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Dec 3, 2008 09:58 AM

ISO gingerbread construction recipes

Marking a gingerbread house this year for the first time! Got a baking mold from Nordicware which includes a recipe -- would love to hear from successful gingerbread architects what your favorite recipes are. Ideally kid-friendly in taste for 6 and 3-year old -- and V important -- good for building.

ADDITIONAL QUESTION: Some recipes I notice call for butter, others for shortening. Would the shortening make a softer cookie? While possibly tastier -- wondering if that might cause construction problems. Or not? Anyone know?

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  1. This one works beautifully. We've made houses, tree-houses, castles, people, animals, monsters - you name it. It's delicious and sturdy. To assemble and stick together the house, you'll want to use either a royal icing (which hardens) or (my preference) melted sugar. The recipe makes enough for one house, plus small bits and pieces for landscaping etc.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Nyleve

      How do you use melted sugar? The only thing I've found works is royal frosting (tried many, many other things only to have the house fall down). Royal frosting tastes like the sweet cement it is. If I could use something else, I'd be ecstatic.

        1. re: chowser

          Royal icing is ok, but for earthquake-proof construction, the cement to use is melted sugar. It's a bit more finicky to work with and not as child-friendly when you're constructing, but once you've got your house assembled it's delicious, nearly invisible and very strong. Here's what you do:

          Dump a cup or two of sugar into a wide, heavy saucepan. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring once in a while, until the sugar liquefies. Take it off the burner the minute it turns golden and smooth because it can go from melted to burnt in a nanosecond. Now you'll have to work quickly. Make sure you have all your pieces and your base ready to go. I always use a slab of styrofoam so that I can poke toothpicks or skewers into it to help prop up pieces while they harden. Dip a bottom edge of one of the sides into the saucepan and place it immediately on the base - with the gooey edge down. It will stick to the base. Now take the adjoining side and dip both the bottom and one vertical edge into the melted sugar. Put in place, connecting the two sides at the corner and sticking the bottom to the base. Continue until everything is stuck and glued. It will take some practice, but it will work well.

          Make sure you don't TOUCH the melted sugar (it will be very very hot) and keep kid-helpers a safe distance away.

          Once the house is glued together, you can use royal icing to attach decorations etc. because that doesn't need to be quite as sturdy.

          My all-time favourite gingerbread house project was the tree house we made one year. Basically, I just baked a whole assortment of "lumber" and built the house right into a large tree branch which we nailed to a base so it would stand up. There was no plan - we just built it like a kid would build a real tree house. There was even a rope ladder (string with pretzel sticks) and it was on several levels with ladders connecting. My kids wanted to shrink themselves down and move in.

          1. re: Nyleve

            I think I'll stick with royal frosting! I can just imagine burning myself repeatedly with the hot sugar. I was thinking it would be something easier, like maybe heating up a lollipop until it's very soft and using it like a glue stick. Or putting a straight candy cane into a glue gun... The royal frosting has worked well for me. It's just a taste issue but I've never done as complicated designs as you do.

            That tree sounds sounds like a great gingerbread house. Have you ever entered your designs in a contest?

            1. re: chowser

              Ah well - it is a bit dangerous. The tree house, alas, ended up in a fundraising auction so we didn't even get the joy of devouring it. But it was so darn cute.

              My favourite gingerbread house story, however, happened many years ago. I was still living at home with my parents and decided to make a gingerbread house. It was, in my opinion, spectacular. So spectacular, in fact, that I wouldn't allow anyone to eat it. So the thing hung around on top of a dresser in our den for months. And I mean months. Around the end of April we learned a little something about chemistry: humidity in the air will be absorbed into gingerbread cookies, thereby softening them. This only began to happen as the spring weather set in and the windows were open. I was sitting on the couch watching TV when the gingerbread house slowly, painfully, dramatically collapsed into a heap.

              By that time it was too dusty to even eat. Drat.

      1. Something fun is to fill the windows with crushed hard candy so you get stained glass. Give them each a ziplock bag of frosting, with the corners cut off and they can put on the decorations themselves. The hardest thing is to let them do it all themselves and not offer input. It might not be what you would do but they'll think it's beautiful. Also, I'd make gingerbread men and women so they can have something to eat. Too often, right after assembling the house, they want to eat it. Ice cream cones upside down, frosted green, make good fir trees.

        2 Replies
        1. re: chowser

          All great suggestions. Thx! Also excellent point about letting go and letting the kids do their own thing vis-a-vis decorating.

          1. re: bite bite

            One thing I love about making them is letting kids use their imagination. We'll be at the store and I'll ask, how do you want to make a fence, what can we use? And they'll look around, use their imagination and find things that work (of course, I give suggestions, too).

        2. I have nothing useful to contribute, but the question brought to mind a Martha Stewart holiday special, probably 15 years or more ago, in which M demonstrated gingerbread house assembly and decoration to a sarcastic Miss Piggy. As M tiled the roof with miniature shredded wheat cereal, MP said "...and 5000 man-hours later". She also commented that the gingerbread houses were "all to code". All that said, Martha's site is bound to have lots of cute ideas.

          1. I don't really have any helpful hints, but wanted to share a story (and give ideas to those who might want to give children the opportunity to construct an edible house but don't have the time or inclination to bake).

            A few years ago, I was in charge of the office holiday party. The rules of engagement were that it was to be a carry-in luncheon, and that we should have some type of "team-building" activity. I decided on a faux-gingerbread house competition.

            I bought graham crackers and containers of ready-made frosting, gumdrops, candy canes, those frosting-in-a-tube cake decorating things, sprinkles, etc. Each team was provided with a round cardboard "platform" (I bought pizza rounds at the resto supply place) and provided some basic building materials. Folks were advised in advance of the contest and told they could supplement the building materials with anything edible they chose.

            People had a blast! They really used their creativity, and enjoyed the experience. The winner was a traditional-looking house complete with a fence (pretzels) and Santa in a hot tub (a cupcake with blue frosting, and a red-and-white frosting Santa) , but my personal favorite was the edible version of the Pentagon!

            We displayed the creations outside of cubicles for the rest of the week, and folks still talk about it....Anyway, just a relatively easy idea to give kids another way to burn off some of that holiday energy!

            1. We've made a few thousand gingerbread houses over the past 30+ years--it just wouldn't be the holidays without Operation Gingerbread in our house! We always use the recipe from the white house chef emeritus Hans Rafert, originally published in a Mailbox News. Recipe here:


              I will caution that the new crisco with no trans-fats nearly drove me crazy last year. The resulting cookie is softer, puffier, worse in every way. We ended up switching to a mix of sweetex and butter, which worked pretty well, but not until we'd already mixed up 6 batches of dough with the original recipe. The pieces made with crisco worked, but probably only because we live in Phoenix, where it's *very* dry, and we don't have to deal with any humidity issues.