Gingerbread houses are a popular Christmas tradition for many families, from baking the gingerbread to building the houses and decorating them with lots of candy. Sometimes it's hard to know if more candy ends up on the houses, or in the children's stomachs. My children always added landscaping around their gingerbread houses, to insure they had a plentiful supply of candy throughout the holidays.
Gingerbread houses have evolved over many years. Ginger, a spice from the far east was first used to make spiced honey cakes and the English created ginger candy. When bread crumbs were added, gingerbread similar to what we know today was born.Medieval ladies gave gingerbread cakes to their favorite knights. Different shapes had different meanings, i.e. the heart was used to ward off evil. Craft people created special baking molds in the shape of animals, fish, etc. Today gingerbread houses and cookies remain very popular.
Recipe to Make Your Own Gingerbread Houses
The batter is very stiff so when making multiple houses (have made up to 8 houses for neighborhood parties with gingerbread houses for each family to build, and everyone brought 2 bags of decorating candy) it's best to only double the recipe.
Larger gingerbread houses will need more dough, and of course you might burn a few pieces as you're juggling lots of tasks in parallel. It's been quite a few years since I made a single batch, that I can only recommend starting with a single batch to get familiar with the texture of the batter and baking time as every oven is different.
Once you've made your first house, you'll learn what works for your family, i.e. our boys always competed to see who could cover their gingerbread houses with more candy. Our younger son Ryan always won so it's surprising that as adults, our older son Jason eats more candy. The following recipe is for gingerbread houses with sides and roof that are 6 to 8 inches wide. We've got templates for this 5 x 6 inch house (gingerbread templates).
Ingredients for Gingerbread Houses
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 3 and 1/2 cups, all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 sp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1/3 cup water
Making 1 house is easy but when you're making several gingerbread houses, two items that will save you time are a heavy duty mixer (can't believe I made these by hand for several years and now can't imagine living without my KitchenAid mixerplus extra large cookie sheets to save time rolling out dough and baking.
- Cream butter and sugar thoroughly with an electric mixer.
- Beat in molasses.
- Blend all dry ingredients.
- Add dry ingredients to the butter-sugar batter, alternating with water.
- Dough will become stiff and last batch of dry ingredients may need to be blended by hand.
- Work dough until it is smooth in consistency.
- Once dough easy to work, roll the batter out on the back of a cookie sheet working from the center to the sides. Placing a damp towel under the cookie sheet will help stop it from moving.
- Lightly dust the rolling pin and coating the cookie sheet with vegetable oil can also help.
- Place house pattern pieces on gingerbread and cut out using a bread knife: 2 each – front/back of the house, sides and roof.
- Bake gingerbread in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes, testing to be sure it's cooked.
- Let the gingerbread cool for a few minutes before moving to cookie racks to completely cool.
Recipe for Royal Icing
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 3 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 egg whites
- Beat ingredients at low speed for 7 to 10 minutes (longer for portable mixers), until icing forms peaks.
Candy for Decorating Your Gingerbread Houses
While we might work hard to make all the pieces for the gingerbread houses, your kids will love this part the best.
- Candy discs (Necco wafers) make great roofing shingles.
- Wafer cookies and bite size Shredded Wheat are also good roofing materials.
- Licorice comes in all shapes and sizes, i.e. rope can be used like holiday lights on your house.
- Gum drops are generally available in holiday colors.
- Bright colored candies like peppermints, M&Ms, Skittles, etc are some of the kids favorites to eat and decorate.
- Candy canes large and small are very useful in landscaping your house.
- Ice cream cones make great trees around the house.
- Save a little powered sugar to sprinkle on the trees and ground around the house.
Note: Gingerbread houses can be made in different sizes and shapes. Some communities build villages that include a school, churches, stores, a farm and other assorted buildings. For school groups, you can also build smaller houses with graham crackers that fit nicely around school milk cartons. For younger children, the stability of the milk cartons is helpful in constructing the houses or this recipe for smaller (and solid) houses made with rice cereal are a great alternative to gingerbread houses.