Gingerbread house construction is an art form that has flourished from modest beginnings. It's a great family activity that many across the US enjoy annually, but nowadays there are many professional competitions too! Some prefer to make fully homemade gingerbread houses and others buy cute, time-saving kits. If you decide to make your own homemade house, here are a few building tips and amazing examples of what others have done!

1. Pre-Construction Any shape that can be created with cardboard can be created with gingerbread.  Many like to cut out a cardboard or posterboard version of their house to start with (effectively creating their own template) and putting it together to see if it will stand up.

2. The Gingerbread You can use whichever gingerbread recipe that appeals to you, such as this recipe for gingerbread men cookies or this butterscotch gingerbread man recipe. Just roll out the dough evenly on a baking sheet so that it's about 1/4th of an inch thick, covering as much of the sheet as possible.

3. The Template You'll need at least 2 roof pieces, 2 long side walls (with a door or window cut out), and 2 short side walls.  You can use the leftover dough to cut out details such as trees, shingles, and a chimney. If you don't want to make your own template, here's a nice tutorial and template from King Arthur's Flour and another from about.com. Once you have your cut-outs from the raw dough, bake it according to the recipe's directions.

4. The Icing Royal icing is the kind that you want to glue your house together. It dries quickly, so you will need a piping bag (or a ziplock with a tiny part of the corner cut if you don't want to pipe fancy designs) and you have to keep it covered after you make it. Pipe the gingerbread pieces together at their edges and hold them together gently until the royal icing dries. If you want to paint with your icing, just add a little water and food coloring to it and brush it onto the house.

5. Decorations Use whatever sweets you have at your disposal - gumdrops, candy canes, cookies, peppermint, icing - to embellish your awesome gingerbread house!

Here are a few incredible examples of what others have done:

Santa Visits a Gingerbread Mansion (by Dan Beards)

Historical Newfoundland (by Rock Recipes)

Gingerbread Cat House (by Red Photography)

Lighted Victorian Rowhouse (from This Old House)

  Photo Credits: Bon Appetit, Artisan Cake Company, Dan Beards, Rock Recipes, Red Photography, This Old House

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