How to build a gingerbread house

Baker? Builder? This Christmas, you can be both.
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4H 20M

The gingerbread house is one of our favourite festive foods, and while it may seem incongruous (those snow-laden eaves in our warm-weather Christmas), we say if ever there’s a reason to abandon logic and embrace whimsy and the child within, Christmas time is it.

Adjust your gingerbread spice according to taste

The spiciness of gingerbread is very much a matter of taste – some people love their gingerbread dangerously dark and very spicy, while others prefer a light golden dough with an equally light dash of spice. Ours sits somewhere in between; adjust the spice levels to suit your palate. For a darker gingerbread, use all dark muscovado sugar and replace the golden syrup with molasses. The gingerbread dough is simple and can be made up to a week in advance and refrigerated. Let it stand at room temperature to soften slightly before rolling it out on a lightly floured surface.

This is our favourite gingerbread recipe.

Use cardboard templates

The easiest way to cut out the pieces of gingerbread is to make cardboard templates as a guide. For our house we made three templates: the side walls measure 14cm high and 24cm long; the roof pieces are 10.5cm wide and 27cm long; and the end walls are 13cm wide and 14cm high, with a 6cm-high pitch for the roof. Cut out two of each piece from the dough (you may need to re-roll the scraps). We also made shutters and a Christmas tree from the scraps, but you’re limited only by your imagination in this department.

Step 1: Use cardboard templates to cut out your gingerbread house pieces.

(Photo: Dean Wilmot)

Cool your gingerbread completely

Once the gingerbread pieces are baked, cool them briefly on the oven trays, then cool them completely on wire racks, ensuring they’re completely flat, and store them in airtight containers between layers of baking paper until required.

The important of piping bags

A couple of piping bags and cake decorating piping tubes are a worthy investment if you plan to make a gingerbread house. Cake decorating piping tubes are smaller than pâtisserie piping tubes, are made of metal and come in all manner of shapes to produce different decorative finishes. We found the most versatile were a 2mm plain tube and a 4mm scalloped tube, but feel free to play around. You’ll also need a board or flat platter to act as the foundations of your house – cake decorating suppliers have these, or you could use a chopping board.

The quantity of royal icing we’ve made may seem enormous, but how much you need will depend on the amount of decoration you have planned, and also upon the steadiness of your hand – a little extra leaves room for error. You may find it easier to make it in two batches, and that way you can adjust the consistency according to how you intend to use the icing – we found that a thicker consistency was better for bonding the structure together, while a slightly thinner version was more suited to decorative work. Adjust the icing with extra icing sugar or water as you go, and when piping, do a test run on a piece of baking paper before you start to ensure you’ve got the consistency you’re after.

We found it easiest to do all the decorative piping on the gingerbread pieces before assembling them, but you do need to ensure the icing is completely dry before you begin construction, and take care not to chip it while you’re building the house. Decorate the pieces with whatever edible fripperies you like – we’ve gone for a silver and white theme and used silver cachous in various sizes, but you could use any sweets you like, pressing them into the icing while it’s still wet. Don’t get too carried away, though, or your house might collapse under their weight – the principles of load-bearing walls apply to gingerbread houses too.

Step 2: It’s best to decorate the gingerbread pieces before constructing the house.

(Photo: Dean Wilmot)

To keep the walls upright and perpendicular to the adjacent pieces during assembly, you’ll need to use straight-sided glasses. Ensure the walls are steady, secure and thoroughly bonded before you affix the roof – at this stage it’s fun to fill the house with lollies (avoid chocolate, though, which may melt in the summer heat).

Step 5: Use straight-sided glasses or tumblers to keep the gingerbread walls standing upright.

(Photo: Dean Wilmot)

Step 7: Ensure the walls are steady, secure and thoroughly bonded before you affix the roof.

(Photo: Dean Wilmot)

The finishing touch is to disguise the board, using fondant or more royal icing to cover it. And now your work is done – at this point your creation will last for about a week. Add drifts of icing-sugar snow to complete the scene just before you serve the gingerbread. We’re dreaming of a white Christmas.

Step 8: Don’t forget your icicles, and use fondant or more royal icing to conceal the board.

(Photo: Dean Wilmot)


Royal icing


1.Preheat oven to 180C. Roll out each piece of gingerbread on a lightly floured surface to 3mm thick. Using templates as guides, cut out 2 roof pieces (10.5cm wide and 27cm long), 2 side walls (14cm high and 24cm long) and 2 end walls (13cm wide and 14cm high, with a 6cm-high pitch for the roof), re-rolling scraps if necessary, then cut a door out of one end wall. Cut decorative shapes out of any remaining scraps (we made a Christmas tree for the garden and shutters for the windows). Place pieces on oven trays lined with baking paper and bake in batches until darkened around edges (8-10 minutes for smaller pieces; 10-12 minutes for larger pieces), cool on trays for 5 minutes then cool on wire racks.
2.Meanwhile, for royal icing, lightly whisk eggwhite in a large bowl, gradually add icing sugar and mix until mixture is smooth and holds a soft peak. Spoon royal icing into piping bags fitted with desired piping tubes and decorate pieces of gingerbread house as desired.
3.Spread a little icing on the backs of biscuit pieces (shutters et cetera) to affix.
4.Decorate gingerbread pieces with more piped royal icing and embellishments as desired and set aside until icing sets (25-30 minutes).
5.Spread a little icing along base and sides of a side section and along base of a front section with a small palette knife. Place on board, joining the walls and supporting with small tumblers until icing sets (30 minutes).
6.Repeat with back wall and remaining side section, securing at bases and at each join with icing, supporting with small tumblers until set (30 minutes).
7.Spread icing over top edges of house, then carefully secure roof sections (fill with lollies at this stage if using), again using tumblers for support until icing sets (30 minutes).
8.For icicles, hold tip of piping bag at an angle above edges of roof and pipe icing, allowing it to slip and catch along edges of roof (if icing is too stiff, thin it with a little water). Pipe a line of icing around doorway and attach door, pipe royal icing down each join to cover and set aside to set. Roll out fondant and use to cover board around house (or spread royal icing), dust with icing sugar to form snow drifts and serve.

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