For the past few years, I’ve made a gingerbread house each Christmas. Don’t lets talk about the first gingerbread house. The only thing that kept THAT one together was a whole ton of cardboard supports inside the house. Don’t get me wrong, cardboard supports are great. But it just doesn’t feel right unless if your house can stand up on its own four walls. Overall, though, every year I’ve made a gingerbread house it hasn’t been super nice or fancy. Just piled high with candy.
This year has been different than other years: This year, I had aspirations. I wanted my gingerbread house to look pretty, and I certainly didn’t want it to look cluttered.
Thanks to my artistic sister, who drew the picture of the quaint little cottage, I finally decided that I had to have a nice little English cottage with the chocolate-brown trim.
The final result, unfortunately, didn’t have the thatched roof I wanted. And it didn’t end up looking exactly like an English cottage. But what’s the fun of a gingerbread house unless if it looks a little different? Maybe, every now and then, it can look just a little bit messy.
There is one thing which I find very satisfactory, however: I didn’t need any cardboard supports.
NOTE: For this recipe, I’ve included two plans. One of these will make the large gingerbread house in the picture at the top. This house is 8 inches high, 9 inches long, and 6 inches wide, not counting the addition or the chimney. All in all, try to picture a 8 inch high house that fits exactly on a piece of paper, which is about how big it is if you include the addition and chimney. To make this “monster-sized” house, you will have to triple the below recipe.
The other template I’ve included will make a small-sized, basic gingerbread house with a neat little chimney. You don’t have to double or triple the recipe for this house; just make the recipe with the amounts listed below.
TO MAKE TEMPLATES: Print them off of your computer. You should be able to print them directly off of the web and they ought to stay true to size (check measurements after printing). If they don’t stay true to size try printing them off of some photo program that you have known to keep the images true to size. If you don’t have a photo program or anything else that will keep images true to size, simply make your own templates using a ruler and a piece of paper. I’ve given the measurements of each segment so you should have no trouble with this.
For large cottage in above pictures: Cottage templates
For an average-sized, basic gingerbread house: Small Gingerbread House
After you have your templates on paper, cut them out and put the templates on top of pieces of thin cardboard. Trace the shape of templates onto the cardboard and cut the shapes out. Use these pieces of cardboard as your cookie shapers.
Feel free to experiment with other templates! You can find a whole bunch here.
Also; as far as ‘real’ windows go, I didn’t feel it was necessary because I didn’t want to light my house. However, If you want to have a house with a nice homey glow coming through ‘glass’ windows, feel free! Here is where you can find out how to make windows.
Oh, and as far as decorating goes? I’m not going to waste words by telling you how we made ours, because I’m figuring that you’re going to want to make your own really awesome design. What’s the fun of copying what others have done, after all? (I think somebody famous said something like that, but you’ll have to look it up because I don’t know and I’m not going to look it up.). It’s so much better to make something brand new.
Anyway, enough of the preliminaries. Let’s get ON with it!
1 stick (½ cup) butter
1 cup dark brown brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup black-strap molasses
1 ½ cups cornstarch
1 ½ cups rice flour
Grease a large cookie sheet with butter.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar. How to cream butter. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, and molasses and blend until combined.
Add the eggs and the cornstarch and blend until combined. Add the rice flour and blend.
Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes to 1 ½ hours. Refrigerating overnight does not work as well because the dough will get too hard. If you want to refrigerate overnight, you’ll have to allow it to sit on the counter for an hour before you use it.
While dough is refrigerating, lay out a sheet of wax paper and sprinkle it lightly with cornstarch.
Remove dough from refrigerator and take about one quarter of it. Place this on the wax paper and dust it lightly with cornstarch. Roll it out until it is about ¼ inch thick.
Take one of your pre-made cardboard templates (see directions for this under the NOTE before the recipe) and set it on the rolled-out dough. Cut around the cardboard with a straight-edged knife that has no teeth.
Gently pick the shape up and place it on the greased cookie sheet. Place the template on top of the dough and make sure it hasn’t stretched or changed shape while you moved it. If it you are cutting out a large shape, It would probably be best to move the rolled-out dough onto the cookie sheet and cut the shape out directly onto the cookie sheet, removing excess dough from around it.
Place the shapes in the refrigerator and refrigerate for 20 minutes before cooking. If you don’t have room in the refrigerator then just put the gingerbread house pieces directly into the oven. The only reason to chill the shapes for an extra 20 minutes is that they will not spread so much in the oven. While the cookies are refrigerating, heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
If you are making the large-sized gingerbread house, you may have to do several rounds before you have cooked all your pieces; either that or you will have to use several cookie sheets at once. I did it only using one cookie sheet, but it took about two hours because I had to do quite a few rounds before all of my gingerbread house pieces were made.
Once your gingerbread house pieces have refrigerated twenty minutes, remove them from the refrigerator and place them in the oven. Cook for fifteen to seventeen minutes, until the pieces have slightly darkened and feel firm to touch.
Remove from oven and place gingerbread house templates over each piece, cutting off dough where it has spread. You will have to do this quickly, because the gingerbread will crack more easily as it cools. You probably have about two minutes before it is too cool to cut. But don’t do this too quickly! You must also do it very carefully. If you move too fast or too roughly with the knife your gingerbread house pieces will break. So bring the knife gently and smoothly through the cookies. What I did was cut around the more important pieces first, the pieces that just had to fit. Basically, you want to cut the sides and chimney pieces first, not the roof pieces. Roof pieces can overlap on the edges, but the side/chimney pieces have to fit perfectly. I would say that you would also want to do the larger ones first because the smaller pieces are easier to make again if you crack them.
After you have cut around the edges and your ‘two minutes’ are up, be like the people on Chopped: “Step away, chefs, your time is up!”
Anyway, DON’T TOUCH the gingerbread house dough after that! This is the crucial moment, and it is going to be very fragile until it is completely cooled. I told my sisters that if they went within a foot of the gingerbread house pieces, they ought to consider themselves dead and lost to the world. You might not have to go to such desperate measures, but desperate times…you know.
So, repeat the above steps until all your gingerbread house pieces are made. After that, you’ll have to wait at least two hours before assembling your house: The pieces need to have time to cool completely and get firm. Overnight is fine too.
So take a break. Go put some cinnamon sticks on your stove top. Have some hot chocolate. Somewhere in all that bread-time, you want to stack up three pieces of cardboard in order to make a good solid base to put your gingerbread house on. Then put a bunch of foil on the cardboard.
When you’re ready to assemble, go ahead and make this royal icing. It dries out really fast, so you wouldn’t want to make it ahead of time. Oh, and a note about royal icing. You don’t want to make it too thick, because it sucks to spread it out. Thickness all depends on how much powdered sugar you add.
Note number two (I know, you’re getting very sick of all these notes. But stay with me): Egg whites. There are two options on keeping your eggs safe for you to eat:
Option 1: Use pasteurized eggs.
Option 2: Use home-grown eggs. This is what I used, since we have a bunch of chickens living right outside our yard. We consider these eggs ‘safe’ because we know what goes into them, they’re living in a clean and healthy environment, etc. etc.
And another thing: Don’t depend too much on the royal icing, because it isn’t exactly super glue. My sister and I joked that it was like Elmer’s glue: Slow to dry, and it doesn’t work all that well when it has dried. Just don’t expect it to be super-glue, and it’ll be great…We all look forwards, however, to the day when some brilliant person invents “The Baker’s Super Glue.” But until then…
3 nice big egg whites
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
about 3 cups (or more) powdered sugar
Stick all of your ingredients in a good-sized bowl. You want it to be big because when you start blending powdered sugar will fly everywhere unless if it’s got high edges.
Blend for about five minutes, until the mix is smooth, fairly stiff, and very white. If it’s runny, add more powdered sugar until it isn’t. However, you don’t want to bring it to the point where you get stiff peaks. That’s too stiff and your icing will be difficult use.
Once the icing is made, move your gingerbread house pieces so that they are on the cardboard-foil area, where you can put them up without moving them around too much. This will make breaking the pieces less likely.
Spread the icing out on the first piece, but only cover about half of it. The icing will dry out in about five minutes, so you want to do it by segments instead of spreading it on all at once. Once you have the icing on the first half. Cover this part with candy and decorations. Spread icing on the next half of the piece, and decorate the remaining area with candy. Repeat this process with all four walls. You can decorate pieces after they are standing, but, especially with little kids helping, your house will be in less danger if you decorate with the pieces on a solid surface!
Spread Royal Icing on the foil in the area that your walls will go. Next, spread icing on the edges of each piece. Make sure that the icing is spread fairly thick (at least a quarter inch) or it won’t stick together.
Now would be a good time to get someone in to help you, but you can always use cans of tomato paste to hold up the walls as you assemble the house. One way or another, get your tomato paste or your person.
Gently pick up the first wall and move it into place. Prop the first wall up with a can, or have someone hold it for you.
Pick up the second wall and attach it to the first wall. Press the edges firmly together. Prop it up/have someone hold it. Repeat this process with all four walls, until they are all standing. At this point, you might want to just resort to cans by positioning a can against each wall. The cans will only have to stay there for about five minutes until the icing hardens enough that the walls can stay up by themselves.
Wait until the icing dries (about fifteen minutes). While it is drying, spread icing on the roof pieces and decorate them. Don’t decorate the roof pieces too heavily, especially if you are making a large gingerbread house, because if you do the pieces will sag and may possibly break.
Once the icing has dried, spread royal icing around the first side where you are going to put the first roof piece. Gently pick the piece up and place it on top of the icing, pressing the edges in gently but firmly so that it attaches.
Repeat these steps with the other roof piece, until both roof pieces are intact. Allow icing to dry for at least fifteen minutes.
After the roof and sides are put together, add a chimney and any other additions that you plan to add. For the chimney, it is best to decorate it after you have put it on the house.
Anyway, I think that’s pretty much it. I don’t have any more notes to annoy you with….
Except one, of course:
KEEP OUT OF REACH OF SMALL CHILDREN.