One of our holiday family traditions is to make a gingerbread house. We started this tradition over 10 years ago after my friend and neighbor introduced me to all the gingerbread possibilities at a display at Peddler’s Village. Over the years we’ve replicated our cabin in gingerbread, my parent’s cabin, the board game Candy Land, a small gingerbread village, Whoville and my favorite, our home. This year we didn’t make it past the baking of the gingerbread walls and roof pieces but I’ll walk you through the steps of creating a gingerbread house, sharing some of our themes from past years.
Step 1: Deciding on your theme and design. My son was the architect behind the templates we used for our houses but you can find many designs online.
Step 2: Making the gingerbread dough. I double or triple the recipe depending on the size of the houses and to save time, I make the dough several weeks in advance, freezing it in freezer bags until we are ready to bake it (gingerbread recipe is at the end of the post).
Step 3: Rolling the gingerbread, cutting the pieces and baking. I roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness and use a pizza cutter to cut straight lines around the cardboard templates.
Step 4: Assembling the house. Once the gingerbread has thoroughly cooled on wire racks, you can begin assembling the house. I use a piece of wood for the base. For the royal icing (glue), I use meringue powder (found at a kitchen supply or craft store). You mix a few tablespoons of the powder and some water with the confectioners sugar, beating at low-speed until it forms peaks (about 8 minutes). Fill icing bags with the royal icing, using tips of various shapes and sizes. If you keep the icing well sealed, you can use it over several days.
Step 5: Decorating the house. Once you’ve put your house together, it should sit for about an hour to allow the icing to harden before you begin decorating. Let the fun and creativity begin. I collect candy all year long (keeping it in the freezer) to use for the houses. Cereal, cookies, crackers, pretzels and ice cream cones make great decorations.
Here are some of our gingerbread creations. We have many family discussions about the annual gingerbread theme.
Our cabin in gingerbread.
A gingerbread village.
A gingerbread cottage with frozen backyard pond and marzipan dog and snowman. We actually had a Golden Retriever named Marzipan (Marzi) at the time.
The game of Candy Land with gumdrop mountains and lollipop forest.
Whoville. We colored the icing using food dye.
And my favorite, our home in gingerbread. Front yard, back yard including tree house, yellow car and garage. We melted clear candy for windows and added a light inside.
Deciding on what to do with the gingerbread house after the holidays is always a dilemma. As a dietitian, I shouldn’t recommend eating it but I also don’t like the idea of wasting all the gingerbread and candy. We have a neighborhood full of children so I have been known to invite them in for a gingerbread house demolition party.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature, 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup molasses, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 cups all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons cold water
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and baking soda together until the mixture is smooth. Blend in the flour and water to make a stiff dough. Chill at least 30 minutes or until firm.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a floured surface and floured rolling pin, roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out pieces and place on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 15 minutes until dough feels firm. Cool cookie pieces thoroughly on wire rack before assembling.