It's that time of year! Time for festive cookies, cozy drinks and gingerbread houses. My easy recipe and how to will help you make the ultimate gingerbread house. Also check out my easy no-fail template if you need a quick gingerbread design!
Ingredients for a Gingerbread House
In order to make a gingerbread house, you have three key ingredients:
- Gingerbread cookie dough - you want a good sturdy gingerbread to make your house. A dough that won't spread when baking, so that you can trust your template. And a dough that will bake stiff enough to use in your construction.
- Icing - a good frosting is essential for a gingerbread house. You need something to cement your pieces together that will set hard enough to be a firm build. I recommend using my classic vanilla buttercream.
- Decorations - this is the bit that is more free to the imagination. You can easily use sweets and candies or simply more frosting to decorate your creation. The choice is yours!
Making Gingerbread for a Gingerbread House
What you'll need:
- Butter - unsalted butter, softened at room temperature.
- Light brown sugar (muscovado) - measurements based on firmly packed sugar.
- Egg yolk
- Molasses or dark treacle
- Flour - either all purpose flour or plain flour will work in this recipe.
- Baking soda
- Ground spices - ginger, allspice and cinnamon
- Vanilla extract
How to make gingerbread dough
The process for gingerbread dough is a bit like a mid-point between mixing cookie dough and kneading bread. You start off by creaming the butter and sugar. Then add the egg yolk, molasses and vanilla. This will create a batter, awaiting the dry ingredients.
Begin adding the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda and spices) a little bit at a time, mixing as you incorporate. Once you've added about three quarters of the dry ingredients the mix may start to become difficult to stir with a spatula or spoon.
Add the remaining dry ingredients and knead with your hands until it comes together in a dough.
Work it until it is no longer crumbly and then form a ball. Wrap this in a piece of cling film and flatten slightly. This will help you roll it out later. Refrigerate for at least an hour and up to three days.
Rolling gingerbread for gingerbread house
For the next step towards your gingerbread house, you'll need the dough and a template.
Once your dough has chilled, take it out of its wrapping and place on a lightly floured worktop. Leave to set for 5 or 10 minutes, to help it be easier to roll.
Break the dough in half or in thirds, so that you are not working with the whole block at once. Begin rolling out with a rolling pin. It may break apart a bit (especially with the first rolls), but you can knead the dough back together as many times as necessary and re-roll. The dough will become easier to work with after the first roll out.
Roll the dough out to about a quarter inch thickness and cut your shapes. You'll find it best to use a template and slice around the sides with a sharp knife. If using my basic gingerbread house template this dough is sufficient to make one house and a few spare pieces.
Transfer to a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven until the edges begin to darken.
Once baked allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Don't pull the knife through the dough at the edges - this will stretch the shapes and result in uneven slices that don't match up to the template. It is best to cut straight down, like you would with a dough scraper.
- Be careful moving the pieces to the baking tray. They don't need to be super spaced (about 1" apart is plenty) as they won't spread, however, you want to avoid pulling them out of shape when transferring them to the sheet pan.
- Make sure not to under bake. When it comes to a gingerbread house, its better to go slightly over-done than under when baking the pieces. This is because, you want them to be good sturdy and stiff for construction. If they are under baked and soft, they may risk sinking and not being stable for your design.
Assembling an Easy Gingerbread House
To assemble the house, you will need two matching pieces for your front and back, two matching pieces for your sides and then two pieces for your roof. You'll also want a frosting to act as the glue sticking these together. While royal icing is often the classic in gingerbread houses, you can use American buttercream.
Why use buttercream instead of royal icing
I have a few reasons for using buttercream instead of royal icing here.
- Buttercream is easier to make - there is a knack for making royal icing, which I've not yet mastered. Classic American buttercream is super simple, hard to mess up and easy to save if problems arise.
- Buttercream is more versatile for decoration. Royal icing can be gorgeous and perfectly white, but it also tends to flood and is generally a thinner consistency. With buttercream, you can control the texture and use piping tips to make more of a decoration with frosting alone.
- Buttercream just tastes better - this is a bit of a personal opinion, and I'm sure there are royal icing lovers, but I adore buttercream. If there's option to use vanilla buttercream, I pretty much always will!
Constructing a gingerbread house
Once your gingerbread pieces are cool, you will want to start off by creating your main structure - the four walls for the house. Your buttercream will act as the cement to join up the edges.
I find it easiest to lay the piece, which will be the back wall down and to pipe down the two side edges. Then stick the two walls in place before piping and adding the front. I then carefully transition this to being upright.
Don't worry too much about any of the pieces moving a bit or not sticking immediately. You can move these back into place and strengthen the joints by adding a bit extra piped buttercream after the initial form is constructed.
Constructing the gingerbread house is best done on a tray or parchment paper so that you can more easily transfer it to the refrigerator. The frosting itself will harden in the fridge, which will make the finished product much less fragile and prone to movement.
FAQs for an Easy Gingerbread House
This question mainly depends on whether you are intending to eat your gingerbread house. If this is a fun activity and a decoration, the house with buttercream can stay strong and stable at room temperature for several days or even weeks. If you're intending to eat the gingerbread house, I'd recommend that it is best eaten within about 3 to 4 days as the cookies will still be fresh.
Technically, yes, the gingerbread and buttercream will freeze fine. The construction is a little delicate though, so I wouldn't recommend freezing this assembled.
If you are wanting to get a head start on gingerbread house making, you can make the gingerbread dough and freeze this for up to three months. Allow to defrost in the refrigerator overnight before rolling out.
For my piped decorations, I used a couple of piping nozzles.
A Wilton #21 tip - this is a star tip, which was used for the ribbed corners and roof edges in white buttercream as well as for the trees, bushes and wreaths in green.
A Wilton #4 tip - this is a standard round tip, which I used to draw the roof shingles, the door and windows as well as add yellow lights to the trees and wreaths.
A Wilton #150 tip - this is technically a petal tip used for flowers, but is a flat line that can be used to mimic a ribbon. This was used for the red bows.
If you like this recipe, try these other festive favourites:
- Boozy Gingerbread Sandwich Cookies
- Gingerbread Pound Cake Cupcakes
- Old Fashioned Gingerbread Muffins
- Cinnamon Pound Cake
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- ½ cup light brown sugar (muscovado) firmly packed
- 1 egg yolk
- ¼ cup molasses or dark treacle
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups all purpose flour plain flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
Ingredients for Assembling Gingerbread House
- buttercream frosting ½ a quantity of my American buttercream will work to assemble a basic gingerbread house with some decoration.
- candies, sweets, sprinkles or food colouring for decoration
- In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then add the egg yolk, followed by the molasses and vanilla, beating to combine.
- Sift the flour, baking soda and spices together in a separate bowl. Add these to the sugar mixture a bit at a time, mixing with a spatula to incorporate.
- When the dough becomes too thick to stir, use your hands to knead this together. Work the dough until it is no longer crumbling apart, then form into a ball. Wrap this in cling film or plastic wrap and gently flatten into a disc. Place this in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.
- Meanwhile pre-heat your oven to 350°F (175C/155C Fan) and line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- After the dough has chilled, take out of the wrapping and break in half or into thirds. Working with one at a time, place on a floured work surface and roll out to be about ¼" thickness.
- Using a sharp knife cut out the shapes or your template or use cookie cutters. Transfer these to the cookie sheets spaced about 1" apart and bake in the oven for about 12 minutes.
- Once baked, allow to cool for about 5 minutes on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Continue to repeat the process, kneading any scraps together and re-rolling the dough until you have finished baking.
Instructions for Making Gingerbread House
- Once your gingerbread pieces are cool, you can use buttercream to construct your house. Working on top of a piece of parchment or a tray, pipe lines of American buttercream along the joints of your house pieces and press together. Pipe additional buttercream to firm up the construction. Once you've formed the gingerbread house and roof, allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the frosting to crust and harden.
- Decorate with more icing, candies or sweets.
- The gingerbread house can stay at room temperature in a cool space and will last for several days.