First of all, every gingerbread house needs to be set on a base large and strong enough to support it. It must be bigger than the footprint of the house with enough space around it to place decorations. We usually filled the cases around our White House projects with many pounds of chocolate and marzipan decorations. If the base bends in any ways, the gingerbread house—in spite of its strong contruction with tempered chocolate—will probably crack.
Cutting the Walls
Once your gingerbread sheets have been prepared with tempered chocolate, you are ready to cut the major wall sections of the house using your patterns. Experiment with where to place your patterns in order to make the best use of each sheet.
- Cut the outside walls first. Use the thicker gingerbread sheets for the walls, and save the thinner sheets for the roof. Consider carefully where to cut the sections of a large wall that requires two or more sections. Make the cuts in places where the seams can be hidden by columns or plants. Remember to measure twice and cut once!
- I suggest investing in a serrated knife or modeler’s zip saw. When you cut the gingerbread, make repetitive marks with the knife, sawing until you go the entire way through the gingerbread and the chocolate. Assembly will be easier if you make clean cuts with crisp corners using carpenter squares and metal rulers.
- Brick outlines can be etched into the surface and highlighted by brushing cornstarch or sugar into the crevices.
Preparing the Walls, Doors, & Windows
The windows, doors, architectural features, and holiday decorations you plan to attach to the outside walls should be prepared next. It is infinitely easier to attach these details while the gingerbread walls are still flat on a table.
- To prepare the doors and windows, roll out white fondant to be 1/8 inch thick. Make sure to add a light dusting of cornstarch to the surface to avoid sticking.
- Using a cardboard pattern made from your scale drawings, cut out all windows and doors using a sharp utility knife. The patterns should include casings and architectural molding details. These are things observers will recognize. Let the rolled fondant windows and doors dry for several days on a flat surface before attaching.
- Before piping the window details, brush the window surface with a light blue powder for added color. Take a small paper cone filled with white, semisoft royal icing (recipes on page 120), and pipe the outline of the windows, side casings, and sills directly onto the rolled fondant. Then flood the casing area using a softer royal icing (softness can be adjusted by adding more egg whites). Finally, pipe the window mullions using the first, firmer royal icing. Create similar detailing with royal icing on the doors. Let the windows and doors dry flat for several days.
- Line up the assembled walls on a flat table—chocolate side down, gingerbread side up. Then place the finished windows and doors where they belong on each section.
- Refer to your plans often, and measure the windows and doors. Take a step back to look at the arrangement for a clear perspective. When you are sure your placements are perfected, mark the outside of each window and door using a sharp knife.
- Using a rotary tool or the point of a knife make small, cone-shaped holes beneath where each detail will go. Make two holes for small items and four or more for larger features.
- Using a small paper bag filled with tempered couverture chocolate, fill each hole until it overflows slightly. Then place a detail on the chocolate and line it up with the knife marks that were made previously. Attach one feature at a time as chocolate, in temper, will set quickly.
- Watch your tempered chocolate and stir it often. Adjust the temperature up or down as necessary. The entire bowl can easily go out of temper and then you will need to start the whole process over again. After the architectural features are firmly attached, the wreaths, bows, or garlands can be made from royal icing and added.
Erecting the Walls
- Draw an outline of the gingerbread house footprint on the top of the base using a pattern.
- When you have finished cutting out all of the walls, very carefully, and with the help of an assistant, do some test fitting. Make sure to take a close look at how the corners come together and how the pieces overlap. Now is the time to make final adjustments with a knife or rasp.
- Decide how the house is going to be put together and number the walls in the order you are going to put them up. Remember to start in one of the back corners. This part of the house is less visible and repairs and adjustments can be made if necessary.
- Using a large cone, put a thick line of chocolate on the base where the first wall will go and put it in place. Take the second wall and pipe a thick line of chocolate where it will overlap with the first wall. Using levels and squares, check the walls and corners in several places.
- When everything looks good, brace the walls with scrap gingerbread pieces and let the chocolate harden. This one corner will serve as the house’s cornerstone.
- Continue this construction process, wall by wall, until the entire building is assembled. Be patient, and make sure the joints harden well.
- Once in a while step back to make sure the house looks correct. Make adjustments as soon as you see a problem.
- Use your scrap gingerbread pieces to brace the walls on the inside. Glue them in place with a lot of chocolate.
Raising the Roof
- First build a gingerbread base for the roof that will enclose the top of the building and sit on the wall braces. Trim the braces with a serrated knife or rasp so the top surfaces are level with the tops of the walls. Make sure the base is level, as the hardened chocolate will prevent you from making any changes.
- Create patterns for trusses that reflect the shape of the roof using heavy cardboard. Using the patterns, cut the trusses from the gingerbread and glue them to the base of the roof with tempered chocolate. Add bracing to these supports.
- Cut the roof sections. After trial fitting, glue them in place with generous amounts of chocolate. Make sure the joints have hardened before moving to the next section.
Once your house is standing and the roof, windows, and doors are in place, it is time to add your finishing touches. Have fun! The possibilities are endless. My projects were never finished until I sprinkled powdered sugar over the house to look like fresh fallen snow.