Making gingerbread houses is one of my favorite holiday traditions. They're sort of an all-in-one activity - baking, crafting, eating, and spending time together.
Design your house using heavy cardboard to cut our your pattern, and roll out your dough on parchment paper an 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out your pieces and pull away the excess dough, then cut the parchment around your pieces and arrange them evenly spaced on a cookie sheet. If you want to do Stained Glass Windows - just crush some hard candies like life savers or jolly ranchers in the window space of the raw dough. The candy will melt and distribute as the gingerbread bakes, and will pull away easily from the parchment paper.
Make a platform for your house ( I just wrapped tinfoil around some cardboard) and begin assembling using the Royal Icing recipe below. Let the houses set for an hour before you begin decorating.
6 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
2/3 cups shortening
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 eight-ounce container sour cream
In a large bowl, measure 3 1/2 cups flour and remaining ingredients.
With mixer at low speed, beat until well mixed, constantly scraping bowl with rubber spatula. With hand, knead in remaining 2 1/2 cups flour to make a soft dough.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours or until dough is not sticky and is of easy kneading consistency.
Roll out 1/2 the dough at a time.
3 ounces pasteurized egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar
In large bowl of stand mixer combine the egg whites and vanilla and beat until frothy. Add confectioners' sugar gradually and mix on a low speed until sugar is incorporated and mixture is shiny. Turn speed up to high and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks - about 5-7 minutes. Put in disposable pastry bags - 1 for each house. We tripled the recipe, and that was just enough for 5 houses.
Warning: this icing is your glue - it will harden really fast so make sure you keep it airtight if you aren't going to use it right away.