Nothing says "Christmas!" like an old-fashioned gingerbread house, and this year, we're going all out! These cookies are the ideal canvas for all sorts of decorative touches. The dough can be made and baked off in advance and stored in an airtight container until ready to decorate or finish. Use a classic sloped-roof design, or call in your best family-architect to design something unique.
Dough for gingerbread construction projects is perfectly edible; it just has more flour in it to make it sturdier than gingerbread cookie dough. It’s simple to put together, and should chill for at least an hour before being rolled out and cut for baking.
- Create the templates and attach them to some rigid cardboard. Use a utility knife or scissors to cut them out. These can be placed on the dough and used as a guide to cut out the shapes for your pieces. Create a checklist of the pieces you will need to make your house, so that you don’t forget to cut and bake any portion of it. You can also create architectural details of your choice, such as chimneys or shutters.
- Roll out a portion of the dough into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick, reserving the remainder in the refrigerator. Roll the dough as evenly as possible. Cut out the pieces necessary and collect all the scraps. You can use them to roll out to cut more pieces, people, or decorative elements later. The remaining dough can also be used to cut out people and trees to decorate your scene. If you have a cookie cutter for a snowman or sleigh, those would work, too.
- Bake the gingerbread pieces until the edges just begin to brown. Remove them from the oven immediately and trim the pieces, as they will have spread slightly in the oven, and place the pan on a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, run a spatula under the pieces to free them from the baking sheets. Allow the pieces to finish cooling completely on the baking sheets.
- Cut a piece of corrugated cardboard to build your house on. Cover it with heavy-duty aluminum foil. To assemble the sides, pipe a bead of royal icing along the edges. Pipe more icing along the inside seam where the pieces meet, to reinforce the joint. Allow the four walls to dry completely for several hours or overnight before applying the roof.
- Pipe a bead along the seam of the joint for one side of the roof. Put the roof panel in place and use a prop to keep the roof panel from sliding down until the icing has completely hardened. Again, pipe more icing along the inside seam where the pieces meet, to reinforce the joint. Let the first roof panel dry in place for at least an hour, then repeat the process with the second half of the roof.
The only rule here is that everything you use should be edible. What better treat can there be than to go to the candy aisle of your favorite store and buy anything that looks good? Gumdrops, fruit rollups, string licorice, mini marshmallows, green and red Starlight Mints, M&M's, Necco wafers, Life Savers, cotton candy, nonpareils, dragées—they all have a place in the palette of treats you can use. Use anything you like!
Before you begin, it’s helpful to have some inexpensive art brushes and water on hand. Tweezers can be helpful for placing dragées, and cotton swabs are handy for wiping up spills or correcting mistakes before they dry.
The four corners of the house where the walls are joined together are a natural place to decorate. Any candy you choose can be cemented to the seam where the two walls connect. You can drape royal icing off the eaves to make snow or icicles.
Put some wet royal icing on the seam where the two walls are joined. Place candy on the icing, starting at the bottom and working your way up to the roof.
For colorful trees, tint some royal icing a deep green and thin it with a little water so it flows freely. Coat cut-out tree shapes by flooding or with the help of a paintbrush. Sugar-style ice cream cones are good foundation forms for making trees. Use some green royal icing and a pointed leaf tip on your pastry bag to apply the boughs for the tree.
There are a number of things you can do to make your gingerbread house look more finished. It should be connected to the ground by having a path up to the door and some form of landscaping to show texture on the surface of the cardboard. Apply royal icing to the board or serving plate to create snow. Cobblestones can be made out of all kinds of candies. Placing people, snowmen, angels, or reindeer and Christmas trees nearby completes the scene.
When you're ready, use this basic template to trace your pieces and get building, or design your own!
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