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an elaborately decorated gingerbread house in front of a Christmas tree
Credit: Kim's Cooking Now

Baking and decorating a gingerbread house is one of the sweetest traditions of the season. And if you have kids home for the holidays, making a gingerbread house together can be a great way to get the whole family into the holiday spirit. Read on to get a time-tested gingerbread recipe that's sturdy enough to build with and yummy enough to eat, plus a how-to video and tips for assembling and decorating your sweet creation.

Planning Tips

You'll want to give yourself several days to make a typical gingerbread house from scratch so you'll have time to make, cut, and bake the dough; to assemble the house and let it dry; and finally to decorate.

Supplies:

  • This recipe for Children's Gingerbread House includes measurements for the gingerbread pieces plus the sturdy royal icing that holds all the pieces together. Double the recipe if you're making a large gingerbread house. You can use the measurements in the recipe to make template pieces, or search for downloadable gingerbread house plans online.
  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie sheets
  • Parchment paper
  • Thin cardboard for gingerbread house template
  • Sharp knife for cutting pieces
  • Base: plywood, heavy cardboard, cake board, or large serving platter
  • Pastry bags and decorating tips
  • Butter knife, small offset spatula, or flat sandwich spreader for spreading icing
  • A damp cloth for quick clean-ups
  • Glue gun (optional, only if you don't plan on eating the house)
  • Assorted candies and decorations
  • Tweezers, toothpicks, small paintbrushes for decorating
  • Cans and cartons to prop up gingerbread pieces during assembly

Baking the Gingerbread Pieces

Follow recipe directions to make, cut, and bake your gingerbread house pieces. To ensure they're truly firm enough to build with, you can leave them in your oven with the door ajar after you turn it off to give them extra time to dry out. Some bakers like to lay a baking sheet on the gingerbread as it bakes to keep it from puffing up.

How to Build a Gingerbread House

Before you get started, think about how you want the house to sit on the base. Visualize the "yard." Will you have a walkway? Trees? A fence? Maybe you'd like to set the house at an angle instead of squared up. Once you start assembling the pieces, it might be hard to go back and move everything around.

  1. Start by laying the panels down on the base with the four corners touching, as though the house was flattened from the inside out. That forms a rectangle where the house will stand when the panels are put together. Trace the rectangle with a line of royal icing. This helps the panels meet at right angles when you "glue" them together, and provides extra stability.
  2. To assemble, you'll use royal icing to "glue" a side panel to the back panel. Stand up a side panel in the line of royal icing you traced along its base. Apply a generous amount of icing to the vertical edge that will touch the back panel.
  3. Stand up the back panel in the line of royal icing you traced along its base, so the back panel and and the side panel meet and are held together by icing . Hold in place until the icing firms up. (You can use a hair dryer on the "cool" setting to help speed things along.) Use cans and cartons to hold the panels in place while they dry.
  4. Attach the second side panel to the back panel as in step 3, and support it until it firms up. Attach the front panel. Use cans and cartons to support the panels until they dry completely; overnight is ideal, but depending on temperature and humidity, your royal icing might dry faster.
  5. When the royal icing has dried rock-hard, you can attach the roof, one piece at a time. (Remember to remove any cans/cartons from inside the house before attaching the roof.) Let the house dry completely before decorating — a minimum of 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

This video for Children's Gingerbread House will take you through the steps.

Decorating the Gingerbread House

Think about how you want your house to look and what candy should go where.

  • Save time and make accessory items ahead of time: Snowmen, trees, carts, candles, and fences can be made while you're waiting for the house to dry.
  • Some like to apply icing decorations to windows, walls, and roof pieces before assembling the house. If you do this, be sure to let the icing dry completely before handling the pieces again.
  • Apply candy decorations by putting a small dab of royal icing to the underside of the candy and holding it in place until set.
  • Use extra dough scraps for decorative cut-outs.
  • Keep the tip of your pastry bag covered with a damp cloth in between decorating to prevent hardening.
  • Use tweezers to adhere small items to the house.

Helpful Tips

  • Allow a weekend to complete the house.
  • Read all instructions before you begin: You may have to double the gingerbread recipe to have enough dough for your design.
  • Allow the baked gingerbread pieces to cool thoroughly before assembling.
  • Keep royal icing covered with plastic wrap touching the surface of the icing at all times to prevent it from drying out while you're using it to "glue" the pieces together and apply decorations.
  • Adjust the consistency of the icing by adding more egg whites if the icing is too dry or more powdered sugar if it is too wet. It should be thick and stiff.

Trouble-Shooting

Icing is too stiff. Add a bit of water, one teaspoon at a time, mixing thoroughly until the icing loosens up a bit. You don't want it too loose, otherwise it takes a very long time to dry.

Icing is too loose. Whisk in more powdered sugar a little at a time until the icing is stiff.

House doesn't look picture-perfect. Don't worry; you'll be able to fill gaps and cover errors later with more icing and decorations. If you're not going to eat the gingerbread, go ahead and use a glue gun. And remember, perfection is overrated.

How to Store a Gingerbread House

  • Moisture is a gingerbread house's worst enemy: Display the house in a cool dry place.
  • Cover at night to seal out moisture and dust. For example, you can drape a piece of clean, dry fabric over the house and base.
  • Gingerbread houses can last up to a year, if you choose not to eat them. Spray with a clear lacquer for maximum protection. Cover with a plastic bag and store in a box with some Styrofoam "peanuts" to protect your house from damage.

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