What better way to get into the holiday spirit than to make and decorate a real gingerbread house? With a few basic ingredients and some imagination you can make a house as simple or as elaborate as you like.

This is my second gingerbread house (you can see last year’s house here) and it’s pretty big: 13″w x 6″d x 13″h. This mansion was inspired by a gingerbread house kit that my dad saw in a magazine.

You can buy that kit here or do like we did and make your own templates. Once you have your templates cut out it’s time to make the dough. You can find the recipe for gingerbread house dough here.

Roll the dough out to 1/8″ thick and put the rolled dough into the freezer for an hour so it’s fairly stiff. The stiff dough will be much easier to cut and your edges will be nice and crisp.

Trace around your template with a sharp knife and save the dough scraps. Keep re-rolling and cutting until all your pieces are finished. If you are going to have “real” windows make sure to cut them out as well. Chill all the cut-outs in the freezer until ready to bake. Keeping the dough cold will help insure that your design stays intact!

Bake each of the pieces until lightly browned and cool completely on a wire rack. While the cookies are cooling, make the royal icing. You can find the recipe for royal icing here.

Place the icing into a piping bag with a small round piping tip. When the cookies are completely cooled you can draw your designs right onto the cookie with a pencil and then trace over with the royal icing (I like to decorate my house before assembly but you can decorate later if you wish). Let the icing dry overnight before assembling the house.

The next day I made sugar glass panes for my windows. You can do this by melting 1 1/2 cups sugar with 1/4 cup water and 1 teaspoon lemon juice in a heavy bottom saucepan. Melt over high heat until slightly golden in color and the temperature should be around 282-300 degrees on a digital or candy thermometer.

Pour window-sized puddles of the melted sugar onto a silpat and let set until cool and hardened. If you need to trim some of the windowpanes, use a sharp knife to score the pane and then snap apart. Remove the windowpanes from the silpat and adhere to the back of the cookie with royal icing as glue.

Let set for 30 minutes to an hour before assembling the house. When the windows are set you can begin assembling the house by using either royal icing or caramelized sugar for glue (this is a good tutorial for using caramelized sugar for glue).

The caramelized sugar has the advantage of setting instantly, however that means you can’t move pieces around once you’ve glued them together! I used the caramelized sugar this time and it is really great — no waiting for icing to dry!

If you use icing, have some canned goods on hand to help prop up the house until dry. Once the house is secure you can finish decorating with more royal icing, candies and sparkling sugars. Remember: icing covers all mistakes!

I used powdered sugar for “snow” on the roof and dusted on some sparking disco dust for lots of shimmer. I left a hole in the back of my house so that I could insert lights that make the sugar windows on the house glow like its lit from within! Happy Holidays!

P.S. If you’d like to decorate a gingerbread house but don’t want to bother with the baking and mess you can run down to William-Sonoma and buy a whole pre-baked kit here for only $20! Or you can buy a pre-made mansion here, but it will set you back $300!!

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