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How to Make a Gingerbread House with Tips from a Local Expert

How to Make a Gingerbread House with Tips from a Local Expert

Story by Kaitlin Hill 

Of all the holiday traditions, the age-old art of making gingerbread might be the most magical. From baking the fragrant dough to designing a sentimental structure and getting kids, friends, and family involved in the decorating, this holiday activity is well worth the effort. Though, for those of us who aren’t bakers or architects, making an enduring, edible structure may seem as intimidating as it is festive. With that in mind, I asked Jason Reaves, executive pastry chef at Salamander Resort & Spa, to share his tips for foolproof cookie construction, and put them to the test with a classic gingerbread recipe. See the recipe and tips below to try to make your own gingerbread masterpiece this holiday season. 


Yield: One 6-by-6-inch house
Time: 3 hours, plus cooling 


Gingerbread Dough:

2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups of dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cups of molasses 
6 ½ cups of all-purpose flour, with extra for rolling out the dough 
1 tablespoon of ground ginger
1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of ground cloves
½ teaspoon of salt 
¼ teaspoon of baking powder 
¾ teaspoon of baking soda
Zest of 1 orange 

Royal Icing: 

4 tablespoons of meringue powder
4 cups of confectioners’ sugar, with extra for dusting
6 tablespoons of warm water
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract 


To make the dough, cream the butter and brown sugar for five minutes in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the sides and add in the molasses with the mixer on low. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. 

With the mixer still on low, add the dry ingredients in three batches. Mix until combined, scraping down the sides as necessary. Mix in the orange zest. 

Divide the dough into two portions, pat them into discs, wrap them in plastic wrap, and place in the fridge to chill. 

Chef Reaves Tip: Make sure that the dough is fully chilled before rolling it out. Gingerbread dough, like sugar cookie dough, is soft and sticky at room temperature. Work with smaller pieces of dough at a time so that you can work quicker and ensure that it doesn’t warm up before you are done.

While the dough chills, make the templates for the gingerbread house. 

  • Roof: One 5-by-7-inch rectangle. One 5.25-by-7-inch rectangle. 
  • Side Walls: One 6-by-6-inch square, cut in half. This will result in two 3-by-6-inch rectangles.
  • Front and Back Walls: Two 6-by-6-inch squares with their top corners cut off to make a triangle top with a rectangle base.

Chef Reaves Tip: Make house templates using cardboard or foam core boards. This will allow you to make more unique house shapes without requiring special cutters. Avoid paper templates because the paper will roll up on you if placed on warm gingerbread. 

Once the dough has chilled, portion it into five 10-ounce portions. Working with one portion at a time, roll the dough into a 7-by-7-inch square with a floured rolling pin on a lightly-floured piece of parchment. The dough should be ¼ inch in thickness. Transfer that square to a baking sheet, and continue the process with the remaining four pieces of dough. You will have extra. You can either bake backup walls for your structure, make gingerbread people, or other decorative elements. 

Chef Reaves Tip: When cutting out the gingerbread house dough pieces, cut roughly a half-inch outside of the template; it is okay if the cut or shape is not perfect, as this will be cleaned up part way through baking.

Chef Reaves Tip: Re-chill the cut out dough house pieces fully prior to baking.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. When the oven is preheated, transfer the baking sheets to the oven. If you need to bake in batches, leave the dough in the fridge until it is time to be placed in the oven. 

Chef Reaves Tip: Bake the house pieces three-quarters of the way, but not fully, just until it starts to brown. Cool for a few minutes. Leave the partially baked gingerbread on the pan, as it will break apart if moved or picked up. Now place cardboard or foam core templates on the gingerbread and use a small serrated knife to trim the pieces to the perfect size and shape. 

You will have six individual pieces after making the cuts. 

Chef Reaves Tip: Also cut out any windows and doors at this time. Place the gingerbread back in the oven and complete the baking process. Bake gingerbread house pieces longer than you would for cookies, as otherwise the house walls and roof will lack the structure needed to hold up (and hold all that candy!).

After 25 – 30 minutes of total baking time, remove the gingerbread from the oven. It should be browned and fully set.

Chef Reaves Tip: Once out of the oven, cool the house pieces for a few minutes on the pan. Then when cool enough to move without breaking, place them topside down on a flat surface to cool fully. This will keep the house cookie pieces from curling or warping during the cooling process.

Let the cookie pieces cool completely. This may take a few hours.

When you are ready to decorate, make the royal icing. 

Whisk together the meringue powder and confectioners’ sugar. Whisk in the water and vanilla. The consistency should be pipeable. You can add a little more water to thin if needed. Place in a piping bag and set aside. 

To assemble, pipe the royal icing up the edges of the two side walls and front and back walls. Press the corners together, creating a four-sided structure. 

Chef Reaves Tip: When assembling a gingerbread house, start with the walls and use water glasses, sugar boxes, or something else similar to prop up the walls while the frosting dries. Allow the frosting holding the walls together to fully set (at least an hour) before adding the roof pieces on top. Use the glasses or boxes again to keep the roof pieces from sliding before it fully sets.

Once the base of the structure has set for an hour, pipe more royal icing on the slanted edges of the front and back walls, and attach the two roof pieces. Pipe icing down the seam created at the joining of the two roof pieces. 

Once the structure is set, decorate as you please. 

Chef Reaves Tip: Royal icing is the cement that holds gingerbread together and attaches the candy. This type of frosting does dry quickly, and because of this you should only work in small sections at a time when attaching candy. Pipe only enough frosting to attach a few pieces of candy at a time, and then repeat.

Chef Reaves Tip: Using a fine mesh sifter, dust your finished gingerbread house with powdered sugar as “snow.” It’s the perfect and easiest way to upgrade your edible creation! ML

Published in the December 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

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