Gingerbread House 101: An Easy Recipe for Dough, Icing, and Assembly - Delishably - Food and Drink
Updated date:

Gingerbread House 101: An Easy Recipe for Dough, Icing, and Assembly

Author:

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

This article provides a great recipe for creating the dough and  icing for your gingerbread house.

This article provides a great recipe for creating the dough and icing for your gingerbread house.

And I had but one penny in the world, thou should'st have it to buy gingerbread.

— William Shakespeare, "Love's Labor's Lost"

We Assume It's a European Tradition

Shakespeare referenced it, fairy tales were spun upon it, but gingerbread did not have its birth in Europe. Here's what really happened.

It Originated in China

Ginger is a beautiful fragrant flowering plant, a luxurious tuberous perennial that spreads her fleshy roots underground to expand and propagate. Her story begins as many of our tales about treasured herbs and spices—deep within the heart of India.

It is there that anthropologists have found remnants, tiny fragments of ginger root used 5,000 years ago. Think about that for a moment. In the beginning, long before the written word, long before Man began to record his own history, there was ginger.

We also know that ginger grew in China; wise men in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Indian systems viewed it as a healing gift from God. From its origin to the present, ginger has been the world’s most widely cultivated herb.

Historians believe that by the 5th century, ginger was being transported in trade ships to what was then the far reaches of the Earth—Rome—where it was used both as a medicine and a flavoring agent. Ginger became a highly valued trade commodity. However, with the decline of the Roman Empire, this precious (and costly) herb almost fell from existence in Europe. Arab merchants stepped in and began to control the export of ginger from India, and they developed a new market in Africa where ginger proved to be a treatment for malaria and yellow fever.

Today ginger can be found anywhere, and for just a few dollars, but in the 13thcentury ginger was so highly valued that one pound cost the same as a whole live sheep.

According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2,400 BC. By medieval times ginger was being preserved and imported to England for use in sweets. A common use was “gingerbread.” It is said that Queen Elizabeth I of England originated the idea of forming gingerbread into the likeness of visiting dignitaries.

gingerbread-house-101-how-to-build-a-house-that-wont-collapse-and-tastes-great

Which Came First?

Did the structure inspire the tale, or did the story lead to the treat?

Food historians tell us that the gingerbread house originated in Germany in the 16th century and somehow became a part of the traditional Christmas celebration. That is when the brothers Grimm wrote their famous story of Hansel and Gretel. But which came first, the story or the cookie house?

And Today...

the construction of gingerbread houses is a well-loved family tradition throughout Europe and the United States.

I mention all of this as prelude because last week I received this plea from one of my writer friends:

"With Christmas approaching do you have a good recipe for gingerbread that could be used for building a gingerbread house? And perhaps some icing that can actually glue it together so it’ll stick? I always have to hot glue mine!"

Yes, of course, I can do that. However, be forewarned. I'm no Martha Stewart.

Martha with her Downton Abbey gingerbread masterpiece

Martha with her Downton Abbey gingerbread masterpiece

What Makes a Great Gingerbread House?

Of course, we need candy, lots and lots of candy. I know you can handle that. But before you can decorate that masterpiece you need

  • the basic cookie dough recipe, and
  • a never-fail icing (so that you can put away the hot-glue gun)
candy, candy, and more candy!

candy, candy, and more candy!

The Perfect Gingerbread House Dough

This recipe is an adaptation of one I found at Genius Kitchen. I heeded the advice of other bakers' comments. Note that this dough, although edible, is not the gingerbread one would use to make cookies. There is no leavening or eggs so the result is a "structural" dough that does not puff up and spread while baking.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dark corn syrup
  • 1 1⁄2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1⁄4 cups margarine (not butter, and not reduced-fat spread)
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading and rolling)
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, heat corn syrup, brown sugar, and margarine until the margarine has melted and sugar has dissolved completely. Stir until smooth.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Add syrup-sugar-margarine mixture. Mix well.
  3. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest at least 30 minutes at room temperature. (Do not chill the dough).
  4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough 1/8-inch thick onto a sheet of parchment cut to fit your baking pan.
  5. Lightly flour the cardboard patterns and place them on the rolled-out dough, leaving a 1-inch space between pieces. Try to fit as many as you can without crowding. For clean edges, cut with a pizza wheel. Remove and reserve excess dough and keep wrapped in plastic wrap so that it doesn't dry out. Reroll dough scraps for the remainder of the pieces.
  6. Grab the opposite edges of the parchment paper and transfer to the baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes or until pieces are firm. Cool completely before removing from pans.

The Equally Perfect Icing to Hold It All Together

The real-deal icing, the tie-that-binds, is royal icing. This is not the cream and confectioner's sugar frosting that you slather on a birthday cake. Instead of cream, royal icing relies on egg whites to provide the liquid and the perfect glue for gingerbread.

But, not all egg whites are created equal. I don't own a cooking scale (and assume that most of you don't either). So, the recipe that I rely on is based on confectioners sugar, water, and meringue powder (also known as powdered egg whites). With those three ingredients, you can measure out exact amounts and achieve perfection.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups sifted confectioners sugar
  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 5 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of your electric mixer beat the confectioner's sugar and meringue powder to blend.
  2. Add the water and beat on medium to high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form (about 5 to 7 minutes). If the mixture seems too thin, add a pinch of meringue powder. Likewise, if it seems too thick, add a mere few drops of warm water.
  3. This recipe makes about 3 cups. Measure out what you need into a piping bag and keep the remainder in the bowl, covered tightly with plastic wrap. If exposed to the air the icing will harden.

Where Can You Get Patterns?

There are dozens and dozens of patterns for gingerbread houses on the internet. If this is your first attempt at constructing a cookie house, I would suggest that you stick to a simple, traditional 4-sided house with a slanted roof. The website TikkiDo has some great suggestions and easy printable patterns.

If even that seems a bit intimidating, may I suggest an A-frame house? Here's a photograph of one to inspire you.

gingerbread-house-101-how-to-build-a-house-that-wont-collapse-and-tastes-great

A Few More Pointers

  • Keep your bowl of royal icing covered so that it doesn't dry out.
  • You can't build the house in one afternoon. You need to "glue" one section together, let it dry, and then work on the next section. I use cups, drinking glasses, and soup cans to support the pieces while they are drying.
  • Measure carefully, both ingredients and pattern templates.
  • Any rough edges on the baked gingerbread pieces can be sanded away with a microplane, zester, or fine-grit sandpaper.
  • Most of all, have fun and be sure to sample those candies for quality-control purposes (wink, wink).

Questions & Answers

Question: How can you cut already hard gingerbread ?

Answer: I've not had to do this but I think rewarming the cookie would make it cut-able. Either place on a cookie sheet a place in a warm oven for a few minutes or wrap in a damp paper towel and zap in the microwave for just a few (2, 3, 4, 5) seconds.

Question: how many gingerbread houses does this recipe make?

Answer: I can't tell you exactly how many houses this makes (that's like asking how many rooms will a gallon of paint cover. It depends on the size of the room). What I CAN tell you is that this will fill an 11-inch by 15-inch sheet pan.

© 2018 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 07, 2019:

Eric, start small and work up. However, this recipe is not really the "eating" type of gingerbread (the resulting cookies are MUCH too hard. I don't want to be the blame for you or yours breaking a tooth).

I will email a recipe for gingerbread people to you and then post it next week in the Monday mailbox as well.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 07, 2019:

Maybe my boy and I should try such. But I looked in my cupboard and it was bare of Ginger. What kind of fool am I. When you have some kind of disorder bio-chemical wise. Ginger and Garlic are cures. I think we will go for cookies first. We can hardly wait for the shapes.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 04, 2018:

Flourish, you can have that gingerbread fragrance without building a house. Use the same dough and use cookie cutters to create "Christmas" shapes to hang on your tree. Stars, snowflakes, etc.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 04, 2018:

When my daughter was growing up, we would make the obligatory store-bought gingerbread house every year (inedible, of course, because I had to hot glue it and the cats ended up licking the icing). By the time it was over, the whole kitchen was a mess, I was a nervous wreck, and minime was smiling with glee. (She's always been two steps ahead of me, with a bounce.) I've wanted to do a nice, slow, pretty version a la Martha Stewart. That hot glue alternative that you provided here had been preventing me! I love the smell of real gingerbread throughout the house.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 27, 2018:

Thank you Manatita. Christmas is in our hearts always.

manatita44 from london on November 27, 2018:

A tantalising history about ginger and a fabulous gingerbread house. Christmas, judging by your Hubpages article, is certainly close. Carry on, my dear.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 26, 2018:

Bill, you could customize the pattern to turn it into a hen house. What do you think?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 26, 2018:

I don't want this to sound negative, but there is no way I would take the time to make something like this. I am a patient man in many ways, but not so patient in others, and this is one of those "others." :)

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 26, 2018:

Kristen, if we did not have a kitty in our house, this would definitely be on my to-do list. However, if given a choice of the gingerbread house, or having are sweet little fur baby, I'll take the kitty gladly.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on November 26, 2018:

Linda, what a great article on how to make a gingerbread house. It looks so easy when people do it on TV. But I love the concept. And I've been to Genius Kitchen a few times for some recipes too.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 26, 2018:

Eric, if you and Gabe build a gingerbread house I would LOVE to see a photo. Check out my comment to Mary if you want to really explore that spice route.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 26, 2018:

Mary, those warm spices really speak of Christmas, don't they? If you are interested in their history and/or recipes, check out my articles that begin with the phrase "Exploring Cloves," "Exploring Ginger," "Exploring Nutmeg," and "Exploring Peppermint."

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 26, 2018:

Shauna, in the years B.C. (before cat) I wrapped the house in plastic and stored it with the remainder of the Christmas decorations. I think that could work for you. It just needs to be a cool, dry place.

I don't think the baked dough is non-edible, but I'm sure you could break a tooth on it, that's why I recommend that you not try to eat it.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 26, 2018:

Whahoo are we going to have a blast. The boy loves cooking shows and baking ones are the fav. Oh boy! We will not do perfect but it will look like a house. How much sugar can I get into this hihihi

About those candies ??? his choice.

When reading this I imagined I was Marco Polo on the spice route. How romantic and adventurous. I only use "fresh" ginger about 5 days a week. Thanks nice lady. (we are learning using Mam and Miss)

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 26, 2018:

I love gingerbread houses but I have never attempted to make one. I just like to admire them. Our daughter-in-law's parents are German and every Christmas, they send us those ginger cookies from Germany. They are so delicious.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 26, 2018:

Linda, I've never made a gingerbread house, not even as a kid. I'm guessing my mom hasn't either, which is why it isn't something we grew up with.

Question: if the dough is more structural than edible, what do you do with the gingerbread house when the holidays are over?