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How to Make a Gingerbread House | Expert Advice

How to Make a Gingerbread House | Expert Advice
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If you’ve never attempted to make a gingerbread house before, MaryJane Robbins has some words of advice: It can be addicting. “Some people are even doing it year-round,” she says. “For Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, even Halloween.”

MaryJane Robbins
Photo/Art by courtesy King Arthur Flour
MaryJane Robbins is a baker and blogger at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont.

A baker for much of her life, Robbins has, for the past eight years, worked the phones at King Arthur Flour, helping fellow bakers sort out issues with pizza dough, piecrust, and, yes, gingerbread houses. For a couple of years she even taught classes on the fine art of gingerbread decorating. She loves the creativity it brings out in people. “In my classes, everyone got the same candies, but nobody ever built the same house,” she says. We caught up with Robbins between calls at her King Arthur office.

Starting Out

For beginners, the kit route is perfectly suitable. It’s one-stop shopping, complete with pre-baked walls, roof, icing, and decorative candies. For hardcore DIYers, making a house from scratch starts with a recipe for construction gingerbread, not gingerbread cookies. “The cookies, they’re crispy on the outside but soft on the inside, and once you start to put the thing together, it will fall apart,” Robbins says.

Simpler Still

No kit? No problem.  Robbins suggests using a small milk carton or cardboard box as the home’s base. Cover with icing, layer with graham crackers, add another round of icing, then start decorating. “With little kids it can be really easy,” Robbins says.

Make It Stick

Royal icing is literally the glue behind any well-made gingerbread house. The recipe: well-beaten egg whites, confectioners’ sugar, and a little bit of lemon juice. The final substance should resemble paste. “You want it soft so that you can press candy into it,” Robbins notes, “but stiff enough so that it will dry and hold.” The same mixture can be used on the exterior of the walls, too, to hold candies and other decorations. You’ll find pre-made icing mixes at craft stores and party-supply outlets.

Tools of the Trade

You can go as bare-bones as you like. Ziploc bags make excellent pastry bags—just fill with icing and snip off the ends. Parchment paper and a good, flat baking surface are musts, as is a sharp knife to cut out the walls. For finer detail, pick up an icing tip (about $1) to give your roof and walls an intricate design. Robbins also uses a microplane grater to carefully shave off the sides of her walls to make them fit better.

Plan Ahead

Making a gingerbread house isn’t a one-day thing. One year, when her daughter was young, Robbins made a house that had two sections connected by a breezeway. The baking took a couple of days. At the very least, Robbins recommends gluing the house together the day before you decorate. The icing will need time to dry, and if you’re working with kids, it will let them home in on what they like best: dressing up the house with candy.

Ian Aldrich


Ian Aldrich


Senior editor of Yankee Magazine: Ian, a native New Englander who has worked and freelanced for Yankee for the past decade, writes feature stories, home pieces, and helps manage the magazine's up-front section, First Light. His stories have ranged from exploring the community impact from a church poisoning in a small town in northern Maine to dissecting the difficulties facing Nantucket around its problems with erosion. In addition to his connection to Yankee, Ian worked as a senior editor of Cincinnati Magazine for several years.
Updated Thursday, December 5th, 2013

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