Making a gingerbread house can be more fun when you design your own template, and it’s not that difficult to do. If you keep a few things in mind you should be able to make a house that looks like anything you want it to.
Start with a design idea.
To design your own gingerbread house pattern, start with a photo or a diagram of how you want it to look when it’s finished. Use the longest side as the basis for how large you want the structure to be and decide how big it’s going to be based on that.
If you’re using a photo, get as many views of it as you can get. It’s best to take your own pictures if you want to make the gingerbread version as realistic as possible, but if that’s not important, you can guess on the sides and back if you can’t get pictures.
If you’re recreating a well-known house or monument, or an object like a car or trailer, there will be a lot of photos available online. Gather as many as you can, making sure to get them from as many angles as you can.
If you can get one good photo that’s taken straight-on from the front, that will be the basis for deciding what kind of proportions you’re looking at.
Take that photo to use to measure so that you can figure out how tall and wide your final gingerbread pieces should be.
DO NOT FORGET to take the size of your baking pans into account! There’s nothing worse than spending a lot of time on a design, only to find out that the pieces won’t fit on the pans that you have or fit inside your oven.
Don’t underestimate that, because I know people who have done giant cakes, only to find that the board they have it on won’t fit in their car for delivery, or that won’t fit through the bakery door.
Also remember that the larger an individual piece is, the more support it could need, depending on whether it’s upright or flat, and what else will be attached to it.
If you want to do a multi-story house, you’ll need to make sure that the upper floors are going to be supported well, and won’t soften up and sag. You might have to build them in sections if there’s a question about the sturdiness of the final design.
So gather your reference pictures, then get out your ruler and paper to draw the pieces you’ll need to bake.
Plan for any internal structure that you need.
If it’s not important that the entire house be made of gingerbread, you can use internal supports that are made from corrugated plastic or another waterproof material.
Using a sturdy construction style gingerbread is your best bet if the house is going to be on the large side or if it will have very large individual pieces. It’s also good if the house will be sitting out for a long time while you work on it.
In humid weather, the gingerbread can absorb moisture and soften up, so if you live somewhere and humidity is going to be an issue, I would highly recommend using internal structures.
We used to build gingerbread houses around boxes when I lived in southern Florida, because gingerbread is no match for that kind of humidity.
Figure out the basic size of the base of the structure.
Take a ruler and start measuring the pictures to see the proportions between height and width of the sections, and decide how you’re going to cut each section out.
With most buildings, it helps to start with as much of a solid rectangular-shaped building base that you can add pieces to just for the sake of stability.
If that’s not possible, try to think of how the main part of the structure needs to be built so that the final building will be stable. This might mean adding a base to something that has a narrow bottom part (things like trees or structures like the St. Louis Arch.)
When I started on the drawing for this cake that I made to look like a local building, I used the same methods of sketching out the building based on photos that I took, plus a Google Earth photo that was taken from above.
Think of the size of the board that the gingerbread house will be on first, then decide what proportions you have to use for the actual house.
Once you decide what the length and width of the footprint of the structure will be, you can start thinking about what the individual sections that you have to bake will be.
Start measuring the individual sections on the sides.
Next, you’ll use the length and width of the structure that you’ve decided on, and figure out how tall it needs to be. Using the proportions that you came up with for the base to calculate this.
For example, if the photo you’re working from is 6″ across the base, and you want the final house to be 12″ across on the base, you’ll need to multiply all of the dimensions from the photo by 2 to make them twice as big as the photo.
Start marking off the photo or a sketch to see which sections you need to bake and how big they need to be.
Make sure that you’re thinking about how these will all be attached together so that you can make some pieces overlap if they need to.
Diagram out all of the sections, then make a list of the pieces that you need to cut out and make a cardboard or poster board template so that you can make sure the pieces all fit.
Start making a template and building the mockup.
Using the same proportions as the reference wall, draw your first pattern piece. This will let you start designing the other pieces by starting with the first one and building out from that.
Use some stiff cardstock, thin cardboard, or mat board to draft the pattern pieces and attach them together with tape as you work to build a mockup of the house.
Create the main part of the house first to form a base, then make additional pieces for any smaller sections.
Design the roof the same way. Cut out pieces of the mat board to create the shape of any unusual dimensions or angles and assemble them using tape to make sure they fit together.
As you’re building the mockup house, make sure to write on each pattern piece to indicate what it is and where it goes. If there are a lot of small sections it will be easy to get them mixed up when you’re baking them.
To get the template for this gingerbread lighthouse, click here.
Draw on any windows and doors using the same proportions you figured out from the original photo.
When you have all of the pieces cut out and marked, assemble the first mockup to make sure that the pieces all fit together and look the way that you want it to.
Make any adjustments to the sizes that you need to, and make a note about anything you needed to do when you put it together so that it’s easier to put the final piece together.
If everything works, you’re ready to move on to planning the detail work.
Design the details.
Look at the assembled mockup and make sure that any windows and doors that you drew on look like they’re in the right spot, and adjust any that you need to.
Look to see if you want to add any small details that you’ll need to bake, like awnings or door and window frames.
If you have landscaping or specific pieces of the design that you want to add on, sketch those out and plan on how you’ll be making those.
At this point you’re basically making a list of all of the components that you’ll need so that you can decide what you need to bake, and what other materials you’ll need to buy.
Think about how you want to do the windows and doors, what you want to do for the roof design, and that kind of thing. Giving the design details some thought at this point will save you from making mistakes while you’re building the final piece.
After you’re done with the template, you can move on to the baking and assembling.
Bake the pieces.
Bake all of the gingerbread pieces, making any sections that are structural slightly thicker to support any weight. If you bake things in groups you’ll be able to keep the pieces organized so that you don’t mix them up.
After taking the baked pieces out of the oven, put the pattern template pieces with the matching baked pieces so that you know what’s what.
This really is the easiest part of the whole process to mess up, so be really careful to keep things sorted and organized, especially if there are a lot of small pieces. Make sure that you’re very careful not to mix pieces up!
One tip that I use is to line the baking sheets with parchment paper to bake the pieces, and to write on the paper with a sharpie to label what each piece is. That way when I take the pieces out of the oven I can slide the paper off of the sheet without removing the baked sections, and they’ll all be labeled.
Start assembling the house.
If you have a lot of piping that you want to do on any of the pieces, doing it before the house is assembled can be easier than trying to do it after it’s put together. When the pieces are flat it’s easier to add hand piping, so get that done first.
When you’re ready to start assembling, put the house together in sections starting with the largest base part.
Work up so that you can make sure that the bottom sections are strong enough to support any upper floors, adding internal supports if you need to.
If you need to create additional pieces as you go, that’s always an option. Sometimes you realize that you do need an internal structure, and adding those pieces as you’re building can be good because you can see how it’s actually fitting together.
The mockup that you made to begin with is a good starting place, but real gingerbread can perform differently, so be open to the idea of baking more pieces if you need them to make sure that the house is structurally sound!
For an article about how to build a structurally sound gingerbread house, click here.
Decorate the house.
The fun part comes after the entire house is assembled and you can start decorating it. If you’ve already piped some of the designs on, some of the decorating might be finished, but you can always add more decorations and candy to it.
If you want to add candy windows you should do that before you assemble the house by baking crushed clear candies like Jolly Ranchers on a low temperature until they melt and fill the windows, then let them cool off.
Adding candy to the roof can be done before or after the house is put together, but I like to do it afterward for a few reasons.
The main one is that it’s easier to see if the roof will support the weight of the candy without sagging if you decorate it after it’s assembled. This is especially important if it’s humid and the gingerbread softens up after it’s been baked.
The other reasons are basically aesthetic ones, because it’s easier to see what the finished product looks like if you decorate after the house is put together.
If you put everything on the house before you put it together it might end up looking different from what you thought it would look like. Doing it after assembly can help you to put a better design together.
The final part of the house should be the landscaping, so don’t forget to include decorations around the house!
Designing your own gingerbread house can be really fun, and can give you an opportunity to show off your imagination and creativity more than using a premade template will!
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