How to Make a Real Gingerbread House
Is there anything more fun than building a cute candy house during the holidays? When I found out that I was becoming a mother, I knew that I wanted to create traditions for my son and future children that were built around the seasons. For me, these are usually centered around age-old things that our ancestors did. I had to take a minute after editing these photos to look up the history of gingerbread houses - you know me! Gingerbread shaped into people actually date back to the 15th century made for Queen Elizabeth I of England; houses were made after the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel by the Grimm brothers. This was popularized in the 1800s in Germany. The most fascinating part of this traditional dessert’s history was that only gingerbread bakers who were part of a bakers’ guild could make gingerbread during the year, except on Christmas and Easter when anyone could bake it. So interesting!
Making a candy house like this makes me think of the pioneers. I can imagine my own ancestors from the area, in the 1840s, gathered up in their cabins and homes baking gingerbread while the snow fell outside. Growing up, I spent almost every Christmas season making a gingerbread house with my mom!
Gingerbread Ingredients + Recipe |
10 tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup molasses
1 large egg
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
In a standing electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
Add in the molasses, mixing until combined. Add the egg and do the same.
You can combine all of the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, but I usually just add the baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves first. Then I add the flour cup by cup until just combined.
This dough is a bit sticky, so with floured hands form it together into a large disk or a few small disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight (overnight is best). You have to refrigerate first - the dough is too soft otherwise!
When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350.
There is no need to roll out the dough, but remove it from the fridge and let it warm up a bit for 10 minutes or so. Meanwhile, spray your silicone mold lightly with cooking spray.
Taking small sections of dough, take your silicone mold and press the dough into the form of the house. You’ll want the dough to be thick enough to come just to the top edge of each form, so don’t have it stick out. You can press separate pieces of dough together and spread it out; it’s quite malleable. This recipe is just enough to fit all of the house pieces in the molds that I have! Place the molds on a large cookie sheet.
Bake 10-13 minutes or until the cookie is not longer doughy. It may still feel soft to the touch, but I’ve noticed that the dough will show cracks a bit when pressed when they are done. Remove from the oven and let sit in the molds and on the cookie sheet until cooled completely. Do not remove while still warm or they may break!
This dough makes a chewy cookie, so you have to be careful. This is ideal, though, because it puffs up and makes the walls a bit thicker. Once cooled, carefully remove from the molds by flipping them over and lightly shaking out the house forms. They should just pop right out gently onto your counter. I would suggest doing this over parchment paper or in the place that you plan to leave them overnight. Let the house pieces sit overnight or at least 12 hours before constructing. You could even leave them for several days! You want them to harden up so that they can withstand building.
Next, you’ll want to make the frosting! This is the kind that hardens quickly and gets crusty; perfect for making all of the pieces stick together and the candy to remain on the house. You may want to use a piping bag for the icing, if you want a fancy edge or something easier than a spatula. I do not have one of those, so I honestly used my fingers the most!
Frosting Ingredients + Recipe |
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
In a standing electric mixer, combine the butter, salt, and vanilla.
Slowly incorporate the powdered sugar cup by cup. Add the milk in between cups of powdered sugar. Mix until a consistency forms that you like. Add more milk if it is too thick and more powdered sugar if it is too thin. The frosting should be able to stand in mounds on its own.
Use right away or refrigerate for a few days before using.
To Construct the House |
This, to me, is a bit self-explanatory. But here are a few tips that may help you in making sure that the house does not fall over!
Find something sturdy to put the house on. We usually use a piece of cardboard, but this year we decided to use a plank of wood (because that was all I could find - ha!). The house needs a base to sit on so whether this is a plate or cake stand, make sure you can easily decorate it, put frosting on it, and move it around because I am assuming you will not be decorating your house in the spot where the house will remain all month.
Spread frosting all over the top of the surface you are building the house on. This will make the walls stick and stand up straight, as well as any other pieces you may be putting down.
Just put frosting where you need it for now. It may even be smart to plan out what the final product will look like, like if you’ll be frosting the entire roof or not. It’s easier to frost the pieces before putting them together so do a little thinking before constructing everything. I usually put frosting on all inner edges of the pieces and stick them together that way - the thicker you put it on the better!
If you are building with kids, I found it was easier to let go of some of the decorating control by purchasing candy in colors that I liked. For instance, I am not a huge fan of blues or cool-toned colors so I didn’t buy any blue candies! Separate them beforehand if you have to. It helps as well to unwrap everything and place them in cups or Ball jars while building. The kids can easily pick stuff out and there aren’t wrappers everywhere! We had a hard time understanding that the little gingerbread people couldn’t go inside the house - haha!
Don’t forget to have fun and prepare yourself for the sugar rush/crash afterwards! It was impossible to not let Tad eat some of the candy, which led to a huge rush!!!
The best part about this entire process was that it takes a couple of days to finish. You’re probably saying, whaaaat?! Girl, you crazy! Most times when I think of food projects that take several days to complete, my stomach churns. I want something fast and easy! Right? You get me.
Gingerbread house making does not fall into that category. You have to wait for the dough to chill, then to bake and harden, then to frost and construct and decorate. It was perfect, though, because it broke up the feeling of being overwhelmed trying to make this with a toddler all in one day. If we had done this in one day, there would have been a lot of whining, negotiating, and time-outs. We got to make the dough on day one, let the house sit to harden on day two, and build it all on day three without feeling like we had to wait all day for the house to be made. In fact, I mostly did all of the baking work beforehand so Tad could just help me decorate later, which is the best part in his opinion!
All together, by taking breaks while making the house we had a lot of fun and it was honestly stress-free! I always think a big project like this for a little kid can be challenging. We had a blast, and I was so happy that Tad enjoyed it! I feel like this may be a tradition to continue between he and I. We’ll put this little house in the dining to room to enjoy over the holiday season.
Did you make gingerbread houses as a child?