When you build a gingerbread house, you definitely want it to be solid enough so that it isn’t going to fall apart! If it’s a smaller house, it usually won’t be a problem, but for larger houses with more complicated designs and multiple stories, it’s important to make sure that you’re building it in a structurally sound way.
To build a structurally sound gingerbread house, you need to start with a strong construction-type gingerbread recipe. The sections of the house also need to be engineered so that they’re well-supported on the inside, and they need to be cut so that the edges are straight and will line up well when they’re attached together. Finally, the board that the house is on needs to be appropriate for the size of the house.
Let’s get into each of these areas, and I’ll share some tips that I’ve used for larger houses in the past.
What is construction gingerbread?
Construction type gingerbread is stronger than regular cookie-style gingerbread, and is meant to be used specifically for building gingerbread houses. These types of recipes generally don’t include a leavener because it’s not necessary for the gingerbread to rise while baking. They tend to spread less when baking in order to maintain the shape that they’re cut into so that the pieces of the house fit together accurately.
I use my own construction-grade recipe that bakes rock solid and has optional flavorings. It’s definitely not for eating!
Check out my recipe with tips on making and baking it here: Construction-grade gingerbread house dough recipe
Using construction gingerbread is important for building larger structures, so make sure to test the recipe before building your final project!
What is the best glue for large gingerbread houses?
The best glue for larger gingerbread houses is hot sugar or isomalt because it’s going to set up quickly, and it won’t dry out or crumble the way that royal icing can. It’s also not as visible as royal icing would be, so it won’t interfere with the design of the gingerbread house as far as the color goes. Royal icing can be used for larger structures, but the house should be left to dry thoroughly before decorating or moving it.
Hot sugar is also something that you should be really careful using, because it’s a burn hazard. Make sure to wear gloves and educate yourself about how to handle hot sugar before you start!
(If you want to read another article detailing the types of glues that you can use for houses in general, click here to read one that I wrote about four types of glue: What’s the best glue for gingerbread houses?)
You can also use melted gummy bears, marshmallows, taffy, or caramels, which are all essentially hot sugar when melted. The same precautions should be used for those as for when you’re working with isomalt.
Melted white chocolate also dries very hard, so it’s a good choice, but for an extra-large structure, I would piece the main framework together with hot sugar to make it as secure as possible.
How to build a solid internal gingerbread house structure.
To create a structurally sound gingerbread house, the inner structure of the house needs to be able to support the sections that are elevated so that they have a firm foundation to rest on. It’s important to build a model of the structure to create templates for the pieces, and to make sure that any large sections will have supports under them to prevent stress fractures. The gingerbread sections that will have the most stress on them should also be slightly thicker than the other pieces.
When I made this gingerbread hotel, I did it so that the bottom vertical walls supported the upper floor, and the large outer wall pieces attached to each other to provide more support for the second floor itself.
For this structure, the middle floor was supported by the wall below it, then everything was anchored in place by the large side and back pieces. This allowed me to do the cutouts so that you could see into the rooms without me having to worry that the thinner walls in front or the center floor would break and fall down.
The rooms on the first floor were also offset, so that I was able to create more of an interlocking set of smaller rooms and spread out the weight of the top section. There were more support points on the bottom than it looks, so the top floor was supported in multiple areas.
Making a good internal structure is important when you design something taller than one story. The higher it gets, the more engineering you need to think about!
How to make sure your gingerbread house sections match up.
To make sure that your gingerbread house sections match up, you’ll need to make sure that conform to the templates that you used to cut them out. Trimming them before they cool is one way to do this. You’ll also need to make sure that they cool off on a flat surface to make sure that they’re completely level and not curved slightly when they cool. Baking on parchment paper that can be removed from the cookie sheet is the simplest way to do this.
Making sure that your house pieces are precisely attached to each other is REALLY important for a larger house that needs to be structurally sound. If the pieces are bent or there are gaps, you’ll have to fill them in somehow, and it’s never going to work as well as making sure that everything matches up to begin with.
One trick is to roll the gingerbread dough out on a piece of parchment paper that fits the cookie sheet, then cut the pieces out so that you don’t have to move anything after they’re cut. This will keep the pieces from stretching when you put them on the cookie sheet.
After the pieces come out of the oven, IMMEDIATELY slide the parchment paper off of the cookie sheet and onto a flat kitchen counter, then quickly use a pizza cutter to trim off any small amount of spread that might have happened as the pieces baked.
Put the templates on top of the pieces and trim around the template so that the gingerbread is exactly the right shape.
Using a pizza cutter will give you a clean edge, and letting the gingerbread cool off on a flat counter will avoid having it cool off on a cookie sheet that might not be 100% flat.
If you want to be really hard-core about having it be completely flat, you can roll a rolling pin over the pieces to flatten out any bubbles that might have formed during baking. If you do that, use some 1/4″ dowels as guides on either side of the pin to keep you from squashing the pieces.
Making sure that everything is straight will help you put the house together in a way that makes it way more structurally sound and less likely to be warped and crooked!
Make sure to choose an appropriate base board.
Choosing an appropriate board to put your house on is extremely important in order to avoid damage to the house when moving it. If the board that the house sits on is too flimsy or thin for the weight of the house, it can cause damage to the structure when it’s picked up to move. For larger houses it’s advisable to avoid cardboard or foamcore boards, and to use a wooden board that’s at least 1/2″ thick.
Something else that you need to think about is whether the gingerbread house is going to be moved out of your house or not. If it is, make sure that the board that it’s on will fit through your doorframe!
I’ve done cakes that were in the shape of buildings before, and the size of the board definitely came into play. You’ll also need to make sure that the board isn’t too wide to fit into whatever car you’ll be using to transport it, and that the height of the gingerbread house will fit into the vehicle without any problems!
I would avoid foamcore and cardboard for large gingerbread houses. They might seem sturdy enough, but when you get the weight of the house on anything that can bend, it might not end up well.
Using a wooden board that’s at least 1/2″ thick is your best bet. It will add weight to the piece, though, so plan on getting help to move the decorated house.
Building a structurally sound gingerbread house is important if it’s going to be a large house that will be moved, but a little advanced planning will prevent disasters most of the time!
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