A few years ago, I got it in my head that I had admired gingerbread houses long enough and I was going to make them myself. Not just the graham cracker/milk carton/kit variety, but ones that I made from scratch and decorated with traditional white royal icing. Kriste and I played hooky from working in the studio and we spent the day baking and decorating cookies and houses.
It’s now a tradition and a staple of my holiday decorating.
When I share pictures, I’m often asked to share my recipe as well as templates, so here they are!
This year, I made the dough a couple of days before I rolled it out and I found it dried out a bit and was crumbly. I salvaged it by putting it back in the mixer and added some more water and flour until the consistency was right and the dough would hold together when I squeezed it in my hand.
I usually make two batches of the dough, so I have plenty to work with. I have found that one batch will make about 3 small houses and 8-12 cookies, depending on the size.
For the templates, my favorite is the small house template from 36th Avenue…
I have printed up two different sizes – one at 100% and one at a smaller size, I think somewhere around 70-80%. You can resize the template when you’re printing it off.
I also make a house that is my own template. You can download that template HERE. It’s just a scan of the cardboard shapes I made out of cereal boxes.
I made a large house the first year, but have since developed a preference for small houses. They require less dough and icing, are easier to put together, and are quicker to decorate. They are also easier to move around as you tweak your holiday decorating and nestle into little nooks and crannies on open shelving, counters, buffets, etc.
To make the houses, I roll out the dough to about 1/4″ thick, place the template on top of the rolled dough, and cut them out with a clean xacto knife. I always use a Roul Pat pastry mat I purchased years ago and an OXO non-stick rolling pin. As much as I love marble boards and wooden utensils, these are just the best when it comes to easily rolling out and lifting doughs.
I also use a pastry cutter/scraper for lifting up and transferring the cut pieces. I also use this tool for cutting straight lines.
I don’t use many shaped cookie cutters, but I do use a tiny square cutter for windows and doors. I bought it in a set similar to THIS ONE.
I’ll also use the pastry cutter to add detail to the dough, like beams, logs, bricks, and shingles.
I’ll keep the pieces I cut out of the windows, cut them in half, and use them as shutters. I found that you just need to set them on top and they’ll bake together. You don’t need to use anything to make them stick.
Once I get a full sheet, they go into the oven. I always use parchment paper when I bake. It makes it easy to slide the cookies off, so they can cool on a rack.
Once cooled, they are ready to be iced. Sometimes I do this all in one day, but this year I made the dough one day, baked the next, and decorated another.
(The deer cutter was from Ikea, but the antlers and/or heads fell off of all of them, so they were not successful!)
This year, I built most of the houses on small wood slices. This made them easy to move around on a steady base (and it just looks cute!)
I put the royal icing in a piping bag (or you can use a ziplock bag) and just cut off the tip of the bag. I just have more luck that way than squeezing it out of a pastry tip. I twist it and clip the end of a bag with a metal clip (we use these for chips and such).
While I make a double batch of the dough, just one batch of the icing is enough.
A little sprinkle of powdered sugar adds a “snowy” look and hides any cracking or imperfections. It also highlights any details, like shingles, created with the pastry cutter.
In addition to the wood slices, you can use small dishes turned upside down as a base for small houses. This small house was made on an overturned ironstone butter pat…
I also make hearts each year and use them for ornaments and garlands. HERE is a template I made for the hearts. You can use a cutter, but I didn’t like the “bubbly” heart shape of most of them and wanted a pointier heart, if that makes sense!
Before baking them, I make a hole with a toothpick and then string them up on twine once they are decorated.
This year, I added some Dala horses…
…as well as some birds I strung into a garland on my antique birdcage…
The gingerbread will last a long time! I usually have mine out until Valentine’s Day, but even then it’s not because they are going bad. It’s just time to let go of the gingerbread!
If you’d like more gingerbread tips, I wrote THIS POST last year, sharing some more lessons learned.
And, for more Christmas cookie recipes and inspiration, here is an amazing round-up for your perusal… (Those chocolate shortbread cookies are actually speaking to me.)
Cranberry Orange White Chocolate Chip Cookies by Ella Claire | Pecan Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies by A Burst of Beautiful | Cinnamon Cookies by Zevy Joy | Gingerbread Houses by Miss Mustard Seed
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti by anderson + grant | Paleo Double Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies by Nesting with Grace | Chocolate Crinkles Cookies by So Much Better with Age | Cranberry Rosemary Butter Cookies by Nina Hendrick Design Co.
Mexican Spicy Chocolate Cookies by Maison de Pax | Coconut Shortbread Cookies by My Sweet Savannah | Old Fashioned Gingerbread Cookies by House 214 | Cinnamon and Sugar Lattice Pie Crust Cookies by Craftberry Bush