When you’re making a gingerbread house, you need to make sure that the gingerbread recipe you’re using is the right kind for building, not a gingerbread recipe that you’re supposed to eat.
There are different types of gingerbread, and the ones that you use for cookies aren’t necessarily going to work for making houses.
The best type of gingerbread to make houses with, especially large ones, is a construction-grade gingerbread, but what’s the difference between that and the regular kind?
Construction grade gingerbread is intended more for building than for eating, and as a result it’s harder and more sturdy than gingerbread that’s used for baking cookies. Construction gingerbread has fewer leaveners (or none at all,) less fat and sugars, and may or may not have flavorings.
There are a lot of recipes for construction gingerbread online, but I adapted one myself that I’ve been using and it makes really good, sturdy pieces that can be baked in large sections without problems.
There are some things you might need to adapt for your climate, though, so here’s my recipe with some tips for that!
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Construction-grade gingerbread dough recipe.
- 4-5 cups of AP flour
- 3/4 cup vegetable shortening
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1-2 Tbsp water (plus more if needed)
- Optional: 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- Optional: 1 Tbsp ground ginger
- Parchment paper for baking
- Cookie sheets
- Pizza cutter or a very sharp knife
- Gingerbread house templates
- Stand mixer (or add the flour in by hand)
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
- Combine vegetable shortening and sugar in a stand mixer bowl and beat to combine. Don’t whip too much to avoid incorporating unnecessary air.
- Add the corn syrup and the molasses to the sugar mixture and beat to combine. Scrape the bowl to make sure it’s all combined.
- Add 3 cups of the flour and mix to combine.
- Add the water and mix to combine.
- If the mixer is straining at this point, continue mixing by hand.
- Add the rest of the flour bit by bit until the dough is the consistency of a stiff play-dough type clay. If you need to do this by hand to avoid damaging the mixer, knead the flour in by hand.
- You can use the dough right away, store any extra in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to a week, or in the fridge for a month. It can be frozen for longer periods.
- Roll the dough out to 1/4″ thickness for smaller pieces, and 3/8″ thickness for larger structural pieces. Rolling it directly onto parchment paper that fits the cookie sheets will allow you to move the cut pieces without stretching them.
- Cut out the pieces and place the parchment paper on the cookie sheets.
- Refrigerate the pieces for half an hour to an hour before baking to help minimize the spread of the dough when it’s baking.
- Bake for 20-45 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the gingerbread. The pieces should be darker brown and look dry when you check the edges. Don’t underbake the pieces, but if they end up being too soft you can put them back in the oven later to dry out more.
- When you remove the pieces from the oven, slide the paper off of the cookie sheet onto a flat counter so that the pieces can cool off completely flat.
- Using the templates, trim off any excess gingerbread edges where the pieces might have spread a little while baking. Be careful doing this since the gingerbread needs to be hot when you do it, and you don’t want to burn your fingers!
- Let the pieces cool off COMPLETELY before using them to decorate. If the pieces don’t feel completely solid after cooling off, you can put them back in a 275-degree oven to dry out some more.
How many gingerbread houses does one recipe make?
One batch of this gingerbread house recipe makes about 230 square inches of gingerbread rolled out to a 1/4″ thickness. For a basic house that’s about 6-7″ tall and 4-5″ deep, one batch of dough will make about 2 houses.
If you roll your dough thicker, you’ll obviously need more, and if your house is larger you’ll need more.
Always plan to make more dough than you think you’ll need, because nothing is more annoying than having to drag out all of the ingredients to make one last batch because you ran out.
This recipe can be frozen, so if you have extra dough, wrap the extra in two layers of plastic wrap, put it in a ziplock freezer bag, and you’ll be able to save it for months, or even for the following year.
You can also use the extra dough to bake some decorations like trees or other landscaping items. I wrote an article about gingerbread house landscaping ideas if you want to check those out for any extra dough that you have.
Gingerbread house dough tips.
Construction-grade gingerbread is denser and heavier than cookie gingerbread.
When mixing it, it’s important to monitor the sounds that your mixer is making because it will burn out the motors pretty easily if you’re not careful.
I’ve killed so many mixers it’s ridiculous, and the most recent one that I have was making horrible straining noises during my last batch of gingerbread.
If that happens, take the dough out and finish it by kneading the rest of the flour into it by hand.
A hand mixer is NOT going to work for this.
You can do the first part of combining the fat and sugar with the syrups, but after that, switch to mixing the flour in by hand.
Depending on your environment, you’ll need more or less water. If you’re somewhere that’s really humid, you won’t need as much as if you’re in a super-dry climate.
Adjust the amount of water that you add if you need to in order to get a dough that sticks together but isn’t too wet.
When you’re baking the cut-out pieces, you’re basically trying to dry them out. You don’t want them to rise and spread very much, so that’s why there are no leaveners in this recipe.
Using a pizza cutter to cut out the pieces will prevent the edges from being dragged and stretched, and will help the pieces fit together better.
If you’re using gingerbread house cookie cutters, make sure to flour the edges of the cutter between each cut to keep it from sticking to the dough.
That will help the pieces be shaped more accurately.
Refrigerating the cut-out pieces before baking to harden them up will help to minimize the amount of spread that you get.
Bake the pieces until they’re hard, not soft. If they look like they’re going to burn, turn the heat down or remove them from the oven to see if they’re hard when they dry out.
If you see that the gingerbread is developing bubbles from air pockets rising while it’s baking, remove it from the oven and gently roll over it with the rolling pin to flatten the bubbles out.
You can also do this when the pieces are done baking, but it’s good to get them when they start.
This recipe can be scored before it’s baked in the oven to make indentations in the dough that look like bricks or other details.
Use a ruler to make straight lines, or use rubber stamps to make patterns that you can use for a guide for piping royal icing designs.
This recipe has nothing perishable in it, so it can be stored at room temperature.
This will also prevent it from being too hard to roll out if it’s cold from the fridge.
To roll the dough out in an even thickness, use two wooden dowels that are as thick as you need the pieces to be on either side of the rolling pin.
That will keep you from rolling the dough thinner than that.
This dough doesn’t need to rest before you use it, but the baked pieces DO need to be completely cooled off before you build with them!
Remember, this recipe is meant for building, not eating.
If you make it correctly, it will be hard as a rock and pretty tasteless. Use a different recipe to make gingerbread men, and everyone will still be happy!
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