In a mixing bowl, on medium speed, cream together the butter, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. Add the molasses, mixing until incorporated. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, and mix each cup until just combined. With the mixer running, slowly add the water. Spread the dough out on a sheet pan, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until you're ready to roll it out (ideally overnight, three hours minimum).
Keep gingerbread cool while working with it. Dust with flour to avoid sticking. Brush away excess flour after cutting.
Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Apply even pressure on rolling pin to avoid variance in thickness. Cut out house pieces using your cardboard templates. A dough wheel works best. Use a paring knife for corners.
Bake pieces in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes or until dough is set well. Crisp gingerbread is a must for a lasting structure. Allow pieces to cool completely before assembly-overnight is ideal. If pans are not level transfer warm pieces carefully onto the counter surface so they set completely flat.
In the bowl of a mixer, blend the above ingredients together and mix on medium-high speed for 3 minutes. Keep covered with a damp towel to prevent a crust from forming on the icing.
ASSEMBLY FOR GINGERBREAD HOUSES: Windows should be decorated before assembly. Colored flow icing, crushed candies, melted leaf gelatin, marzipan, etc.
Mix royal icing and keep covered with a damp towel. Assemble house on the a 12-inch round base of your choice. Start with a front piece and a side piece using royal icing liberally on the inside. The 2 pieces should stand without assistance. Assemble remaining pieces in the same fashion. Roof pieces may need support to counteract gravity, sugar boxes, soda cans work well.
Time to decorate your house. Necco wafers make excellent roof shingles. Chocolate covered raisins will build a chimney. Red hots, jelly beans, chocolate chips, gummi bears -- use your imagination in the candy aisle.
Finish with royal icing and dust with snow-donut sugar looks best.
Recipe courtesy of Aaron Morgan