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Gingerbread House Tips and Tricks?

Aprileats Dec 3, 2012 09:35 PM

I'm going to attempt to make a gingerbread house from scratch this weekend. I'm planning to use Martha's Molasses-Gingerbread Cookie Dough.


I bought a gingerbread house cookie cutter set so I don't have to make my own template. And I'm planning to make royal icing for the glue.

The plan is to bake the house parts the night before and decorate the next day.

Anyone with experience have any tips for making a gingerbread house from scratch? Any important do's and don'ts?

  1. s
    sandylc Dec 3, 2012 09:42 PM

    After baking the pieces, compare them to the cutters/patterns and trim them (in case they grew in the oven).

    Plan on it taking much longer to make than you think!

    Be ready to clean up a really big mess.....

    1. t
      tacosandbeer Dec 4, 2012 02:29 AM

      Sandylc is spot on.
      I make the dough on one day, because it handles much better if it's really well chilled.

      Day two is baking - I roll my dough right on parchment, transfer the parchment to the baking sheet, then cut the piece out. Don't bake a lot of pieces at once, because you want to trim them as soon as they come out of the oven, while they are hot and still soft.
      Then they can be set aside to cool and assemble once you've cleared the decks.

      I like to have my icing in a disposable piping bag - no tip, just a little bit cut off the end, it keeps it from drying out while I'm working.

      Allow the house to dry well before starting to add decorations, so you don't weigh it down before it's set.

      Have fun!!!

      1 Reply
      1. re: tacosandbeer
        jvanderh Dec 4, 2012 09:22 AM

        I didn't think about trimming the pieces! This was all really helpful.

      2. n
        Nyleve Dec 4, 2012 03:53 PM

        For a really sturdy house, you might consider using melted sugar as the glue - it sticks like crazy and sets in seconds. I've always baked the pieces one day and built and decorated the next. Use a 1-inch thick styrofoam base so you can stick toothpicks or skewers into it to keep things temporarily propped up if necessary.

        Have fun. I've made zillions of these over the years, but haven't built a gingerbread house in quite a while. One year we made a tree-house, built in the crook of a branch and made up of pieces of gingerbread "lumber" instead of actual house-shaped pieces. That one was the absolute best. There was even a rope ladder - made with string and pretzels - that went from one platform to another and down to the base.

        Marshmallows make good snowmen. Pretzel sticks make great fences. And shredded wheat biscuits can create a wonderful thatched roof effect, if you're into that kind of thing.

        12 Replies
        1. re: Nyleve
          jvanderh Dec 4, 2012 06:28 PM

          Do you cook the sugar to any particular stage? Do you add any water?

          Much obliged.

          1. re: jvanderh
            Nyleve Dec 5, 2012 06:51 AM

            I just dump a bunch of dry sugar into a small heavy saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until it melts. It takes a while and you have to be careful not to burn it. Because it solidifies so quickly, I usually leave the pot off the heat once it's liquefied, but put it back on from time to time (low heat) to keep it from hardening. It's a bit of a messy business but works so much better to keep the pieces stuck than royal icing, which takes a while to dry. Even if you just use melted sugar to stick together the big heavy house parts, it's worth it. You can add the smaller details with royal icing.

            1. re: Nyleve
              jvanderh Dec 5, 2012 11:06 AM

              That's really helpful, thanks! I was looking for something that would be as strong as royal icing but without eggs. I think I can use the sugar to stick the house together and glue on the candy, and buttercream or some less sturdy icing for decoration and snow. Maybe I'll mess around and see if can keep it melted in a crock pot full of hot water or something.

              1. re: jvanderh
                sandylc Dec 5, 2012 11:20 AM

                Use royal icing, but make it with meringue powder, not real eggs....

                1. re: sandylc
                  jvanderh Dec 5, 2012 02:52 PM

                  I don't think powdered whites continue to be shelf stable once they're moistened and mixed with other things. It's not the raw egg thing, it's the sitting at room temperature thing.

                  1. re: jvanderh
                    sandylc Dec 5, 2012 03:10 PM

                    Sure they do. I've made gingerbread houses with them several times, and then kept the houses for a couple of years!

                    1. re: sandylc
                      jvanderh Dec 5, 2012 09:13 PM

                      I want to be able to eat it, and everyone seems to think eating old royal icing is iffy. So I'll probably go with the melted sugar option.

                      1. re: jvanderh
                        Nyleve Dec 6, 2012 06:24 AM

                        If Edibility is your concern I wouldn't worry about royal icing. You are going to be using it to decorate, aren't you? Even though there is a small amount of egg in it, the icing is primarily sugar. Not sure if this is technically safe, but I would never worry about it myself. But then I also eat cheese past its expiry date.

                        1. re: Nyleve
                          jvanderh Dec 6, 2012 07:59 AM

                          I'm on the hunt for a different icing that I can decorate with. But I don't have a steady hand with a piping bag, so there won't be much detailing. I'm planning on jolly rancher stained glass as mentioned on the other thread, and the roof will be decorated with candy.

          2. re: Nyleve
            melpy Dec 5, 2012 09:37 AM

            Build the house the day before you decorate to the frosting used as glue can really solidify.

            1. re: melpy
              sandylc Dec 5, 2012 10:30 AM

              Or over several days before you decorate! It's good to let some parts of the structure harden before piling more on. And it always takes longer than you think it will.

              1. re: sandylc
                cleobeach Dec 6, 2012 06:42 AM


                And if small children are involved, have a glass of your favorite spirit at hand!

                This year isn't too bad at the CB house, Little CB understands that the house parts need to bond before decorating. Last year, not so much and there were tears of frustration.

                We are doing a house and a train this year. We "built" last night and will decorate tonight.

          3. Terrie H. Dec 4, 2012 03:58 PM

            I'm sure you'll get some additional tips, but someone else just asked the same question, so I thought you may find additional tips on this thread:

            Good luck!

            1. zitronenmadchen Dec 4, 2012 04:54 PM

              This is cheating, but for my more elaborately shaped gingerbread houses, that are just for display anyway, I make a slightly smaller foam board version of the house and glue the gingerbread on. No waiting for the royal icing to dry. And it makes the stained glass windows (made of crushed hard candies) stand out nicely too with the white color behind them.

              1. t
                Tumkers Dec 4, 2012 06:13 PM

                I was stunned by how much propping it takes to make the thing stay together long enough to dry. Each year I make the houses smaller and smaller to take out some of the weight. My sister uses a box to build on to and then other items like mason jars to hold it up. Now, I just make the gingerbread guys because I love to eat them and once you make the house-- who is going to eat a masterpieces like that?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Tumkers
                  HillJ Dec 5, 2012 09:32 AM

                  We use a batch of rice krispie treat squares as the stable foundation for propping up square pieces, sides and more elaborate interiors.

                  We use Triscuits for roofing singles (love the look) we rely on premade candies to decorate (the mini assortments at candy by the lb places is ideal for this) rather than royal icing tips.

                  We always start with a sketch (one full sketch and then individual sections). We layout our food by section before beginning to build. We check and recheck measurements and edge lines.

                  We don't rush the process. A typical bed and breakfast house now takes us 4 days after five years of practice.

                2. s
                  sandylc Dec 4, 2012 06:36 PM

                  Oh, and a well-dried gingerbread house can be carefully enclosed in a plastic garbage bag and stored in a cool, dry place and reused for 2-3 years.

                  1. a
                    Aprileats Dec 4, 2012 08:50 PM

                    Thank you everyone for all the tips!! Just bought lots of candies and treats for decorating :)

                    1. meatn3 Dec 5, 2012 08:36 AM

                      This time of year it shouldn't be a problem but humidity causes lots of construction issues. I dealt with it one August for a photo shoot by encasing my kitchen in heavy plastic, running dehumidifiers and using high intensity lights to keep the gingerbread from reabsorbing ambient moisture. And cheated. A lot!

                      One handy cheat is to use gable topped milk cartons to support the roof.

                      Mercifully most of the details of that month have faded away...but we still refer to it as Gingerbread Hell.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: meatn3
                        Nyleve Dec 5, 2012 08:41 AM

                        The year I kept my gingerbread house until May, it collapsed right in front of my eyes on the first really humid day. First the sides began to buckle, then the roof caved in - it was a horrible sight. And by then it had been sitting in the den for 5 months so we didn't want to eat it anymore...

                        1. re: Nyleve
                          meatn3 Dec 5, 2012 08:58 AM

                          It is devastating to see.

                          I had to construct separate framework to slip over the exterior of both houses in order to transport to the photo shoot. My backseat was solid bubblewrap. I had a laundry basket full of supplies for emergency fixes. Blow driers and heatguns and plumber torches were all employed at one point or another. Design aesthetics evolved in new directions to deal with the structural issues.

                          When the darn things were returned to me I put them under a tree for the squirrels. It was interesting to watch the deconstruction. Squirrels have very specific tastes concerning sweets it seems!

                          1. re: meatn3
                            jvanderh Dec 5, 2012 11:07 AM

                            Oh man, you are a chowhounder after my own heart. What a great story (though I'm glad I wasn't there to experience gingerbread hell firsthand) :-D. I'm in southern California, and it's fairly humid, but I think I'm going to keep the house itself small and simple (famous last words, right?).

                            1. re: jvanderh
                              cleobeach Dec 6, 2012 06:40 AM

                              When the darn things were returned to me I put them under a tree for the squirrels.


                              OMG! A thousand thanks!

                              It was VERY hard for my son to let go of the house last year. This year I will spin it as a treat for the squirrels. He adores animals and will go for this idea.

                      2. 512window Dec 5, 2012 01:06 PM

                        You are going to have to move it once its done. Make sure when you start to build the house that you have a sturdy base to build it on that will have plenty of room on all sides to access it for icing and decorating. I use a big white plastic cutting board.

                        1. s
                          sandylc Dec 6, 2012 12:56 PM

                          I have seen a few references in this thread to eating a gingerbread house. I guess that while I think that a gingerbread house should only be made with edibles, I just have never thought of eating one. These things are pawed to death when they are being built and become stale and hard when made well....not really edible anymore.....

                          EDIT: Except for squirrels, of course....

                          1. t
                            tiff96 Dec 15, 2012 04:22 AM

                            sherry from Aust,
                            I make a lot of ginger bread houses, I have for a number of years. I have some good tips. If you put after dinner mints on the roof they look like tiles and if you crush up hard boiled clear lolly's and put them in the windows before you bake them in the oven, they melt into the windows and when they come out of the oven they look like glass. But I do have one problem, it is always summer here were I live when it is Christmas, so I have a lot of trouble trying to stop my house's falling over, with the humility some times I have to wait 2 days before I can put on the roof on or it falls over, that's when I'm trying to set the royal icing, maybe I should put more icing in it, after it has been at room temperature for a while. It's so time consuming, course I like to make them for family and friends for presents. I thought of an Idea, tell me anyone if you think this would work ? I was thinking of putting wax on the bottom only, on all the walls, so they will stay standing up, making sure know one eats the wax.

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