The right way to build a gingerbread house, according to Bakers

Not many winter activities can get us in the holiday spirit like building a gingerbread house. The multi-year project not only fills your home with the festive scent of warm spices, but also makes for a great time to get together. (And isn’t that what the holiday season is really all about?)

Still, building a gingerbread house from scratch takes time and effort, along with some trial and error. That’s why we spoke to professional bakers to find out their tried-and-true secrets for building a gingerbread house—one that actually looks like the perfectly funneled Pinterest recipe. Here’s how bakers recommend you go about building a gingerbread house the right way to get the best results — and for more holiday-infused recipe tips, be sure to check out 5 Easy Recipe Swaps to Make Your Holiday Baking Healthier.

Prepare the dough in advance

You’ll want to make the dough for your gingerbread house ahead of time. It is best to prepare the dough two to three days before you plan to assemble the gingerbread house. Then let it rest.

“Letting it to rest helps the dough firm up when you roll it and keep its shape,” says Jürgen David, director of pastry research and development at the Institute of Culinary Education.

Cut the dough if it is raw

make a gingerbread house

make a gingerbread house

Before you start cutting your dough, David suggests grabbing a sturdy template and drawing out the design first. After all, every home – gingerbread included – starts with a good architect!

“Be sure to make clean, sharp cuts in the dough before baking so you have clean edges,” says David. “You can also use cookie cutters to create fun designs.”

If you remember to do this step, your final product will come out clear and precise.

Refrigerate the cut pieces before baking

No, you’re not ready to put the dough in the oven yet! According to David, you should put the cut pieces in the refrigerator to cool to get the best results. Check the dough after at least two hours. However, if needed, you can leave your dough in the refrigerator overnight.

Do not over bake the dough

We know it can be tempting to take the pieces out of the oven as soon as your timer goes off, but patience will definitely come in handy here as you don’t want undercooked gingerbread.

“I’d make the mistake of over-baking instead of under-baking [that your walls] are sturdy,” says David.

If you want to trim the pieces after baking, this is your best chance to do it. “Do this as soon as they come out of the oven so they don’t break,” says David. “If the pieces are too soft, you can put them in a low heat oven and let them dry a little longer.”

Pro Tip: If the edges come out uneven after baking, use a microplane to smooth them down if necessary, says David. As soon as you take the pieces out of the oven, weight them down so they stay flat until they cool completely.

Have at least two consistencies of royal icing

As for decoration, royal icing is classically used as glue. “I use one part egg white to six parts confectioners’ sugar, along with a few drops of white vinegar [to] help it dry out faster, and a few tablespoons of cornstarch [to] help make it extra strong,” says David.

And to assemble and decorate like a skilled baker, you’ll need at least two glaze consistencies: one that’s very thick for gluing the pieces together, and another that’s a bit looser for piping details. Keep in mind that the frosting you plan to use for the details shouldn’t be so loose that it drips, advises Maria Short, pastry chef and owner of Short N Sweet Bakery & Cafe in Hawaii.

“You can get fatter [the icing] by adding more powdered sugar and/or whipping more air into the frosting,” says Short.

Pro Tip: To ensure your icing doesn’t harden prematurely, keep your royal icing covered, including opening your icing bags. In addition, store all equipment wrapped in a damp paper towel for the same reason.

“And don’t worry if the ice dries and hardens on surfaces. Just dip it in water or cover it with a damp cloth and it will soften and dissolve,” says Short.

Decorate the pieces flat and let them dry

decorating the walls of a Christmas cookie house

decorating the walls of a Christmas cookie house

Ideally, you’ll want to decorate the gingerbread pieces as you lay them flat and let the frosting dry before assembling your house, Short said. That way you don’t risk smearing the pipes and knocking over gumballs. Move the base of the house onto a tray or shelf to make moving the house easier, and make sure the four walls are sturdy before attaching the roof pieces.

When it comes to the finishing touches, David offers ideas on how to add a delicious dose of sweet decorating to your gingerbread house. “Candies like gumdrops, mini candy canes, crushed candy canes, Twizzlers, M&Ms, and gumballs are fun to decorate with,” he suggests.

Short encourages getting creative with pantry foods you already have lying around. “Try shredded wheat cereal for thatch or crackers and cookies for stepping stones,” she says.

And don’t worry if the pieces keep slipping away – if you don’t have an extra pair of helping hands, “use tins, boxes, and bottles to prop up your structure – then sing some Christmas carols and eat some Christmas cookies while the icing dries solid.” says Short.

Do not refrigerate your gingerbread house

Unlike most foods, your gingerbread house will no longer last in the fridge. According to David, the moisture in the refrigerator affects the structure.

“It softens and dissolves the hard candies,” Short adds.

So once your gingerbread house is fully assembled, just leave it on the counter – and make sure it’s well away from hungry hands or paws!

Eat this, not that

Eat this, not that

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