How to build a gingerbread house without crying
When I was a little girl, my mom would make a gingerbread house every Christmas. We would decorate it with candy and then, on Boxing Day, we would have a doll tea party and eat the house with our friends.
I've dreamed of doing the same now that I'm a mom, but it hasn't worked out. That's because I suck at building gingerbread houses. My lumpy, uneven walls refuse to join evenly and then my frosting doesn't hold and everything collapses at some point. And then I give up and just eat the pieces in defeat.
So when we came across the new book, Gingerbread Wonderland: 30 Magical Houses, Cookies and Cakes, we had to ask the author, Mima Sinclair, for her house-building tips.
How to keep the gingerbread walls from curling up or bending while they bake
- Use large, flat baking trays that leave plenty of room for the dough to spread.
- Cut your parchment paper so it just fits the baking sheets. Excess paper can catch on the side of the oven and make the dough curl.
- Very important: Chill your rolled-out dough so it doesn't spread as much. Place your sheets in the freezer for five minutes before baking.
- After baking, carefully transfer the gingerbread flat onto a cooling rack, and don't overcrowd the racks.
How to make sure your edges are straight and smooth enough to fit together
- While the dough is still warm and fresh from the oven, use a large chef's knife to gently tap against any uneven edges of dough so they're all straight.
- If the pieces spread a lot, trim them with a sharp knife while the dough is still hot. Cutting cooled pieces may cause the pieces to break.
How to keep the walls upright while your icing dries
- Prop your walls with cans of food, one on either side of each wall. "They're nice and sturdy so you can lean large sheets of gingerbread up against them without fear of them sliding anywhere," Sinclair says.
More tips for avoiding Collapsed Gingerbread House Syndrome
- Make sure your icing is thick enough. (See the recipe for royal icing at the end of the article.) If you notice walls shifting, that means your icing is too runny, and you need to make a thicker icing. Sinclair says the recipes in her book have more tips for making sure your walls hold together well.
- Make sure your dough is really, truly baked through and completely cooled. Under-baked sheets will give a bit once you start building.
- If your walls are shifting, scrape off the icing, make a new batch of icing, and start again. You may also need to bake your walls a little longer.
- You can also use freshly made caramel to "cement" your house together. "Work quickly and carefully," Sinclair cautions, "because it will be very hot. But it will also make your houses very sturdy. You can then decorate with icing over the top."
- Beware of humidity. "Gingerbread hates it and will go soft and collapse — especially if you decorate it heavily with sweets," Sinclair says.
- Be sure to display your gingerbread house in a cool spot away from direct sunlight.
Keep reading for Sinclair's recipes for gingerbread dough and royal icing.