We’ve all seen a million gaudy little gumdrop-studded gingerbread cottages. (Yawn.) If I’m going to the trouble of making my own darn gingerbread house, then I’m going to make whatever type I want. So I thought I’d celebrate the house type in my adopted home, Brooklyn. And everyone knows New Yorkers spend a fair amount of their time coveting both real estate and fancy foodstuffs, so the whole thing just seemed to make sense.
My gingerbread house is, admittedly, a little bit on the involved side. So I’ve written instructions that you can use either to recreate my design, or to make your gingerbread creation, whether it is much simpler, or even more involved. (If you do want to recreate my brownstone design, I have the templates that I created for this design attached in the images for this step.)
The gingerbread recipe I made is technically edible, but it really is not meant for eating. Which explains why I call for shortening (I just can’t stand to put perfectly good butter into something that isn’t going to be eaten). The ideal gingerbread for making a house bakes up hard as a rock. The texture and flavor are rather similar to a thin plywood. I make gingerbread cookies for eating with good butter, and a delicate balance of spices. This dough, on the other hand, was a good opportunity to get rid of some old, stale cinnamon. Royal icing is both the glue and the snow, and it is made of just egg whites and powdered sugar. With these two recipes at your disposal, you’ll be ready tackle just about any gingerbread project. And if you're really feeling ambitious, you can make poured sugar "glass" for the windows. I have the base recipes for gingergbread dough, royal icing and poured sugar attached in one printer friendly pdf called Gingerbread Basics. These recipes make more than enough icing and gingerbread to make this house. If you're making a smaller (or larger) project, you can adjust accordingly.
This project, along with lots of other food-related nonsense is also posted on my blog, www.kitchentablescraps.com. Enjoy, and have a very happy holidays!
- Design your house
- Carve Templates (Optional)
- Make Royal Icing
- Mix Gingerbread Dough
- Roll, Cut & Shape Gingerbread*
- Pipe Freestanding Royal Icing Pieces*
- Bake Gingerbread
- Decorate Sides
- Cook Poured Sugar Windows/Glue (optional)
- Assemble House
Step 1: Design Your House
What size will it be? One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make is what size your house will be. The bigger the house gets, the trickier the construction is. I decided to make my design small enough that I could print out all the templates on a standard 8½ x 11 sheet of paper. For this size house, 3/16” thick gingerbread works quite well. But if you scaled up the design to make a 2 foot tall house, you’d need to use a thicker gingerbread (at least ¼”, maybe een \”). Likewise, if you made a much smaller gingerbread house, you could make do with a thinner dough. I’d say a house smaller than 9” high, [” thick gingerbread would be fine. But the thickness is not the only tricky thing about making a big gingerbread house. It will also be more challenging to glue the pieces into place securely without breaking your giant pieces of gingerbread.
Draw a template for each gingerbread piece. I’ve posted my design template, in case anyone wants to use it to make their own brownstone. But you can use the same techniques and recipes to make your own design– whether it is simpler or more complicated. If you are comfortable with designing and building stuff, and adjusting for the thickness of your gingerbread seems obvious, then go ahead and draw up a design straight from your imagination. If you’re not quite so confident, I’d recommend building a dummy house out of cardboard. Most corrugated cardboard is about the right thickness, and it will be much easier for you to make adjustments (and catch any mistakes) in a cardboard model. Whether you build a dummy model first or not, you’ll want to have a paper or cardboard template for each piece of gingerbread in your house.
I have one interior support piece in my design. This piece helps hold up the first wall and helps hold the roof up while the project is under construction. I also clipped a strand of led Christmas lights to this support, to have interior lighting. If you are making your own design, consider adding an interior support, or even more than one, depending on the shape of your house.
Don’t forget a base! I used a scrap piece of wood for a base to my gingerbread house. You can build one out of gingerbread, but I prefer having a stronger piece of material holding up all my hard work. Remember to drill a hole in the base, if you'll be adding lights.
Add relief. It is possible to bake gingerbread on surfaces that are not entirely flat (like the rounded projection of bay windows on my house). To get this effect, you’ll need to find (or build) something in the right shape to give the gingerbread depth. And then you’ll need to cover that thing in parchment paper so that it doesn’t stick while baking. I made a support for the bay window projection with a double thick piece of brown paper stapled and folded into the right shape and then sheathed in parchment paper. (The pattern for the support is in the pdf of my design as well). If you’re making your own design, you can obviously make your own supports. I would strongly suggest sticking to pretty basic shapes. Removing just the simple rounded paper template was a delicate operation, and more complicated shapes would be even trickier.