candies in bulk so you can buy just the amount you want.
Whether you want to decorate simply or highly ornate, the right candies will make your house look very festive.
If decorating with young children, larger-sized candies are easier to use for little fingers. Small-sized candies and sprinkles are more difficult to use.
- Spice drops
- Whole peppermint candies
- Crushed peppermint candies
- Candy canes
- Small yogurt covered pretzels
- Pretzel sticks
- Mini marshmallows
- Coconut Flakes
- Small mints
- Chocolate kisses
- Red hots
- Necco wafers
- Candy melts
Day 3 – Make the Dough:
You may have your own recipe already, or you can find hundreds of recipes on the internet. However, I think I have the perfect recipe for Gingerbread Houses from the Pastry Queen cookbook 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 intoxicating.
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.
My Favorite Recipe:
For my favorite gingerbread house recipe, see Gingerbread House Recipe.
A big question is how much gingerbread house dough is needed. The answer varies depending on the size and style of the house you are making. A very rough estimate is one batch of gingerbread house dough will make one gingerbread house.
Day 4 – Bake the House:
Plan a day for baking the house pieces when you have plenty of time for rolling the dough, cutting the dough using your pre-made template pieces, and time for the cookie pieces to cool completely.
Prepare Baking Sheets:
Make sure your baking sheets are not warped, you want the cookie pieces to bake flat. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. Parchment paper is an amazing baking tool I always use for both baking and regular cooking. Cookies do not stick to parchment paper, they will slide right off. And using parchment paper helps to keep your baking sheets cleaner and looking like new. Another huge benefit of parchment paper is the cleanup, when done baking the parchment paper is just crumpled up and thrown away, along with all the stray cookie crumbs.
Set-Up Work Space:
Plan your baking strategy before the first pan goes into the oven, determine where you’ll be rolling the dough, cooling the cookies, etc. Seriously, when I’m baking these houses I claim the entire kitchen and beyond. I make a space for rolling the dough, a space to set hot pans, a space with wire racks to cool the cookie pieces, and a space for the completely cooled pieces.
Lightly flour the work surface and rolling pin. Keep a small bowl of flour close to re-flour the work surface and rolling pin as needed. A small bowl of flour is easier than having a big bag of flour in the way.
The work surface can be a pastry mat, wood or marble pastry board, or just your countertop. Tip: I like to put a large piece of freezer paper down on top of a large wooden cutting board, with the paper cut large enough to tuck under the edges of the board to hold the paper taut. This helps keep the mess contained, and when all the dough has been rolled and cutout, it’s easy to wrap up the excess flour and dough scraps to discard along with the paper.
Roll the Dough:
Take a portion of the dough to start rolling. It’s usually easier to roll a small portion of the dough such as one-third or one-half, rather than the entire batch at once. If the dough is getting too soft, or sticky, or hard to work with, put back in the refrigerator to re-chill.
Many recipes suggest rolling gingerbread house dough to a thickness of ¼ inch to create sturdy gingerbread house pieces. I experimented with ¼-inch and this does make a nice sturdy house, has a longer bake time, and obviously uses quite a bit of dough. I also rolled the dough to 1/8-inch which certainly uses less dough and I found these houses were also very sturdy, yet lighter in weight. Last I tried 3/16-inch, right in the middle of 1/8 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 ensure rolling the dough to an even thickness.
Keep turning and moving the dough while rolling to make sure the dough isn’t sticking to the work surface, and sprinkle more flour as needed.
Cut the Pieces:
Place the gingerbread house patterns on top of the rolled out gingerbread house dough, placing the pattern pieces as close together as possible to maximize the rolled dough. Cut around the pattern pieces, cutting all the way through, using the tip of a small sharp kitchen knife. A knife works well for small cuts, curves, and cutting in tight spaces.
Another great cutting devise is a small pizza cutter, use it to make straight cuts quick and accurately. The only drawback to the pizza cutter is the cuts tend to extend beyond the pattern, and the pattern pieces may need to be placed further apart to avoid those cut lines.
Windows and Doors:
Cut out doors and windows after the cookie piece are on the baking sheet. Bake the door along with the house piece. When you assemble the house, you can show the door open. Tip: Use a small round, square, or star cookie cutter to cut out the windows.
Make different window shapes for more appeal. Tip: Use small cookie cutters to cut out the windows, such as small circles, squares, stars, hearts. Tall thin rectangles also make a pretty window shape.
Bake and Cool:
The gingerbread house recipe I use bakes the pieces at 375 degrees F. Gingerbread house pieces should be baked until well done. Remember this is for building sturdy houses, not for eating. Of course, these houses can be eaten, but you want firm and sturdy house pieces when gluing the pieces together.
It’s best to leave the cookie house pieces on the baking sheet to cool because when warm the cookie pieces are easier to break or crack, especially the larger pieces. However, if you need to re-use the baking sheet, let the cookie pieces cool at least 10 to 15 minutes, then lift or slide the parchment paper along with the cookie pieces onto a wire cooling rack to finish cooling. Then place a fresh piece of parchment on the baking sheet and bake another batch.
After baking and cooling, it’s a good idea to let the cookies continue to dry out overnight. I just cover my pieces with a clean kitchen dish-towel, (it makes me feel better to have things covered overnight.) I don’t recommend covering with plastic wrap as the plastic will trap moisture and may cause the house pieces to soften.
It’s important to absolutely NOT stack the cookie pieces on top of each other to save space until they are completely cool. And if and when you do stack pieces I wouldn’t recommend more than two or three high. You really don’t want to take the chance of the pieces cracking or breaking. Tip: Put a piece of parchment paper between each layer of cookie pieces to add more protection for the pieces.
Edible “Glass” Windows:
After the house pieces are baked and cooled, you can make “glass” looking windows by filling the window space with caramel. The caramel makes a beautiful window with a warm yellow glow.
Place the baked cookie piece on a large baking sheet or jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat. Place the pan on a wire rack to protect your countertop from the hot caramel.
Make the caramel, here is an excellent recipe to use, my recipe for Caramel Sticks. Carefully spoon the liquid caramel into the window spaces. Be careful, the caramel is extremely hot and will burn your skin if you touch it. Allow the caramel to harden and cool completely, then gently slice a thin metal spatula or small offset spatula under the cookie piece and lift off the parchment paper.
Word of warning about glass windows: The caramel remains sticky even when hardened. Caramel may also start to melt after a few days and drip down the sides of the gingerbread house. The warmer your home, the quicker the caramel will melt and drip. If your home is cooler then you will have less caramel melt and drip. I suspect the same melting and dripping will happen if using crushed hard candies such as life savers or jolly ranchers.
Day 5 – Assemble the House:
Gather the House Pieces:
Use a microplane (same as a citrus zester/grater) if necessary to gently smooth any cookie edges, however I don’t normally find this necessary. Even if the pieces don’t fit absolutely smoothly together, using a thick bead of royal icing is enough to keep all the corners together and hide any rough edges.
Royal icing, the edible “glue” to mortar the house together. My Royal Icing recipe is the perfect consistancy, like toothpaste, to hold all the pieces together, and it tastes great. I add a bit of pure almond extract so it is pure yumminess. 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.
Keep royal icing covered all the time while using it to prevent it from drying out or forming a crust.
Royal icing will actually keep for several days if covered and stored correctly. It’s important to keep air from reaching the icing and air will dry it out. Cover left-over icing with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic lays directly on the icing so a crust doesn’t form. The Icing may tend to separate a bit after storing, just re-whip the icing to bring it back together before using.
You may need several batches of royal icing, depending on the size of your house, how many houses you’re making, the amount of decorating that will be done, etc.
It’s easiest to use royal icing by transferring it to a pastry bag with a decorating tip. Using the pastry bag and tip gives you control on where the royal icing is placed, and it makes it easier to get into small corners and niches, glue candy pieces, and create icicles. Even young children will have an easier time decorating with a pastry bag. Tip: seal the top of the bag with a bag clip.
You will need approximately one batch of royal icing to assemble the house, and one batch of royal icing for decorating the house.
Glue Walls and Roof:
Assembly of course depends on your house pattern. In general, assemble the front, sides, and back; pipe a thick bead of royal icing down the front and back piece inside corners, and adhere the four wall pieces together. If the royal icing “glue” is thick enough the walls may stand without any support while the icing dries. But, if necessary, support with walls with cans or jars until the icing is dry.
When the icing holding the walls is completely dry, pipe a thick bead of icing along the top wall edges and place the roof pieces. Allow to dry completely, several hours or overnight, before decorating.
Day 6 – Time to Decorate:
Keep piping tip covered in a damp kitchen towel or damp paper towel to prevent the royal icing in the tip from drying out.
Additional handy tools are: small offset spatula for spreading or smoothing icing, tweezers to pick up small candies.
You don’t always need candies to make a beautifully decorated house. Royal icing is a decoration on its own. Royal icing can be used to pipe scrolls, dots, designs, and of course drippy icicles.
All the photos in this document are pictures of Gingerbread Houses we made Christmas 2018. All of the Gingerbread Houses were made by me, then decorated by my two grown children, four grandchildren ages 3 to 5, and myself. Enjoy!
Gingerbread Gumdrop and Pretzel House
Gingerbread Sugar Dots House
Gingerbread Marshmallow House
Gingerbread Snowflake House
Gingerbread Coconut House
Gingerbread Sparkling Sugar House
Gingerbread Sugar House
Gingerbread Cookie Rounds House
Gingerbread Flower House
Gingerbread Houses Piano-Top Displayed