This is a terrific time to start planning your gingerbread house whether you're going for an intricate multi-level structure or a simple candy covered wonderland. I've made a list of some tips and tricks that I use and thought you might find helpful in your own gingerbread house building adventure. Above I have some examples of past houses i've made to give you some inspiration. Another great source for ideas is Pinterest: type in "gingerbread house" and be prepared to be dazzled by all the fantastic houses from the simple to unbelieveable! I also recommend this terrific book by author Teresa Laymon called Gingerbread For All Seasons. This book is a great source of ideas and how to''s to guide you thru the process.
• Once you decide on a design you will need to make a template of each piece of the house. My dad (gingerbread architect extraordinaire and all around problem solver) makes our templates using a thin white poster board. Make sure to label all your template pieces, including if you will be needing duplicates of the same piece (i.e. Bay Windows = same piece 3X).
• When rolling out dough, use two slats of wood to ensure even thickness for all your pieces. I roll mine to 1/8" thickness. Cut your pieces out directly on parchment or Silpat ON the baking sheet to help preserve the shapes.
• For nice architectural details I like piping gingerbread onto my cut outs before baking. The piped gingerbread keeps its shape after baking adding dimension and interest to the pieces, especially around windows and doorways. To make piped gingerbread add a teaspoon of water at a time to a lump of fresh gingerbread dough. Mix well and continue adding water until you get a nice piping consistency, like royal icing. Place piping gingerbread into piping bag fitted with the tip of your choice and pipe onto unbaked cut outs. Bake pieces, the piped gingerbread will keep its shape!
• Inevitably your pieces may bake up a little crooked interfering with the assembly of your house. My dad uses a rotary saw to trim off any offending areas and sandpaper to smooth edges.
• For opaque glass windows I use finely crushed Werther's Butterscotch Candies. Bake your pieces then remove from oven and let cool for 5 -10 minutes. Generously fill window openings with crushed candy then bake again until the candy is just melted and fluid. Don't let the candy boil or your will get bubbles in your windows. Let cool completely before removing from baking sheet. When lit from behind the windows give off a warm golden glow.
• For see thru windows i've discovered these fantastic gelatin sheets. These clear sheets are used for cooking and baking but they make terrific window panes for gingerbread houses. The sheets are embossed with a pretty diamond pattern that looks like antique glass window panes. Each sheet is approximately 4" x 2" and easily cut with a pair of scissors. I adhere the sheets to the back of my baked windows with isomalt or royal icing. You can buy these gelatin sheets here.
• When putting together a more elaborate house I like to use melted isomalt nibs to initially "super glue" pieces together. The isomalt creates an immediate and rock hard bond, but unlike royal icing, the pieces can't be repositioned so make sure you place them together correctly when using. You can buy isomalt nibs here. This site also has terrific you tube videos that explain how to melt the isomalt.
• Think of gingerbread colored royal icing as the "mortar" of your gingerbread construction. This icing works well to adhere pieces together as well as fill in any holes or gaps in the house. Cover any visible isomalt with the icing to help seal it and create an opaque finish. I make my gingerbread colored icing by adding cocoa powder to white royal icing until it becomes brownish in color. Then I add brown food coloring and a drop of red until the icing takes on the shade of the baked gingerbread.
Hope these tips were helpful and good luck with your gingerbread house baking!
(Thanks Michelle for the editing help!)