Building your dream home from scratch is no small project. Between location scouting, permitting, designing, and actual construction, you’re looking at years of hard work and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Don’t give up hope, though; there’s a better way to start building! You don’t need to be a millionaire or even remotely handy to enjoy the instant gratification of a newly constructed gingerbread house.
‘Tis the season for erecting walls redolent of cinnamon and spice, frosted with freshly fallen confectioner’s sugar snow. Anyone and everyone can call this place their home, at least in spirit, for a short but sweet holiday memory. Only slightly more complex than making gingerbread people, there’s definitely an art to this edible architecture. For anyone daunted by the task but drawn to the cozy abodes, I’m here to help. This is everything you need to know to make your best gingerbread house yet.
Start With The Right Recipe
You can’t build a house with shoddy materials, and the same goes for the edible version. Your foundational cookies must be strong, resistant to spreading in the oven, but still delicious. I will not compromise flavor for function, which is why my Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies are always my go-to solution. You can make a batch of each to add color variation between components, or stick with something more classic for the nostalgic simplicity of it.
Measure, Cut, Then Bake
Some recipes suggest baking off large sheets of cookies and cutting them afterward to ensure the sharpest, most accurate lines. That would make sense if we were talking about woodworking or sewing patterns, but that same logic doesn’t hold up to baking scrutiny. This approach is more likely to cause walls to crumble or crack in the process, leave rough, crumbly sides that can muck up the icing, and either under-baked centers or over-baked edges. Measure carefully, cut the shapes you want first, then bake.
Prep Royal Icing In Batches
As the edible glue holding everything together, royal icing is critical for sturdy construction. The thing is, it hardens very quickly once exposed to air. Only make a small amount at a time to prevent crustiness or excess waste at the end. Only make enough to fit in a piping bag at a time.
Putting up the walls and keeping them up is always the most difficult step. Use unopened canned foods to prop them up and keep them in place until the icing has set. Don’t rush this, and don’t add the roof until you’ve removed the cans!
All About That Base
Use royal icing to adhere the foundation of the house to a sturdy base, like a flat plate, platter, or cake cardboard to prevent it from sliding around. This also gives it greater stability, and makes it easier to transport if needed.
Don’t Sweat The Details
Even if your best efforts look more like a run-down shack than a grand Victorian mansion, no one will care if it tastes good. Lavish it with candies, make a mess, and just have fun!
Barring any premature nibbling, your gingerbread house will be good to eat for 5 – 7 days after baking.
Side panels baked unevenly or don’t measure up?
You can use coarse sand paper (new, never used for wood or anything non-edible!) to carefully remove some height.
Pieces cracked before assembling?
Use royal icing to glue it back together, letting it set on a flat surface first. Let it dry completely before continuing. If it’s very noticeable from the outside, use more icing, candies, or fondant decorations to cover it.
Royal icing won’t set?
It might be too hot or humid where you’re building your house. If need be, scrape the failed icing off and make a new batch with much less liquid to start again.
Can’t find vegan candies for decoration?
Colored sugar and simple sprinkles are still plenty festive! You can always emphasize royal icing designs instead for a more elegant approach.
The beauty of gingerbread houses is that they’re only short term dwellings, meant to house the holiday spirit, which is always a gracious guest. If you build it, Christmas cheer is sure to come.