8 tips to successfully building a Gingerbread House
Making a gingerbread house from scratch is not as difficult as it might seem, it´s actually a very fun and festive activity, and for many a cherished holiday tradition.
That said, it can be an ambitious process, but wow, it is so worth it! Just imaging standing on Christmas eve admiring your very own homemade magical gingerbread house masterpiece.
Follow our experienced tips on how to conquer this joyful holiday tradition, including making your own sturdy gingerbread building-dough, how to use gingerbread house templates, how you whip up a strong royal icing and we even share a secret tip on how to get your gingerbread pieces flat and straight.
1. Start with a plan
Either you are new to gingerbread house baking and want to make a fairly straightforward house, or you are a gingerbread house wizard looking to make THE gingerbread house. A good plan will make it more likely that you will make it all the way to the end. Take some time and consider the following:
Do you want to do this as a joint project, or by yourself?
What kind of gingerbread house to you want to make? Maybe a cottage or a church?
Do you want to spend a lot of time or as little time as possible?
Where do you want to display your house? As a Christmas table centrepiece? On your mantel? etc.
Any special decorations you want your house to be rigged for? Maybe some big festive candy canes? Or a house filled with candy inside?
It is all about "bringing the joy" and creating holiday memories.
2. Groundwork matters
Decide if you want to draw and create the gingerbread house templates yourself or if you want to use an existing template. If you're looking for printable quality gingerbread house templates, you can find our latest template designs here.
When you have found or made your gingerbread dream house templates, take your time cutting out all your template pieces. Be thorough. It might not be the most fun work, but I promise it will pay off. Details matter.
It can be a good idea to transfer your templates to card stock paper, it makes it way easier to keep the template pieces still when cutting out the dough. Highly recommended if baking with kids.
3. The proof is in the....dough
Well done, now you have all your template pieces ready. Let’s talk dough!
Not too keen on making your own dough? No problem. You can absolutely use store-bought gingerbread dough. I have made my fair share of gingerbread houses using store-bought dough from different stores, often from Ikea.
That said there is a huge difference in how the different doughs react in the oven. Please, «test-bake» a piece to be sure you are happy with the result.
But, there is a big but. If you are going all the way with your gingerbread house creation this year and are trying out a bigger or more complex gingerbread house you are 100% dependent on a sturdy building dough.
I found my «go-to» building dough after a lot of trying and failing. But after I started using this recipe I am not going back. If you want to give it a go, you can find the recipe here.
It might not taste like some gingerbread doughs, but it is the best building dough! It becomes harder than most doughs and keeps its shape in the oven. The color is something in between light and dark gingerbread. Dark enough for all the royal icing to really stand out. And has a great smell when you make it….ginger, nutmeg….it definitely gets you into the holiday spirit!
A lot of people are also recommending the construction dough from Stella Parks at Serious Eats. I have not tried it yet, but I definitely will! You can find the recipe for the construction dough here.
4. Cutting out your pieces, bit by bit
Patience is key to a successful gingerbread house.
Roll out your dough in a thin layer (in my experience the building dough is easier to roll out even). Move the dough piece over to a baking paper covered baking tray BEFORE you start cutting out your pieces. That way you do not risk changing the shapes of the pieces moving them on to the baking tray later on.
Take your time cutting out the pieces, bake one tray at a time.
Consider which side of the gingerbread pieces that will be facing out. The backside (facing the tray) will have a different surface.
5. It´s all in the details, secret tip
When it comes to assembling a gingerbread house it is so much easier if your pieces are as straight and flat as possible. Not always easy, but it might be easier with my «secret» tip: When the baked pieces come out of the oven, put a piece of baking paper over and another baking tray, or something equally flat and heavy - and let cool down. This ensures that the pieces cool down flat and straight. You can find a thorough description here.
6. Let the decoration begin
Finally, we can start decorating :-) Decorate before we assemble the house? Yes, it is much easier to decorate with the pieces laying flat in front of you. Use your template pieces from earlier to plan how you will assemble the pieces, that way you avoid using any royal icing or «glue» candy on areas you will need to attach another wall for example. The templates pieces are also great to sketch on for your decoration ideas.
Be sure to let the pieces dry long enough before you go to the next step, assembling the Gingerbread House.
7. Assembling with melted sugar or royal icing?.... Well, it depends
Ok, let the building begin. The first thing you should decide is if you want to use royal icing or melted sugar to glue the pieces together. As long as you use a royal icing made for building it is equally solid and strong.
Some of the main differences between royal icing and melted sugar are; appearance, drying time and stress level.
Appearance: Melted sugar is light brown in colour and quite fluid (when hot) and therefore it is often not as visible as royal icing. Using royal icing might result in quite visible white lines where the pieces are glued together. It can be very decorative, but if that is not the look you are going for it is good to know.
Drying time: Melted sugar dries instantly, after just 1-2 minutes you move on to gluing on your next piece. When it comes to royal icing, you have more flexibility to adjusting your pieces but you need to wait before you continue. For a house, you can put together the walls but you have to wait several hours (at least) before you attach the roof.
Stress level: With melted sugar you have to work quickly and know your pieces. It can be a bit stressful. Melted sugar is extremely hot and should be used very carefully. Not recommended at all when baking with kids.
You can find the recipe for a strong royal icing I use to assemble my gingerbread houses here. The royal icing can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for several days.
To make melted sugar (caramel) you pour a good amount of confectionary sugar in a pan (I usually use around 300 grams) and start heating carefully. When the sugar is fluid and light brown, you turn down the heat to a temperature that keeps it fluid, but as low as possible. Be careful!
If your gingerbread house templates include a step-by-step guide follow the guide. If not, and you are «on your own» start by putting together the walls. If your house consists of several small houses put together, start with the main house. Put the roofs on at the end….well, the chimney goes on at the very end. We do want Santa to visit our gingerbread house right :-) I often make the chimney before I put in on the roof. So it is attached in one piece. Let dry, ideally overnight if you are using royal icing.
8. There is nothing crips white royal icing can´t fix
Even if you have done every steps «to the letter» /thoroughly it is still baked goods we are dealing with. Sometimes the dough rises a lot in the oven, sometimes not. Every oven is different and every dough is different. That is where the final decoration with royal icing comes to the rescue. This is my absolute favourite step! To see your homemade gingerbread creation with its small cracks and charming flaws, get a bit (or a lot) of icing and turn into the most beautiful magical Christmas Decoration masterpiece you can imaging.
True holiday joy :-)