Everybody loves looking at gingerbread houses and wishes they could make one. The good news is that everybody can! It’s not rocket science, it’s just baking. If you can bake cookies, and mix up some icing, then you can build yourself a gingerbread house. You don’t need to be an architect, just keep your design simple, use a good recipe, the right icing, and you’re ready to go.
1) Pick a simple design. There are 2 gingerbread house designs that fit the bill. The first is an A-Frame house, consisting of a front, back, and roof. That’s only 4 pieces. The A-Frame is the simplest and sturdiest of houses to make. The second is your basic house. It has 4 walls and a roof. 6 pieces in all, but still simple.
2) Use a recipe that’s easy to make. I prefer using a recipe that you can put everything in the bowl and start mixing. I also prefer a recipe that doesn’t need to be chilled. The last thing I want to do is wait for my dough.
3) Roll out your dough on parchment paper. I feel that this is essential! The last thing you want to do after rolling your dough and cutting your pieces is to try to then pick it up and transfer it to a baking sheet. This will distort your piece of gingerbread, and possibly tear it, resulting in a piece of gingerbread that could be weak in some spots. Using parchment paper allows you to roll out your dough with less flour being added to it, cutting it without scratching your countertop, and then allows for ease of transfer by sliding the paper onto your baking sheet. When the gingerbread is done cooking, simply slide the paper onto your counter to cool, and then slide your next piece of parchment paper with dough onto your baking sheet and put back in the oven. Using this process actually quickens the baking time of your project.
4) Over-bake, over-bake, over-bake! I cannot stress this enough. If you are baking gingerbread cookies, then adhere to the suggested baking time. This gives you a nice soft cookie. But soft is not what you want for a gingerbread house. I like to bake my gingerbread until it is dark brown around the edges. I also check for doneness by using my finger to press down on the gingerbread to see how firm it is. You want firm, not soft. Soft will not hold up to frosting and candy. Over-baking is an important key to success of your house.
5) Use Royal Icing. A lot of people like to take a shortcut here and use frosting from a tube or a can. If you attempt to put a house together with pre-made frosting, it absolutely will not work. Some people say royal icing is the glue. I prefer to call it the cement. When making royal icing, you need to make sure that it is thick enough. This does require a fair amount of beating with your mixture, but you need to have stiff peaks. Keep the icing covered with a damp cloth when you are not working with it, as it will dry out.
6) Use a sturdy base. You need to keep in mind that a completed gingerbread house will be heavy. The gingerbread itself is pretty dense, and then once you add all that candy to it, it can easily weigh 5 pounds or more. I like to double up a couple of cake boards. You can also use Styrofoam, or wood.
7) Let your house dry at least 2 hours before decorating it. You need this time for the royal icing to completely harden. If you start decorating before the icing is dry, you can affect the structure of your house. A little patience will go a long way in determining the success of your gingerbread house.
8) Use a large variety of candy. I prefer gingerbread houses that have a lot of stuff going on. To me, a house with only 1 or 2 different colors of candy can be a little boring. And there’s no such thing as over-decorating a house. So go crazy.
Building your own gingerbread house will be a snap if you use the 8 tips I gave you. With a great recipe, some handy tips, and a little bit more knowledge than you had before you read this, I’m sure your gingerbread house will be a success. If you’re making one with your kids, be sure to take pictures, as this could easily become a new family tradition.