When it comes to my favorite holiday traditions, building a gingerbread house with my two kiddos is chief among them. But as they get older and our schedules get busier, I find making time to bake and decorate a cookie house at Christmas to be harder and harder. I have a genius friend who decorates sugar cookies and sends them as Valentines in February instead of doing them during all the hubbub of the regular holiday season.
The idea of spreading holiday traditions out over the rest of the year means this year we are building a haunted cookie house for Halloween instead of waiting until December to build a gingerbread one — and we're loving every spooky second of it.
Make a Haunted Cookie House for Halloween!
Building a cookie house is fun and festive, no matter the time of year you decide to build it, but a haunted cookie house has a few built-in benefits. First, a cookie house can be a decoration in your entryway or the centerpiece for a Halloween party, but it also gives you some practice building a cookie house before the holidays without any of the pressure. And honestly, making a cookie house is the best excuse I can think of for making these chocolate roll-out cookies for little ones to decorate alongside the house.
For Your Information
- This makes a double batch of chocolate roll-out cookie dough, which will pretty much max out the bowl of a standard stand mixer and leave you with zero extra dough. Feel free to make a single extra batch of the cookies as extra — they're that good.
- The icing here is based on our egg-white powder icing with slightly less water. Egg white-based icing dries faster and is ideal for a cookie house project.
- Besides cookie dough and icing, you may want to grab small candies, black sprinkles, and edible glitter for decorating.
- Oh, and you can stick a flameless candle inside the house to light up the windows and door from the inside.
The Haunted House Baking and Building Timeline
These instructions are written for baking and building the house over the course of a single day, but many of the components can be prepared a day or two — or even a week — ahead of time. You can stagger your work time accordingly.
There's a lot flexibility in the making, baking, and storing of the cookie dough. Here are some key tips for making this part of the recipe work with your schedule.
- Make ahead: The cookie dough can be prepped up to two days ahead of time and kept in the fridge.
- Make ahead: Once the cookie dough is cut, it must be chilled for at least 20 minutes, but you can easily hold it in the fridge for up to 2 days. It can also be made, wrapped, and frozen up to 3 weeks.
- Baking: When baking the cookies, if you don't have a really big supply of baking sheets, this can be done a few sheets at a time.
The royal icing should be made the same day you plan to use it, although it can be held for up to 24 hours.
- Make ahead: The icing will dry out if left uncovered or unwrapped. If that does happen, rewhipping can bring it back to piping consistency.
- Storage: Be sure to store at room temperature. Storing in sealed piping bags is your best best, otherwise move the icing to an airtight container.
- Drying: Once the house is assembled, it must dry for at least 12 hours, but you can let it dry for up to 2 days.
Will all the moving pieces in this recipe, one of the easiest ways to make sure things go smoothly is to assemble all the tools you'll need ahead of time. Beyond the standard baking tools (mixing bowls, rollings pins, a mixer, and measuring spoons), here are few things to make sure you have ready.
- Paring knife
- 4 rimmed baking sheets
- 3 piping bags or zip-top plastic bags
- Piping tips
- Parchment paper
- 2 to 4 cooling racks
- Small offset spatula
- Pizza cutter or sharp knife
- Decorative cookie cutters (such as mini gingerbread man, tombstone, and cats)
- 10-inch cake plate or cake stand or other platter for building the house.
What to Know About Baking the Cookie Pieces
This dough is pretty soft at room temperature, so be sure to chill it before baking if it sits out. You can also stick the pieces in the freezer at any point to stiffen it up.
- Free-hand details: I free-hand cut out the door and side windows. You can use a small circle cutter for round windows as well.
- Expect spreading: The cookies will spread and puff a little in the oven. Use a paring knife to trim the pieces while they are still warm. Work in a short sawing motion and if something cracks a little on the edge, don't worry too much — you can fill or cover it with frosting.
- Be gentle! Use the parchment paper to carefully move the cookie pieces when possible. They aren't super fragile, but they can break.
Cookie House Pro Tip! Decorate Before You Build
Here's a tip that makes building this house even easier: Decorate the sides and roof pieces of the house before assembling. You can add some details after the house is assembled as well, but cobwebs, icing-lined windows, roof tiles, ghosts, and tombstones should be added while the pieces are flat on their parchment paper or cooling racks. Let the icing harden for one hour before assembly and you won't have to worry about smudges and smears once the house is assembled.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Building the Halloween Haunted House
- Set yourself up for success. Having a large work surface is ideal, but not required, for building the house. You'll want to be able to sit somewhere comfortably while holding the pieces together so they can set. Gather your supplies and clear the dining room table for building.
- Build the front and left side first. You'll be attaching the front of the house and the left side onto the cookie base and to each other first. Piping icing onto all the connection points and letting it dry for a minute or two before pressing the pieces together works well. Then you'll have to hold the pieces together for about 10 minutes, or until they start to dry.
- Add the right side and back and let dry before adding the roof. Adding the back piece and the right side immediately after building the front will help support all the sides. Again, pipe some icing onto the base and the walls where they will connect and let it dry just a bit before actually pressing them together. Let the walls dry 30 minutes before adding the roof pieces — you shouldn't have to hold the walls in place during this dry time.
- Reinforce the walls with icing. Before putting on the roof, pipe a thick line of extra icing inside the house at all points where the cookies meet — along the base and in the seams of each wall pieces. This will dry and make the house extra sturdy, plus fill any gaps in your cookies.
- Add the roof in two pieces. Don't try to build the roof and add it to the house. Instead, add one piece at a time using icing to glue the roof pieces onto the top of the house.
- Let the house dry before adding the final decorations. Let the house dry for a minimum of one hour before adding final decorations, like the door. Let the whole house dry for 12 hours before moving to display.
Finishing and Displaying Your Halloween Haunted House
Beyond basic decorations, you can add finishing touches like cookie gravel, tombstones, and walkways using a combination of leftover cookie pieces, royal icing, and sprinkles once the house is dried and before displaying. The cookie house can technically be eaten within a day or two of building, but it is designed to be displayed for up to seven days, and it won't be tasty after sitting out that long.
How To Make a Halloween Haunted House
What You Need
For the chocolate cookie pieces:
5 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup black cocoa powder
1/4 Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the icing:
3 ounces meringue or egg white powder (about 6 tablespoons)
3/4 cup cold water
7 1/3 cups (2 pounds) powdered sugar
Yellow food coloring (optional)
1/2 cup black cocoa powder (optional)
Black edible glitter
A flameless tea light
Stand mixer with paddle attachment or electric hand mixer
Measuring cups and spoons
4 rimmed baking sheets
3 piping bags or zip-top plastic bags
Piping tips (optional)
2 to 4 cooling racks
Small offset spatula
Pizza cutter or sharp knife
Decorative cookie cutters such as mini gingerbread man, tombstone, and cats
10-inch cake plate or cake stand or other platter for building the house
Make the Cookie Dough
- Prepare the dry ingredients. Whisk together the flour, dark cocoa, Dutch cocoa, espresso powder if using, baking powder, and salt into a separate mixing bowl.
- Cream together the butter and sugars. Cream the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or if you are using hand mixer, in a large mixing bowl, until very light in color and fluffy in texture.
- Add the eggs and vanilla. Add the egg to the creamed butter mixture and mix to incorporate. Add the vanilla extract and mix to incorporate.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add the flour and cocoa mixture to the butter mixture and mix until the dough begins to come together. Remove it from the mixer bowl and separate into four equal portions. Gently press each into a flat disc, about 1/2 inch in height.
- Roll out the dough. Have 8 large sheets of parchment paper ready on a work surface. Place 1 disc of dough on a sheet of parchment, then cover with a second sheet of parchment. Roll the dough between the parchment sheets until it is 1/8-inch thick. Repeat with each disc, stacking the rolled-out sheets on a baking sheet as each one is ready.
- Chill the dough. Refrigerate the dough sheets for at least 1 hour. If you plan to cut and bake your dough the following day, tightly wrap the baking sheet in plastic wrap for longer-term storage.
Cut and Bake the Cookie Pieces
- Print and cut out the templates. This recipe includes 3 patterns for your cookie house: 1 side wall, 1 front and back wall, and 1 roof. Print out 2 copies of each pattern, then cut the shapes out of each one.
- Preheat the oven. Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 350°F. Get out as many baking sheets as you have. Tip: You can reuse one or more of the top pieces of parchment from rolling the cookies for baking and for re-rolling.
- Cut out the front and back. Remove 2 sheets of the rolled cookie dough from the refrigerator and place on a work surface or cutting board. Remove the top pieces of parchment and set aside. Place the 2 front and back template pieces directly on the dough and use a sharp paring knife to trace and cut out the pieces. Remove the excess dough around the piece and set aside. Cut out a piece for the door, then remove the door piece to a plate and refrigerate to bake later with smaller cut-outs at the very end. Cut out any windows you'd like to have in the front or back (if you cut tombstone-shaped windows, they can be baked and used as tombstone decorations), and add the dough you remove to the other excess dough. Carefully transfer each parchment with the front and back pieces onto a baking sheet.
- Bake the front and back pieces. Bake until the pieces become extra dark on the edges, around 18 minutes. Don't worry about rotating the cookie trays halfway through; simply let them bake. While the front and back pieces bake, gather up the scraps of dough, re-roll between parchment sheets, and refrigerate again.
- Cool and trim. Remove from the oven. While still warm, use a sharp paring knife to gently re-cut any sides that have become misshapen or windows that have shrunk. Save these trimmed-off cookie pieces for making gravel later. Cool on the baking sheet until the cookies have crisped up a bit on the edges and are quite firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
- Repeat the cutting and baking for the sides. Remove the 2 remaining sheets of the rolled cookie dough (not the re-rolled sheets) from the refrigerator and place on a work surface or cutting board. Remove the top pieces of parchment and set aside. Place the 2 side template pieces directly on the dough and use a sharp paring knife to trace and cut out the pieces. Remove the excess dough around the piece and set aside. Cut out any windows you'd like to have — you can cut out tombstone shapes and refrigerate the tombstones along with the door for baking at the end. Bake, trim, and cool as you did the first batch, rerolling the dough scraps between parchment and refrigerating during baking.
- Repeat rolling and baking for the roof pieces. When the rolled-out dough scraps are chilled again, use them to repeat the template cutting process with the 2 roof pieces. Bake, trim, and cool as you did with the other batches.
- Finally, roll the last bit of dough for a base and any additional decorations. Re-roll the last bits of scrap dough between parchment, then cut into 9-inch round — you can use a large dinner plate or a cake pan as a template. Bake this on its own; it may take as long as 20 minutes. Re-roll the last pieces of dough between parchment, then cut out shapes like ghosts, tombstones, or skeletons if desired. Bake these small pieces, along with the reserved door and tombstones (from the side windows), separately after the base is baked.
Make the Icing and Decorate the House Pieces
- Make the icing. Place the meringue powder and water 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. While on low speed, gradually add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the sugar at a time and beat just until fully incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until stiff peaks form again, 5 to 7 minutes. Tip: Be careful not to over-whip the icing, as it will become looser if you do. Feel free to add more powdered sugar if you need thicker icing, or a few tablespoons of water if it seem too thick. Remember that thick frosting is better for holding the house together, so your black icing should be the thickest.
- Divide and color the icing. Transfer 1 cup of the icing to a piping bag or zip-top bag and leave white. Transfer 1 cup of icing to a small bowl and stir in a few drops of yellow food coloring if using. Transfer to a second bag. Finally, stir the black cocoa into the remaining frosting, then transfer to a third bag.
- Decorate with the white and yellow icing. It is easiest to decorate the walls and roof of the house before assembling. You can add details after the house is assembled as well, but cobwebs, icing windows, roof tiles, ghosts, and tombstones should be added now with the white and yellow icing. Let these decorations sit until dry, at least 1 hour.
Build the House
- Set up a work area. Have the cookie walls, bags of icing, and a serving platter or cake stand ready. You might also want to have paper towels or a clean dish towel handy.
- Attach the front and one of the side pieces to the cookie base. Place the cookie round base on a serving platter or cake stand. On your round cookie base, pipe 1 thick line of the black icing the length of your front wall piece where you want the front of the house to be, making sure there's room in front of it to attach the door. Next, pipe a line of icing perpendicular to that line for the left wall of the house. You should now have an "L" of icing. Let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes. Pipe a line of icing on the bottom edge of the BACK side of the front wall, 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 cookie base, then stand the side wall 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, then pipe an additional line of icing on the inside between the front and side as reinforcement.
- Add the back and right side of the house. Repeat piping the "L" line of icing on the cookie base where you want the right wall and back wall 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.
- Attach the roof pieces. If you want to light your cookie house, now is the time to add a tea light or flameless candle inside the house. You won't be able to access it once the roof is on, so turn it on or make sure you can light it through a window. 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 10 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.
- 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.
- Add additional decorations, if desired. Use more icing to secure tombstones to the base, sprinkle cookie gravel around, make a walkway with icing and sprinkles, or any other decorations you want your house to have.
- Make ahead: The cookie dough can be prepped up to 2 days ahead of time and kept in the fridge before baking.