Assembling the materials is the best part of making a gingerbread house, and a trip to The Vermont Country Store’s candy counter makes it easy. Soon after Thanksgiving, you’ll find us in the kitchen surrounded by candy — piles of red licorice whips, chocolate nonpareils, cinnamon Red Hats, gumdrops, and peppermint drops, ready to decorate the family gingerbread house.
Start your design on paper (you can find patterns on the Internet), then transfer it to a sheet of light cardboard and cut out the pieces. Following your pattern pieces, cut out the gingerbread pieces before baking.
The dough is a bit stiff and requires chilling, so it is best to do this step on your own, without young children, a few hours in advance or the night before. Once baked, the pieces need to cool before they are glued together with the royal icing. Let the glued-together house sit for a day to harden before adding the candy. Then call in the kids and take your sweet time, adding a bit of candy here and there to stretch out the fun.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
½ cup dark molasses
3 ½ cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Make the Gingerbread: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add the molasses and continue mixing until well combined.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture, alternating with 1/3 cup water, until all comes together into a ball.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface and work the dough with your hands until it becomes smooth. Divide the dough in half, shape each piece into a ball, and wrap them in plastic wrap. Lightly press down to flatten the dough balls just a bit, then refrigerate for a few hours, or up to overnight.
Make a pattern and trace onto oak tag or cardboard, cut out the pattern pieces. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and lightly flour the counter or a marble pastry board. Roll one of the balls to a ½-inch thickness, flipping it every few rolls to prevent sticking. Arrange as many cut-out pattern pieces as possible on top of the dough, but out the shapes with a sharp knife, and place the dough pieces, a non-stick baking sheet. Repeat with the second ball, until all the pieces have been cut out. Reserve any extra dough, wrap it back up in plastic wrap and refrigerate in case any pieces break and need to be replaced.
Bake the gingerbread pieces for 10 to 15 minutes, until the surface is firm and light brown. Let the pieces sit for a few minutes to cool, then, with a thin spatula, carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the Icing: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low speed until frothy; add the confectioners’ sugar and cream of tartar and beat until blended. Raise the mixer speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form, 10 to 15 minutes. Test the icing to make sure it hardens by spooning out a small portion and spreading it onto a plate or an extra piece of gingerbread. After 15 to 20 minutes, it should be stiff as glue. If it is still soft, keep beating, and add a bit more confectioners’ sugar as needed. Transfer the icing to a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip or a resealable plastic bag with one corner snipped off.
To construct the gingerbread house: Start with the base. Squeeze out a thin line of icing onto the bottom edges of the walls where they meet the base. Then add more icing to the edges of the walls where they come together. Gently attach each wall and press the pieces together to attach them to the base. Let these pieces set completely before adding the roof.
Glue the roof pieces to the walls and to each other at the peak. Go around and fill in the gaps between the walls and roof with extra icing to completely secure. Keep adding pieces until the house is complete, then set aside for a few hours or preferably overnight before decorating with candy. To decorate, pipe a dab of icing onto the back of a candy, then press it gently onto house or base.
Makes one 5 x 7-inch Gingerbread House