This is a classic gingerbread house dough that's designed for construction. Made with vegetable shortening (which has a higher melting point than traditional butter) and no leavening, the dough holds its shape well once baked. It's strong and sturdy enough to make a basic gingerbread house, an advanced mansion or even additional elements for your house.
Two 1/4-inch dowels; rectangular cake drum or foam board (optional)
Mix the shortening, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, salt and cloves in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until a smooth paste forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the egg, molasses and vinegar and mix on low until combined. Scrape down the bowl and mix, about 30 seconds more. Add about half of the flour and mix on low until combined. Add the remaining flour and mix until smooth. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead until smooth, sprinkling the work surface and dough lightly with flour if sticky. Divide the dough in half.
Working with one half at a time, roll out the dough on a piece of parchment paper until it is 1/4 inch thick, sprinkling it with flour if it starts to get sticky. (Don't go too thin! I place 1/4-inch dowels on either side of my dough to ensure that it is evenly rolled out.) Repeat with the second portion of dough. Chill the rolled dough on baking sheets until the dough feels chilled and is slightly firm, about 1 hour in the fridge or 30 minutes in the freezer. (Alternately you can wrap both pieces of dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or overnight before rolling.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the basic gingerbread house template, cut out the following patterns: One rectangle panel measuring 7 x 5.5 inches for the sides of the house (you will use this twice). One rectangle panel measuring 8.5 x 6 inches for the front and back roof panels side (you will use this twice). And, one piece measuring 6 inches wide at the base, 6 inches to the roof line and slanted to a peak 9 inches from the bottom for the ends of the house (you will use this twice).
For the advanced gingerbread house mansion, make 2 more batches of dough. For the advanced gingerbread house mansion template, cut out the following patterns: One rectangle panel measuring 10 x 8.75 inches for the front and back of the house (you will use this twice). One rectangle panel measuring 11 x 6.5 inches for the front and back roof panels (you will use this twice). And, one piece measuring 9 inches wide at the base, 9 inches to the roof line and slanted to a peak 12 inches from the bottom for the ends and center support of the house (you will use this three times).
Plus, one piece measuring 2 inches wide, 2 inches to the low slant line and 3.25 inches to the high slant line for the sides of the chimney (you will use this twice). One small rectangle panel measuring 2 x 3.25 inches for the front chimney panel. And, one small square panel measuring 2 x 2 inches for the back chimney panel.
Plus, one piece measuring 4 inches wide at the base, 5 inches to the lowest roof line and 7 inches to the highest roof line for the extra room (you will use this twice). One square panel measuring 4.5 x 4.5 inches for the extra room wall. And, one rectangle panel measuring 5.5 x 5 inches for the extra room roof.
Plus, one triangle measuring 4 inches at the base and 1.5 inches high at the center peak for the front porch. One small rectangle panel measuring 1.5 x 3 inches for the front porch roof panels (you will use this twice). One small rectangle panel measuring 2 x 0.5 inches for the flower box panels (you will use this eight times). And, one rectangle panel measuring 2 x 3.25 inches for the front door.
Use the gingerbread templates and a sharp chef's knife or craft knife to cut out the pieces, rerolling the scraps as needed. Leave about 1/2 inch between each piece. I like to cut the pieces directly on the parchment and then peel away the scraps to avoid moving the cut pieces.
For the basic gingerbread house: From one of the pieces with the peaked roof (this will be the front of the house), use a square or rectangular cutter to make a door and a round cutter to make a center window above, cutting straight down and leaving the perforated pieces in while the dough bakes.
For the advanced gingerbread house mansion: From the side panels of the house, use a round cutter to make a center window, and from the front and back of the house, use a square or rectangular cutter to make windows, cutting straight down and leaving the perforated pieces in while the dough bakes.
To make the trees, use tree-shaped cookie cutters or a tree template to cut out trees in pairs. Use a sharp paring knife or a craft knife to cut one tree in each pair in half. Use a round cutter to cut out one circle per pair to use as the base of the tree.
Bake until the centers are firm to the touch, rotating the pans back to front and top to bottom during the last 10 minutes of baking, 25 to 28 minutes total (20 to 25 minutes for the smaller pieces). For the extra-large pieces for the advanced gingerbread house mansion, lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Don't be afraid to bake the gingerbread a few minutes longer if you are unsure--we need these pieces to be strong!
While the dough is still warm, use the cutters or a paring knife to remove the doors and windows to achieve a clean cut. Transfer the parchment with the gingerbread house pieces to a flat surface and allow to cool completely before removing from the parchment. For larger or more detailed houses it is helpful to allow the baked gingerbread to rest uncovered overnight.
For the advanced gingerbread house mansion: To make the windows, separate the hard candies by color and use a rolling pin to gently crush them in a resealable plastic bag. Transfer the candies to separate silicone baking cups or microwave-safe bowls and microwave on high in 20-second increments, stirring with a skewer in between, until melted, 30 to 60 seconds. Place a clean piece of parchment under each window, then pour the melted candy into the window holes and let cool, 1 to 2 minutes. Use a cutter of your choice to gently press a design into the windows and let cool completely, 15 to 20 minutes.
Assemble the gingerbread house or mansion and decorative elements as directed and allow the icing to dry completely overnight before decorating.
When measuring molasses, I like to spray the inside of my liquid measuring cup with nonstick cooking spray to help prevent the molasses from sticking to the cup.