Spread Out The Fun Gingerbread needs to chill after it's mixed, and it might need a chill after rolling and cutting. You should also set your built house aside before you decorate.
Plan A Dream House Design a pattern, or find one online. You can cut one out of foamcore, paper, oaktag or cardboard. Then cut a platform out of wood, Styrofoam or foamcore to build your house on. Leave space for landscaping.
Build It Strong Royal icing is both the mortar and the glue. Glue one side of the house down to the platform, then attach a side, holding the pieces together to stabilize them until the glue dries.
Decorate To Dazzle Consider gum drops, candy canes, day-glo Twizzlers, starlight mints for doors and shutters, marshmallows for snow people, lifesavers for wreaths, cookies and gelatin strips for windows, mini frosted shredded wheat squares for a thatched roof, sparkle sugar, sprinkles and gingerbread snaps.
Savor Or Save It You can eat your gingerbread house, but you can also save it for weeks. Or, you can pack it loosely in a large plastic bag and store it in a cool dry place — for next year.
With just a few tools and some careful measuring, you can create your own gingerbread home this season — or even a split-level, a bungalow or a gingerbread McMansion.
Whatever the style, cookbook author and gingerbread expert Dorie Greenspan says it's best to take a few days to make a gingerbread house. That includes making the dough, letting it chill, cutting out the pieces, letting them dry, constructing the house and then finally decorating, she says.
Because Greenspan is an expert, she and NPR's Michele Norris tried building the house in one day at Norris' home in Washington, D.C.
They grabbed a pizza cutter and some templates to cut out the house, but they were making a cottage: That means no bay windows, no porticos, no detached mother-in-law suites. After sliding a baking sheet under the wax paper with the rolled dough, Greenspan carefully made her marks, like a seamstress with a dress pattern. She made sure to leave space between her pieces so the dough could expand while baking.
She trimmed away the excess and slid the pre-fabricated gingerbread walls, roof and chimney into the oven. They cooked the three full baking sheets for 25 minutes each.
As the pieces cooled, they mixed up the royal icing glue. Greenspan used a large piece of foam core for the base, and they situated the gingerbread cottage so it had a nice front yard. Using a small spatula, Greenspan applied the royal icing like spackle and joined two corners together before reinforcing it from the outside. She and Norris assembled the rest of the house, then let it dry.
But this was a rush job so that they could finish before Norris' kids — 8-year-old Norris and 9-year-old Aja — got home from school.
Greenspan and Michele Norris laid out an obscene amount of candy: Skittles, Dots, marshmallows, day-glo Twizzlers, candy canes and sprinkles. And they divided the royal icing glue into two bowls: one for Aja and one for Norris.
The kids arrived, and they started decorating. Michele Norris caught little Norris eating the construction materials.
"I'm sorry, but jelly beans taste so good," Norris said.
After about 90 minutes, their humble cottage was fabulous. Across a shredded wheat-thatched roof, Aja arranged a series of brightly colored candies.
Twizzlers became electrical lines; there was a door framed by a pair of candy canes. Heart-shaped cookies became windows. They even had a garage door on the side of the house and a marshmallow security light hanging from the gingerbread roof.
"I love this house," Greenspan said. "I could move in."
Depending on the size of your house and how you're going to decorate it, you may need more than one batch of this icing. If so, make subsequent batches as you need them.
4 large egg whites About 7 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites for 1 minute, until they are foamy. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and beat until blended. Continue adding the remaining sugar 1/2 cup at a time and beating well after each addition until you've added 7 cups. You want an icing that's thick and easily spreadable. If you think you need more sugar to make it thicker, add the remaining 1/2 cup a few spoonfuls at a time.
In order to keep the icing soft when you're not using it, cover the bowl with a piece of damp paper towel or damp cheesecloth. Press the towel or cloth against the surface of the icing and then cover with plastic wrap. While you're working with the icing, it's good to keep the moist covering in place.
Gingerbread House Dough
This is a thick, heavy dough that needs to be made in a mixer. It's also a large quantity of dough, so you might want to make it in two batches.
7 cups all-purpose flour 4 teaspoons ginger 4 teaspoons cinnamon 1 teaspoon allspice 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1 1/2 cups solid vegetable shortening or unsalted butter 1 cup (packed) brown sugar 2 large eggs 1 1/2 cups molasses (not blackstrap)
Whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda and baking powder.
Working in a mixer with the paddle attachment, if you have one, beat the shortening or butter at medium speed until it's light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and beat to blend. Beat in the eggs one by one, and then beat in the molasses. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually stir in the flour mixture.
Divide the dough in thirds, wrap in plastic and chill for 3 hours.
Center a rack in the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
The dough is soft and needs to be rolled between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Roll to a scant 1/4-inch thickness. Remove one sheet of wax paper or plastic and turn the dough over onto a sheet of parchment paper.
To cut the pieces, lay a piece of plastic wrap over the portion of the dough to be cut, put the template over the plastic and score with a pizza cutter — don't cut all the way through. Lift off the plastic and run the cutter over the lines you've scored. Remove the dough between the pieces and save the scraps because you can re-roll them for the gingerbread house or for cookies. (If you're having problems removing the dough from between the cutouts, chill the dough in the fridge or freezer for a little while, then try again.)
Carefully slide the parchment and dough onto a rimless cookie sheet. Bake the gingerbread for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pieces are dry and firm. Cool for 10 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer the pieces to a rack to cool completely.
Continue rolling, cutting and baking the pieces, always making sure to put the dough on a cool cookie sheet.