It is 10 years since I made my first gingerbread house and I am still filled with pride and wonder when I make one. I am always a little amazed they don't collapse though not so anxious about them as I used to be. I was really happy to make quite a different gingerbread house this year. This little stone house with fudge roof tiles, a chimney and front yard, to paraphrase a friend's reaction, is somewhere I would love to live.
Previous Gingerbread houses:
Before discussing making my gingerbread house this year, I have collated photos of gingerbread houses I have made in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2018. You will see that after doing a large one the first year, I settled on a favourite template for small gingerbread houses. This was useful, especially in the years I made extra ones for community club raffles. I used either the 2013 dough or the Primrose Bakery's vegan gingerbread house dough but have lost the latter recipe. And I tried both traditional royal icing with icing sugar or vegan royal icing with aqua faba. They all worked well as did the decorations. Sylvia's eyes lit up with joy at these houses decorated with lollies.
I wrote posts on the first two years but then got too busy to write about the next two years of baking, despite best intentions. So this year I am determined to write up what we did so I don't need to wonder how we made the Christmas trees in 2018 and scratch my head in bewilderment when I look back on notes like "when putting gingerbread house together put a tin in and a texta to keep it the right size". This is a lengthy post because I find detailed notes help me, especially when it can be a year or five before making another gingerbread house. I hope others might find it useful too. If you want a guide on how to make a gingerbread house, I suggest you also check out my step by step instructions on my first gingerbread house.
The gingerbread house cookie cutter set:
Last year I bought a Jolly and Joy 10 piece gingerbread house cookie cutter kit (similar to this kit on Amazon). Above is the illustration of the cutters. And a note that the finished size is 17cm high x 14cm deep x 10cm wide. I didn't have time to try it last year but I had more time this year and wanted to try the cutter set for when life gets busier. It really helped to make it easier to cut out the house parts. In the past I have used measurements to draw up and cut out templates out of baking paper. I did not miss this at all.
I had decided to avoid the bright colours of the previous houses, meaning that I used less lollies and more muted colours. I had ideas with the flake chocolate bars and the stick pretzels of using them for window ledges, corners and pathways. Sylvia really wanted a pile of logs in the yard. While we used a lot of jersey caramels for the roof, we used no pretzel sticks and less than 2 flakes for the corners of the walls.
My gingerbread house timetable:
- Friday: made the dough (using this tried and true recipe) and wrapped it in clingfilm in the fridge
- Saturday: cut out the pieces, used a knife to do the stonework and baked pieces.
- Sunday: iced the stonework (with icing sugar), made royal icing, piped vines, assembled the house and finished decorating.
What is needed to make this gingerbread house:
- 1 batch of my gingerbread recipe*
- 4 egg whites and approximately 700-800g icing sugar to make royal icing*
- Extra icing sugar for sprinkling*
- 2 x 150g packets of jersey caramels (we had a few leftover)
- 2 flake chocolate bars
- green food dye for vines
- sprigs of rosemary for garden and tufts of grass
- 2 currants for eyes if you want to build a snowman (or an edible marker)
*Notes on ingredients:
- To make the darker gingerbread I followed Twigg Studio's lead and substituted 1/4 cup of cocoa for flour in the gingerbread recipe.
- I did see some notes about using vegan gingerbread so the gingerbread can sit at room temperature but this has never been a problem for me. I sometimes finds eggs help gingerbread texture but my experience of vegan gingerbread houses is that
- I needed a food processor for the gingerbread dough but next time I want to try Twigg Studios vegan gingerbread recipe which is made in a large saucepan.
- If you want a completely vegan gingerbread house, as well as vegan gingerbread, I have made vegan royal icing with aqua faba. You will also have to substitute for the flakes and caramels but you can just bake some extra pieces of gingerbread in tiles and logs if you need or use grissini (crispy bread sticks) or nuts.
- Icing sugar is also known as confectioners sugar or powdered sugar.
- Icing is also known as frosting.
(in addition to the usual bowls, spoons, knives, measuring cups and measuring spoons etc that most bakers will have)
- Food processor or large saucepan to make gingerbread
- Gingerbread house cookie cutter set (or cut templates on baking paper)
- Ruler to measure the thickness of the house pieces
- Sharp knife for stonework
- Electric beaters to make royal icing
- Piping bag (preferably 2)
- 2 piping tips - one fine for green icing and one medium for white icing.
- 1 cake board or flat plate. My cake board is 30 x 30cm.
- Straight edged glasses or unopened tins of food to hold up walls while assembling the house
- Lots of time and patience
This photo collage shows the steps it took to make the gingerbread house over 3 days. I wanted to make a rustic or woodland style of gingerbread house and looked at online ideas when planning. I fell in love with a gingerbread house at Twigg Studios. They had templates and a vegan recipe but most of all it was the presentation of the darling little British cottage that inspired how I did mine, including the stonework. I did the jersey caramel roof I had done in 2018. More details below.
Cutting and baking the parts of the house:
The Twigg Studios suggested using a knife or spoon to make the stone imprints in the walls before baking the gingerbread. I was dubious but tried it on one piece and planned to have it on the inside if it looked wrong. But it was good. The only problem was that I cooked one of the walls without any stone imprints. I got it confused with the roof shape. I realised before it came out so once it was out of the oven I carved some stone shapes into it as best I could but it is easy to spot because it looks so different and was too hard to to the edges..
Notes on cutting and baking:
- I rolled out the dough between two sheets of baking paper.
- It was ok to add patches so that the dough was rolled out enough for some of the bigger pieces - the joy of rustic stone work is that it doesn't have to be perfect.
- I used a ruler to check the thickness of the dough after I cut it and if it seemed too thick I rolled it more and used the cookie cutters again.
- I decided the chimney wasn't high enough so I added more height by lightly placing cookie cutters on the rolled out dough and extending it to be a bit taller.
- I cut out a door but decided it did not look right. So we ate it.
- I measured out a small yard and used some leftover dough with rustic edges to be the fence. I also cut out a gate with some criss-cross but it did not show very clearly. I also made a stone footpath, which was too wide but worked anyway.
- Cutting the stonework before the dough was baked was a lot of detailed work but it meant very little work was needed on the walls once they were baked. The stone is not meant to be uniform because stones are not all the same size. I cut the stonework once the dough was rolled out, cut and on the baking tray.
- I regretted cutting the door and windows out of the front wall before moving it to the baking tray. The door and windows got wonky when I moved the dough. Yet again, the rustic nature of the house was forgiving of imperfections.
Stonework and vines
The stonework that I cut looked quite good, albeit a little like an Easter Egg. The stonework looked far more realistic once I rubbed icing sugar over the walls. It even looked ok on the wall I had cut after I baked it. I made some royal icing, took a bit out into a separate bowl to dye, and piped the vines on the walls before they were assembled into a house.
Notes on stonework and vines:
- It is really satisfying to rub icing sugar over the walls to make the stones stand out but it is messy. My fingers were sticky and I was glad I put a tea towel under the gingerbread pieces so it was easier to clear up after it.
- My mum had told me that pure icing sugar is best for royal icing but I had forgotten and bought the soft kind that has a bit of cornflour in it.
- Royal icing is pretty robust. I had it out of the fridge for quite a few hours after I made it and covered it with a tea towel (or you can use clingfilm or beeswax wraps). It kept for a few hours in the bowl and also in the piping bag.
- In my head the vines were to be quite a dark or muted green. My dye made a brighter green than intended but I think it worked.
- I used a thin writing piping nozzle and a separate piping bag for the vines so I could leave it aside while I assembled the house in case I needed to do any extra piping later (which I didn't).
- While the icing sugar on the stonework looked great, it also made it harder for the royal icing to stick to the gingerbread.
- By the time I was doing the stonework I was tired and only did it on two walls.
- I also made a half-hearted effort at piping some snow in the windows but didn't quite get the sense of snow drift I was aiming for.
Assembling the house:
Assembling the pieces of gingerbread to make a house is always a nerve wracking exercise. One of the reasons it is great to use lollies is that they cover a multitude of imperfections. Often the pieces don't quite fit together and a length of licorice, candy cane or marshmallow can be placed over some thick icing to draw attention from it. I expected mine to fit ok thanks to the cookie cutter kit. Even so, I was still worried if the gingerbread would hold up, despite being a tried and true recipe. It seemed easier than it should have been with the walls seeming sturdy and standing up quite easily after the first wall without much support.
- I used a medium piping nozzle for the remaining white royal icing. I really liked the advice on sweetams cookie art to mix royal icing at different consistencies for different parts of the house. The thick royal icing worked well in the assembly phase.
- When I was handling the walls and roof pieces I could feel that they were fairly sturdy. I didn't worry as much as in my previous 2018 gingerbread house when I lost track of measurement of the butter and had to wing it with a bit more flour to get the right dough consistency.
- My house stuck together well but I was still alert to check that walls weren't slowly falling over or the roof sliding down from its position. I had some glasses on hand to prop it up with if needed.
- When assembling a gingerbread house there is the moment when I need to decide whether the side walls sit outside the front and back walls or inside them. After trying to decide which is right I have found it depends on your pieces and the best way to know is to put your pieces together without icing. I piped a line of icing and stood up my first wall (the back) with straight edged glasses either side. Then I propped up the side walls and checked how the roof would sit on it to check it had a decent overhand on both the front and sides (though with roof tiles it is easier to get more overhand on the sides.) In this case on the corner I had the side wall as the outer corner where the sides and back/front joined.
- I decided not to use the door but you could prop a door open or pipe the outline with royal icing. Sylvia and I also discussed using pretzel sticks to make a door, which we might try another time.
- Once the house is together you can't see the tops of the walls well under the roof overhang, so bear this in mind when decorating.
- I used flake chocolate bars to cover all the icing on the corners where the walls met and some icing usually is visible on the outside. This had to be done fairly quickly after placing the walls together. I cut my flakes to be thinner logs but they did crumble easily and some I had to add in pieces. In hindsight I wish I had had the flakes further up the sides of corners, and maybe should have tried this after I could check it when the roof was on.
- I haven't done a garden before but it was fairly easy to put up the fences and use icing to stick down the path and then spread a bit of icing around the path. I used some ends of rosemary to make plants down the sides of the garden. These worked well and were easy to stand up because I crowded them in a little and they had the fence to lean on.
Preparing the roof tiles:
I had decided to use jersey caramels for the roof tiles, perhaps because I liked this part of my last gingerbread house. We usually get them at Woolworths supermarket so we did not get them at Coles supermarket when we were there. We went to Woollies where we had a few other bits to buy. But they did not have any jersey caramels. So we had to return to Coles which had smallish bags and buy two.
- It was sticky work slicing up the jersey caramels with a sharp knife. They were cut as thin as possible and moulded to be thinner and a bit larger with our fingers (and a bit of water to keep our fingers damp so they did not get so sticky). It is good to have some slight variation in sizes. We did not use the white in the middle.
- If you prefer not to use caramels, you could also use flaked almonds or bake individual tiles of gingerbread and stick these on. In the past I have also piped on tiles and you could try cutting tiles into the gingerbread roof piece before baking it.
Adding the roof tiles:
- Make sure you have the chimney attached before doing the roof tiles.
- It is easier to attach the roof tiles if they are quite thin. I just piped a line of icing to stick on each row of tiles.
- Start at the bottom of the roof and have each row of tiles overlapping the row below.
- I had my bottom row of tiles overhand the roof a bit. If your roof pieces are unevenly placed so one side of roof is lower than the other, you could have one bottom row and tiles lower than the other to even it up.
- Try not to have the roof tiles too uniform. This is rustic imperfections.
- Don't worry too much if the tiles look like one big mass. Once the icing sugar is sprinkled that makes the shape of each tile clearer.
Adding snow and the finishing touches:
It is so satisfying when it begins to look like a house and you just need lots of snow to cover any imperfections and make it look wintery and festive.
- Start from the top. I piped royal icing (aka snow) on the top of the chimney, where it met the roof and also along where the roof pieces joined at the peak.
- I have done drippy icing (like icicles) around the edge of the roof before and I think I might have used a thinner pipe nozzle for this. I found my drips quite thick and used my fingers to thin out a few. I think a medium consistency of the royal icing might have helped thee roof edges as well as the chimney and top of the roof.
- I started assembling the house with a bowl of royal icing made quite stiff from 3 egg whites. Next time I might start with two egg whites so I can then make some softer icing for the snow decoration. It might help with the dripping edges of the roof and go further. I did not have enough icing to go around the edges of all the roof but liked the roof tiles so just piped a few drips along the roof. I would have also liked a bit extra for the windows and fences.
- I ran out of icing before the cake board was covered with snow so I made another batch of royal icing that was quite soft and I could easily use a spoon to spread it over the board.
- When I made my second batch of royal icing I was tired and didn't wash out the royal icing bowl. In my weariness I cracked open an egg and put the whole lot in the bowl - white and yolk. The yold was whole so I tipped it out and checked there was no yolk before adding an egg white.
- I wanted some rosemary trees outside the walls but also did not want to cover too much of the stonework. Next time I might leave them out as they did not have enough snow to stand up (and this is where I could have had a hump of thicker royal icing to help them stand. I liked the little clusters of very short cut rosemary leaves to be like grass poking through the snow. If I had had more snow to pipe at the base of the house, I could have tried to have some of this rosemary "grass" along the lower edges of the walls.
- I made a snowman out of the royal icing. On my first go I found it looked a bit like Frosty the Snowman melting on a warm day. So I started again and this time kneaded more icing sugar into the royal icing to make it stiffer. This worked better. The arms were made of bare rosemary sticks and the eyes made of currants. Later I thought I could have used my icing pen (edible marker) to draw on the face and buttons. I might have been able to make a hat out of a mini oreo and slice of thick licorice but I was really trying to not buy a bag of lollies that would leave me with lots of leftovers. Maybe a chocolate melt for the brim and some smaller melts stacked up on top for the hat. I need to think about it. I hope to do a snowman again.
- I didn't do any Christmas trees but I think we did them like in this gingerbread house recipe. They pipe icing spikes in rows starting at the bottom onto an ice cream cone. Maybe next time.
- Last thing to do is a sprinkle of icing sugar for the fresh layer of snow. I find a little mesh tea strainer helps sift a little icing sugar. Everything looks better with a sprinkling of snow! They you can step back and admire your work - or take photos and send to everyone!
I really loved this gingerbread house. People commented that it looked European. However it also reminded me of our local bluestone cottages in Victoria. I am quite fond of them as my best friend in primary school lived in one. Sylvia loved it because it was a little like a Taylor Swift cabin in the woods. I felt a bit more creative with this gingerbread house and feel I would like to continue to make my own changes when I next make one.
I had planned to take the gingerbread house to my parents' place at Christmas. Then I found that my niece Ashy had already given my mum a gingerbread house that she had made. It seems that one gingerbread house is enough for any home. Sylvia told me she was not keen on eating our gingerbread house and I just could not face eating it alone. Making and sharing it is more fun than the eating.
Then I heard that my next door neighbour had covid at Christmas and was holding a Christmas dinner with her family a few days later. She is lovely and does amazing work on our shared garden. I offered her the house for their Christmas dinner and was pleased she accepted. She has grandkids who would really appreciate it. I saw her after her Christmas dinner with her grandson. When he heard I had made the gingerbread house he gave a delighted smile and told me that he loved the caramel roof tiles. Although I had encouraged my neighbour to have her family break the roof of the gingerbread house with a spoon - it is so much fun - the kids decided they didn't want to break it. I was just happy hear they they enjoyed it.
More gingerbread recipes on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
- Black cat chocolate gingerbread
- Gingerbread biscuits - bush shapes
- Gingerbread house
- Gingerbread houses (small) with vegan royal icing
- Gingerless gingerbread Christmas tree
Interesting and useful gingerbread links on the internet:
- Dessert Advisor: gingerbread house history, gingerbread house records and homeless reflections
- Twigg studios - template and how to make a rustic country gingerbread house (vegan)
- Under a Tin Roof woodland gingerbread house recipe and how to
- Gingerbread journal: patterns, tutorials, recipes etc
- Sweetambs cookie art: Utimate guide to royal icing (they use meringue powder but I prefer egg whites)
- This Old House: 99 amazingly crafted gingerbread houses
- Good Housekeeping - 55 simpler gingerbread houses