Introduction: Glowing Gingerbread Houses

Every year I make a lot of gingerbread houses for a fun community gathering so busy families can have the fun of decorating them without the time consuming design, baking and assembling of the house. I know some people may think that the best part, it is mine.

My gingerbread houses integrate colored candy windows that look amazing when lit up. I always get questions on how I do that, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to share this knowledge.

I recommend using battery powered fairy lights. If you do not use battery powered lights then you will have to worry about access to power when it comes to displaying your house. I like the fairy style lights as they really give the best experience of the other lights I have tried. I have tried battery powered tea lights, which look good from the right angle, but a single point of light does not really showcase the stained glass windows from all angles. I have even played around with an Arduino using red and yellow LED's to mimic a flickering fire. It had a cool effect, but unless you use a ton of LED's you still only have a small number of LED's so you have a similar issue as a single point of light.

This is my first Instructable, so please provide feedback to help me improve my skills so I can do better in the future.


For the gingerbread:

Actual amounts may vary depending on how many and how big of a structure you want to make, this is for a single batch of dough, which is enough for the house designs I will share with you in the first step. I know many folks will use less spices and corn syrup instead of molasses to save money, but I like the smell. Also notice that I am not using leavening in the recipe, this is intentional so the houses will have sharper lines and it will be less likely to break. I am making an assumption that anyone attempting this will have a lot of basic cooking supplies and appliances in their kitchen.

dry ingredients:

9 cups of flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

wet ingredients:

2 cups molasses

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 1/4 cups margarine

other ingredients:

silicone baking liner or parchment paper (I used a silicone baking liner)

jolly ranchers

a cake board at least 10"x14", if you want to do a lot of landscaping, you can use a larger board.

additional flour for dusting

royal icing (you can also make this with meringue powder, powdered sugar, and water)

piping bag and tips for the royal icing. the tips are optional, but they add a little flair to the houses.

candy for decorating

small light source (I recommend battery powered fairy lights)

For my template I used a 3D printer, which you will need for the template I will be sharing. If you do not have one you can find a large number of paper gingerbread templates through any search engine.

If you do not have a 3D printer or choose to use most other downloadable templates you will need a printer and scissors to cut out the templates. Paper templates do not last for a lot of uses, which is why I use the 3d templates, I make a lot of houses.

Step 1: Prepare Your House Design

Like I previously mentioned you can all sorts of templates for this project. Since we are making it light up you will want to make sure that your template has windows and a door large enough for your light source. The template I am going to share has a door large enough for most battery packs that uses 3 AA batteries,

This is the template I created for the gingerbread houses I created this year.

If you are using a 3D printable design like the one I created you will want to print the pieces in this step.

Step 2: Make Your Dough

In this step you will use the wet and dry ingredients for the dough.

dry ingredients:
9 cups of flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

wet ingredients:

2 cups molasses

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 1/4 cups margarine

Combine all of your wet ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. You will want to warm up the mixture in the microwave for 30-60 seconds at a time, stirring between increments. You are not trying to heat up the wet mixture too much, you want it just hot enough to dissolve all of the sugar into the molasses and margarine. If you do not want to use a microwave you can use a sauce pan on low heat for this step.

While the microwave is warming the wet mixture I will mix all of the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Do not use an electric mixer, the dough will get too thick for a mixer (I broke my wife's Kitchen Aid last year making this dough and had to replace it).

Combine both the wet and dry mixtures. The dough will be extremely thick and you will need to get your hands in there to do it right, just make sure it is not too hot when you do. When the dough is thoroughly mixed, wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 min.

Step 3: Bake Your House Pieces

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and put your rack in the center of the oven.

pull your dough out of the fridge.

dust your work surface with flour to keep it from sticking too much. I like to roll the dough out directly onto my silicone baking liners. Roll your dough out to about a 1/4 inch thickness, then cut out your pieces. If you are using the templates I created, put 1 full Jolly rancher in each of the diamond shaped windows and 2 for the oval window.

Bake for 10-15 minutes. 14 minutes worked perfectly for me.

let the pieces cool before the next step.

Step 4: Gingerbread House Assembly

first step here is to make your royal icing.

Whether you have a mix or plan on using meringue powder and powdered sugar, reference the instructions on the package. You might want to add a little extra powdered sugar to make the icing a little bit thicker, it makes things easier to work with as the icing will set faster and hold a little better before it is fully set.

Put the icing in a piping bag. You do not need any specific type of tip for the first part of the assembly.

When assembling gingerbread house pieces you will find icing getting on parts of the house you do not want. You can use a slightly damp paper towel to wipe excess frosting off the house.

Assemble the walls of your house on your cake board. While the walls are setting, I use cans of food to help stabilize the walls so I do not have to hold them in place manually.

When the walls are fully set add a bead of icing on the inside edges of the walls to make it more stable. Let that set before adding the roof pieces.

If you are using the template I made add the flat roof piece and the short wall piece on top of that next. Let the icing set before putting the 2 peaked roof tiles. When putting the peaked roof tiles on you will need to hold the tiles in place for a few minutes to get the icing to start setting so they do not slide off.

After the house is assembled and the icing set you can add some decorative piping to the seams to hide any gaps or imperfections. This is where you can use a nicer piping tip. I like the way the star tips look here. But to accommodate other personal tastes we did some with a simple round tip as well.

Let the piping set fully before decorating.

Step 5: Decorate Your House and Light It Up!

In this step you will use more royal icing, lights and candy for decorating.

While decorating your house, make sure you do not block the doorway as that is how you will add your lights.

Use the frosting and candy and be creative and have fun. There is no right or wrong way to decorate.

Some often used techniques I have seen:

2 small candy canes can be used to make a heart shape.

you can make a tree with a regular peanut butter cup, a mini peanut butter cup, and a Hershey's kiss.

Necco wafers make cool roof tiles and pathway stones

I specifically added the flat roof section so it would be easy to add a sleigh and a reindeer there.

Inserting your fairy lights. I fully unravel the string of lights and feed the lights in first. I do not try to force them in any specific way, but let the lights coil and naturally fill the internal volume so that when they are lit they really fill the house up with light so the windows really glow. and then the battery pack is going to be the last thing to go in so you can easily pull out just the battery pack to turn the lights on and off as needed as well as changing the batteries.

Step 6: Enjoy Your Creation

Find a place to put it so that everyone visiting your home will get to see your amazing creation!

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