Is your holiday gingerbread house game turning into a pitiful Pinterest fail? You are totally not alone, and we’re here to help!
Pastry artist Catherine Beddall is a bonafide gingerbread expert— she literally wrote the book on it, The Magic of Gingerbread— and we’ve got her tips, tricks and a fool-proof recipe that will help ensure your house stands tall (but we don’t blame you if you stick to making cute cookies instead).
Gingerbread House Construction Tips:
Get the right texture
“Use royal icing, because it dries hard. It should be thick, like peanut butter. If your icing is too runny, mix in some powdered sugar. Keep it covered when not in use, because it starts to dry out right away.”
Lay it flat
“Decorate the separate pieces of the house and let them dry before putting the house together. It’s easier for kids to add candies on a flat surface. Plus, the candies will stay put and not fall off as they work.”
Let it dry
Beddall says patience is the most important part of gingerbread house making. “Most gingerbread disasters, collapses, and frustrations happen because the icing hasn’t had an adequate amount of time to dry. It’s not always easy for kids to be patient, so it’s a good idea to have some other activity lined up in between steps to distract kids while they’re waiting to work on the house.”
“Each attachment needs at least a couple of hours before being handled or moved,” she says. “After the individual pieces have dried, I put the walls together, let those dry for a couple of hours again, and then add the roof pieces.”
If you’re working with kids, keep in mind that they can’t do it all themselves. “Putting the walls and roof of the house together is best done with the help of an adult,” she says. “While kids can definitely help with these steps, their hands may not be quite steady enough to hold the walls and roof firmly on their own.”
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Take a shortcut
“There’s nothing like baking from scratch, but there’s no shame in buying a prebaked kit,” she says. “Most kids’ favorite part of making the house is the decorating!”
If you do decide to take the plunge, try Beddall’s go-to favorite recipe:
Catherine Beddall’s Gingerbread Recipe
1 cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup molasses (regular or fancy, not blackstrap)
2 tbsp. water
3 cups (about 12¾ oz.) all-purpose flour
4 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat shortening and sugar with an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add molasses and water; beat until incorporated. Stop to scrape down sides of bowl. Beat 30 seconds.
2. Sift together flour, ginger, salt and baking soda. Add to shortening mixture; beat on low speed until ingredients are incorporated and dough is crumbly and sticks together when pressed.
3. Place half of dough on a parchment-paper-lined work surface. (Make sure parchment fits a 17×12-inch baking sheet.) Press dough down slightly. Top with a second sheet of parchment.
4. Roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Remove top sheet of parchment. Cut out desired shapes using cookie cutters or a paring knife. When all shapes are cut, use the tip of a paring knife to pick up excess dough and lift it off the parchment, leaving the shapes on the parchment. Carefully lift parchment, and place on a 17×12-inch baking sheet. Reroll scraps, and place on another sheet of parchment with remaining dough. Repeat process until all dough has been used.
5. Bake until edges are just slightly darkened, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool completely. (Gingerbread should be crisp when cooled. If it’s soft, put it back in the oven for a few more minutes.)
Makes: Enough for one standard (5×8-inch) house, 16 (5-inch) cookies or 36 (3-inch) cookies
Active time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Buy Beddall’s beautiful book here for gingerbread house templates and inspiration, share your decorating secrets in the comments! To subscribe to PEOPLE and receive our special entertaining issues click here.