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Skip the Kit: Gingerbread House DIY

Of all the Yuletide traditions in my home, my favorite is our annual construction of a gingerbread house. Throughout my family's many moves to various places and spaces, this tradition has remained.

We've created miniature dream homes during times when we were less than thrilled with our own dwelling. By the time everyone in the family contributes their own little touch (like chicken coops, American flags and back porches), our houses always have details that truly reflect who we are.

Any baking novice can tackle a gingerbread house. While the kits from the store are convenient, making your own may be easier than you think. As long as you follow a step-by-step process, you can make a gingerbread house that is truly your own.

Check out this gingerbread house step-by-step guide, complete with recipes, instructions with pictures and candy window how-to.

Here are some additional tips to help you avoid common problems before you start baking:

Tip 1Use recipes for “construction grade” gingerbread only. Some refer to it as oven plywood. Recipes for this type of gingerbread work best for creating structures that won’t crumble. Regular gingerbread recipes are too soft. Steer clear of any recipes that call for leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder. Here is a link to a good construction grade Gingerbread recipe.

Tip 2Use templates for the cutting out your house. You can create your own templates or download them. Check out this link to a few really cute gingerbread house ideas and templates.

Tip 3Harness the power of freezer and wax paper. Freezer paper has a waxy side that works perfectly on the cardboard base for your house (and it’s white). You can also draw your template on the paper side of freezer paper, so the waxy side touches the dough as you're cutting out your shapes. No stick, no problem.

By rolling your dough onto wax paper, you can cut out shapes and transfer to a cookie sheet without stretching the dough out of shape. Bake the cookie on the wax paper and peel off when the cookie shape has cooled.

Tip 4- Be Patient. This is probably the most important tip. As you're planning your gingerbread house project, include all the time necessary to let the house sit and become dry and hard. I generally plan my gingerbread house projects out in a two-day span or three to four days for larger or more intricate houses.

  • After baking, let your cookie pieces set for at least four to five hours before constructing, if not overnight. Leave them out in the air so they dry and harden; basically the opposite of cookies you eat.
  • Once you begin constructing, let the base structure sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour before you add the roof. Use can goods to help hold up the sides while you ice them together.
  • Let your constructed house sit a few hours if not overnight before you add icing and candy to decorate.

Tip 5Icing and graham crackers cover a multitude of errors. Use these two ingredients to help cover areas that may have broken or to create elements like shutters, doors, porches and chimneys.