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Credit: Joe Lingeman

How To Make an Easy (but Still Impressive!) Gingerbread House

updated Dec 1, 2020
How to Make an Easy, Impressive Gingerbread House

Here's everything you need to bake your own gingerbread houses, including a printable template.

Makes1 house, 12 cookies

Prep24 hours

Cook25 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Building a gingerbread house is one of the best ways to get into the holiday spirit without leaving your home. It’s a fun and festive family activity, and the finished creation doubles as both dessert and decor. These days, you can grab a basic gingerbread kit from most grocery stores, but if you want to take on the challenge of baking and building a gingerbread house from scratch, this is the tutorial for you.

If a gingerbread house is on your December bucket list, look no further. Here’s everything you need to create your very own gingerbread house, whether you’re building it with your kids or just want to make yourself really proud.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Baking a Gingerbread House from Scratch

Gingerbread houses have roots in Germany, where lebkuchenhaeusle were built as part of religious ceremonies or guilds. German settlers later brought the tradition to America. It’s commonly believed that The Grimm Brothers’ version of Hansel and Gretel popularized gingerbread houses, but it’s still unclear how they became associated with Christmastime.

Nevertheless, gingerbread house baking and making is a wonderful holiday tradition. Baking the gingerbread pieces fills the house with the most delicious aroma, and you’ll be left with a few bonus cookies you can eat or leave for Santa. And while ready-to-decorate gingerbread houses are widely available, decorating your own creates less waste, and will let you customize a house you can actually eat later.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Baking and Building a Gingerbread House: A Step-by-Step Guide

Even this easy gingerbread house requires patience and planning. I suggest spreading out the following steps over a few days.

Step 1: Make the dough and bake the gingerbread house pieces (about two hours, not including chilling time). Gingerbread dough is pretty straightforward: flour, spices, sugar, eggs, molasses, and shortening, which is added to keep the finished house fresh for longer. After mixing the dough, you’ll roll it out in three batches between two sheets of parchment, then refrigerate. The parchment makes rolling easier, and rolling it before refrigerating cuts down on chill time. Then, you’ll use our handy template to cut out six large pieces — two rectangular sides, two roof pieces, and two house-shaped fronts and backs. Punch out the leftover dough into tree shapes or gingerbread folks for eating or decorating.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Step 2: Decorate the cooled gingerbread pieces (about two hours, not including drying time). The biggest tip for a professional-looking gingerbread house is to decorate the pieces before you build the house. This lets you make everything perfectly even, and prevents awkward slipping of icing down the sides. One caveat: You want the decorations to dry completely before you build the house. Overnight is best, but you can proceed after a minimum of two hours, at which point the icing will be dry but still pliable, so build with caution.

When drying the decorated pieces overnight, be sure to store the icing in an airtight container in the fridge. Remove the icing from the fridge about 20 minutes before you plan to build your house so it can soften to room temperature.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Step 3: Building your gingerbread house (about one hour). Remember: You can never use too much icing to get your house built! It’s helpful to let the icing dry for just a few minutes before you connect pieces, which gives it a chance to get tacky and therefore glue things together more easily.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Can I Eat This Gingerbread House?

To eat or not to eat seems to be the big question when it comes to gingerbread houses. While most gingerbread kits look great, they taste bad — especially after several days on your mantel. This heavily spiced version will still taste good up to a week after baking, even after being on display, but it will harden. My advice: Before you add the roof, fill your gingerbread house with wrapped candy, and turn deconstructing the house into a piñata-style activity for after Christmas dinner.

Credit: Joe Lingeman
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Here's our step-by-step guide for baking and building your own gingerbread house.

How to Make an Easy, Impressive Gingerbread House

Here's everything you need to bake your own gingerbread houses, including a printable template.

Prep time 24 hours

Cook time 25 minutes

Makes 1 house, 12 cookies

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the gingerbread pieces:

  • 6 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground ginger

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cardamom

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking powder

  • 1 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1 cup

    vegetable shortening

  • 3

    large eggs

  • 1 cup

    molasses, such as Grandma's Original Molasses

For the icing:

  • 1 cup

    pasteurized egg whites (from a carton), or about 8 large whites

  • 3 pounds

    powdered sugar (about 12 cups)

For decorating:

  • Sprinkles

  • Peppermint candies

  • Meringues

Equipment

  • Stand mixer with paddle attachment, or an electric hand mixer

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Paring knife

  • 3

    rimmed baking sheets

  • Pastry bags and tips

  • Parchment paper

  • 2 to 4

    cooling racks

  • Scissors

  • Small offset spatula

  • Pizza cutter or sharp knife

  • Rolling pin

  • Decorative cookie cutters such as mini gingerbread man, tree, or wreath

  • 10-inch cake plate, cake stand, or other platter for building the house

Instructions

Make the Gingerbread Dough

  1. Whisk the dry ingredients together. Combine 6 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, and 1 teaspoon baking powder in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

  2. Beat the wet ingredients together. Place 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Beat on medium speed until well combined, about 5 minutes. Add 3 large eggs and 1 cup dark molasses and beat on medium until homogeneous. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

  3. Beat in the flour mixture. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the shortening mixture and mix until the dough begins to come together. (It will be crumbly.) Stop the mixer and knead the dough a few times by hand to bring the dough together completely. It should be smooth and firm, but pliable. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into 3 pieces (about 17 ounces each). Gently press each into a flat rectangle about 1/2-inch thick.

  4. Roll out the dough between parchment paper. Prepare 4 large sheets of parchment paper. Place 1 dough rectangle between 2 sheets of parchment. Roll the dough out into a rough 9x13-inch rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer to a baking sheet, then remove the top sheet of parchment. Repeat rolling out the remaining pieces, reusing the top sheet of parchment and stacking the sheets of dough on top of each other.

  5. Chill the dough for 2 hours. Refrigerate the dough sheets for at least 2 hours. If you plan to cut and bake your dough out the following day, tightly wrap the baking sheet in plastic wrap for longer storage.

Cut and bake the cookie pieces:

  1. Print and cut out the templates. This recipe includes 3 patterns for your gingerbread — 1 side wall, 1 front and back wall, 1 roof. Print out 2 copies of each pattern, then cut the shapes out of each one.

  2. Heat the oven and cut out the house pieces. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 300°F. Get out three baking sheets. Unstack the dough sheets and place on a work surface. Position all paper templates on the dough, placing them in whichever arrangement will produce the least waste. Use a paring knife to trace and cut out the pieces. Remove the excess dough around the piece. Carefully slide each parchment sheet with the cut pieces onto a baking sheet.

  3. Add any decorative stamps to the dough. Before baking, you can add texture to your house by pressing shapes into the dough. For example, you can use a spoon to create a scalloped roof or use the edge of an off set spatula to make windows or doors on the front, back, and side pieces. A round cookie cutter can be used to stamp a wreath shape.

  4. Bake 2 baking sheets at a time. Bake 2 sheets at a time until the edges of the pieces begin to brown, 25 to 28 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Repeat baking with the last two pieces. Slide the parchment and pieces onto the rack to continue cooling — this will take several hours — before decorating. While the dough pieces cool, reroll the dough scraps and make the icing.

  5. Reroll dough scraps for decorations, if desired. If desired, reroll any doughs and cut out any gingerbread trees or people you’d like to add to your house. You can also cut out small squares to create a path, or make shutters or doors.

Make the icing and decorate the house pieces:

  1. Make the icing. Place 1 cup egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, beat in 3 pounds powdered sugar a cup at a time until fully incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until stiff peaks form again, 10 to 12 minutes more.

  2. Divide and color the icing if desired. If desired, divide the icing into separate bowls and dye with regular or gel food coloring. You’ll want at least 2 cups of white icing for assembling the house. Transfer the white icing to a gallon freezer bag or piping bag with a large tip. Transfer any dyed icing to smaller zip top or piping bags.

  3. Decorate the house pieces before assembly. It is easiest to decorate the sides and roof of the house before assembling, although you can add details after the house is assembled as well. Trace the doors and windows, you can add a border or white icing along the bottom of each piece to create snow drifts. A colorful wreath at the top of the front pieces and a bright hued door add character. Add any candy or sprinkles you’d like to enhance these areas before the icing dries. Let sit until the icing is dry to the touch, at least 1 hour.

Build the house:

  1. Set up a work area. Have a cake board or serving platter, paper towels, and a small spatula standing by.

  2. Attach the front and one of the side pieces to the platter or cake board. Pipe 1 thick line of the icing the length of your front cookie piece onto the cake board or platter where you want the front of the house to be. Next, pipe a line of icing perpendicular to that line for the left side of the house. You should now have an “L” of icing. Pipe a line of icing on the bottom edge of the BACK side of the front cookie, then pipe a line of icing on the right edge, also on the back side, where you’ll attach the first side piece. Stand the front piece up in the line of icing on the platter, then stand the side piece up in the other line of frosting, tucking the side piece’s edge behind the front piece. Hold these pieces in place for 10 minutes to dry slightly. Pipe an additional line of icing INSIDE the house along the base of the front cookie, then pipe an additional line of icing on the inside between the front and side as reinforcement.

  3. Add the back and right side of the house. Repeat piping the “L” line of icing on the platter where you want the right wall and back piece to be. Pipe icing on the INSIDE up the other side of the front of the house. Stand the right side piece in the bottom line of icing, attaching it to the front piece and tucking it behind the front piece slightly. Pipe 2 lines of icing on the BACK left and right sides of the back piece where you want it to attach to the side pieces. Stand the back piece in the bottom line of icing, then attach it to the side pieces. Hold these side pieces in place for 10 minutes. Pipe an additional line of icing INSIDE the house along the base of the back and between the back and right sides as reinforcement. Let dry for at least 30 minutes more before attaching the roof.

  4. Attach the roof pieces. Pipe 3 lines of icing on the back of a roof piece -- the 3 sides where it attaches to the house. Gently place the roof panel on the house, then hold in place for 5 minutes. Repeat with the second roof panel, making sure the two roof panels touch or are very close together at the top. Finally, pipe icing between the 2 roof pieces at the very top of the house to connect them together.

  5. Add additional decorations, if desired. You’ll want to cover the area of the roof where you’ve connected the roof pieces a line of icing and several small candies looks nice. You can add “icicles” of frosting long the edges of the roof by piping a small dot and then pulling the bag away gently. Make sure you pipe white icing along the bottom of the house and the platter to complete the snow mounds. You can attach any trees or people directly to the house as desired.

  6. Let the house dry. Dry completely, at least 12 hours and up to 2 days. Store the bags of extra icing in an airtight container so they don’t dry out.

Recipe Notes

Storage: The gingerbread house can be displayed for up to one month, but we do not recommend eating after displaying.

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