The Making of a Gingerbread House: Part 1

The boys gingerbread houses from 2009

Let me just say that I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to try my hand at a gingerbread house this year.  I’ll admit, I did one a couple years back, but it was a simple square box home that I let loose on the kids and had them decorate to their hearts content.  See that rather large gingerbread man standing next to the red and white peppermint over there?  That, my friend, is Luke Skywalker, compliments of my oldest son, Nicholas.  Don’t let the smile and the chocolate sprinkle jacket fool you.  Make one wrong step and he’ll use the force faster than you can say yogurt covered pretzel.

As adorable as the boys finished homes were, this year I had an itch to try a more adult version.  I wanted to challenge myself to see what I could come up with.  Some of you may remember my dismal attempt at “challenging” myself last year.  This go round I’ve gone a bit easier and stayed more within my talent range.  Even so, this house has eaten up more hours than a hungry elephant in a room full of hay mixed with fresh hulled peanuts.   I just can’t seem to stop working on it.  I’ll show you the finished product in part two, but for today I wanted to focus on design and assembly.

I know most of us, when deciding to make a holiday gingerbread house, go to the store and buy the kit.  And there is absolutely no shame in that.  BUT, maybe this is the year that you’ve decided you want to get creative and make a house designed from your own two hands.  One that no one else has ever done; one that you can claim sole creative rights to.  You’re ready to jump in but aren’t quite sure where to begin.

Step 1: Find your Inspiration

My Inspiration for this year’s home
Photo Courtesy of Damn Cool Pictures

Inspiration is everywhere from magazines to the internet to the tv to your own neighborhood.  Find what inspires you and go from there.  And remember, It doesn’t have to be a house.  My other choice before settling on the inspiration above was a Santa train I spied at the transportation museum earlier this year.  I may just save that one in my pocket for next Christmas’ endeavor.

Ok, you’ve got your inspiration, time to make a model.

Step 2: Make a Model of your Gingerbread Masterpiece

Just like any other construction project out in the world, you need a plan before you start to build.  If we were to just slice out a few walls and a roof without thinking it through, our house would fail to fit together properly and look a bit silly to boot.  In order to piece together my ideal gingerbread creation, I made a model using a cardboard box, a pair of scissors (an exacto knife works even better if you have it), a roll of tape and a ruler.  Decide how big you want your house to be and then draw and cut out your first piece.  Measure, measure, measure through it all.  You want the top of the wall to be as wide as the bottom of the wall.  Accurate measuring will assure that the pieces all fit together when you finally go and glue them up to make a home.  Moving one piece at a time, measure and cut out your cardboard pieces and tape them to each other as you go to assure they look the way you want them to.  With each subsequent piece you cut and place, it becomes easier to see what the next piece should look like.  You may have to take a few tries to get it right, but that’s why we do it first with cardboard.

Step 3: Disassemble and Bake

This part was a bit difficult for me.  After pouring over my cardboard house to get all the measurements just right and witnessing the beautiful finished product, the thought of taking it apart made me hesitant to say the least.  We’re here to make a gingerbread house, though, so apart it goes.

There are a lot of different gingerbread recipes out there and I am by no means qualified to say what the best version is.  I am qualified, however, to say that I went with THIS recipe over at Gingerbread House Heaven and it worked fabulously.  Once you have a few balls of dough chilled and ready to go, you’ll roll it out to about 1/4″ thick, lay a piece of your cardboard house over the top, and slice it out.  If you have a ravioli cutter, that works great, but a knife will work just as well.

A couple tips to remember:

  • Flour is your friend.  Don’t let that dough stick to the rolling surface or you’ll have a heck of a time getting your finished piece up and on the cookie sheet.
  • If you have a flexible plastic cutting board at your disposable, they work wonders for transferring pieces to your cooking sheets.
  • Once transferred, place the gingerbread cardboard piece over the top of your dough one last time to make sure everything is matching up as it should.
  • As soon as you pull the gingerbread from the oven, lay the cardboard piece over the top one last time and slice off any excess with a knife before it dries and hardens.

Ok, you’ve cooked your pieces and are now ready to see the fruits of all that hard work.

Step 4: Assembling the Gingerbread House

As you’ve probably guessed, before you can assemble your house, you’ll need some glue to hold it all together.  This is where royal icing comes into play.  Basically a mixture of egg whites and powdered sugar, this stuff binds like nobody’s business and is fairly easy to put together.  Again, I gleaned the recipe from my favorite source for all things gingerbread and it worked like a charm.  They even have alternative recipes that don’t use egg whites for those that are concerned about the use of raw eggs.

Assembly will work best if you have a few piping bags and a tip or two at your disposal.   Michaels, Hobby Lobby and the like have disposable piping bags for a fair price and the purchase of a tip or two will only set you back a few dollars a pop.  If not, you can attempt to cut a tiny bit of the corner off a freezer bag and go that route.   I personally recommend option one; especially since you can reuse the tips for future cake, cookie, and gingerbread adventures.  Tip 4 works great for piping icing between walls.

And just in case you’ve never used a piping bag before, I’ve inserted a quick video to give you the in’s and out’s of getting one set up.

Alright, let’s build a house.  Grab up two of your adjoining walls, squeeze a healthy line of icing down the edge and push them together.  Grab up two soup cans for stability and place them on either side of the walls until they are dry enough to hold themselves up.  I usually find they’re dry enough after about 15 or 20 minutes.  They’ll take longer than that to completely dry though, so be aware to go easy as you continue to add walls.

After you’ve placed all your walls, step away for the day and let it dry completely before adding on the roof.  You want it to be completely stable before you add that weight to the top.  Take a minute before your walls set to measure your width and length between them and make sure you have the same distances you had in your model.  The back of your house should be the same width and length as the front of your house (assuming you’re creating a square or rectangle room of course).

The next day add on the roof, take a step back and use a minute to simply admire the work you’ve done.  You’ve made your very own gingerbread house and it looks amazing.   It looks amazing because it yours and you did it.  No kit, just you, some dough and little bit of Christmas magic.

Next up, part two where I’ll talk about the fun stuff – decorations.  Now go get baking!



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14 Responses to “The Making of a Gingerbread House: Part 1”

  1. 1

    Jenn Erickson (@rookno17) — December 12, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

    Wow, it’s coming along beautifully! And your inspiration house reminds me so much of some of the little cottages we have here in Carmel-by-the-Sea!


  2. 2

    Valerie @ From Valerie's Kitchen — December 12, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

    I love the house you modeled it after! Super cute. How fun :) Can’t wait to see your progress.

  3. 3

    anne Alesauskas — December 12, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

    oh good lord that looks like a lot of work!!!! can’t wait to see the finale, anne

  4. 4

    OK Chick — December 13, 2011 @ 8:46 am

    WOW I am so impressed. I can’t wait to see the end result. You are so talented!!!!

  5. 5

    Gitte — December 13, 2011 @ 8:53 am

    Looks like your off to a great start. I’m sure this is going to turn out simply amazing!

  6. 6

    Mari — December 13, 2011 @ 9:50 am

    I love how it came out. Great tips! Thanks

  7. 7

    Laura in Cancun — December 13, 2011 @ 11:32 am

    Wow I love the inspiration you used! Looking good thus far, can’t wait to see the finished product!

    (One year we did Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings gingerbread men.)

  8. 8

    Katerina — December 13, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

    First of all congratulations on the time you spent to make this project. I wanted to make a gingerbread house myself, but it seems that I always run out of time. Anyway, The gingerbread village looks adorable and special. I am sure all of you and especially the young one in your family enjoyed it!

  9. 9

    Rita — December 13, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    You surely deserve a GOLD medal for this; wow! I remember making Christmas houses and villages with my boys but they were made out of cookies…not as intense. I bow to you; a true artist.

  10. 10

    zeemaid — December 13, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

    Oh my goodness. I can’t wait to see the finished product. I can’t imagine putting that much time and effort into something like this, I wish I wasn’t so lazy. Which is why I have nothing while you are going to have this amazing house. Amazing!

  11. 11

    Juliana — December 14, 2011 @ 10:44 am

    Wow, your gingerbread house is sure turning to reality…step-by-step I can already see how beautiful it will turn…and I look forward to see the remaining steps. Very nice Julie.
    Hope you are having a wonderful week and thanks for this nice inspiration :-)

  12. 12

    Sommer@ASpicyPerspective — December 15, 2011 @ 8:44 am

    Julie! Oh my goodness, you are now officially ready for the National Gingerbread Competition. I expect to see your entry next year. :)

  13. 13

    The Making of a Gingerbread House: Part 2 | Mommie Cooks! — December 15, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

    […] a chimney and it certainly doesn’t need to be as grand as the one I added.  If you remember my inspiration, though, then you’ll know that for my house the chimney played a very big role.  I decided […]

  14. 14

    blackbookkitchendiaries — December 16, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

    Wow!! this is gorgeous!! thank you for sharing this:)

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