Disney’s ‘Gingerbread Lady’ shares tips for building the perfect gingerbread house

Over the last 20 years, Ellen DiGiovanni, has earned the nickname “Gingerbread Lady” at Walt Disney World Resorts, where she creates the dazzling gingerbread displays that greet guests in the lobby of Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa every holiday season.

Moe than 10,000 pieces of real gingerbread, 800 pounds of flour, 700 pounds of chocolate and 700 pounds of sugar are needed to make the house at The Grand Floridian. There are a few hidden Mickeys and the house also functions as a store, where you can buy your own treats!

The Grand Floridian’s gingerbread houses are famous. Here’s how you can replicate it.

1. Build a nice foundation

Like any house, your gingerbread house needs a strong foundation.

“You want to have a nice foundation,” DiGiovanni said. “I use a piece of cardboard. I always tell people everything that goes on house is edible except that cardboard!”

2. Add chocolate on the walls

It can be hard to get your house to stand upright without a tilt. DiGiovanni recommends making sure your four walls are solid. The house may tumble over if you start piling on the candy decorations. When connecting the walls of your house with icing, give it time to dry. This could take up to two days with regular icing. But if you’re looking for a quicker solution, use some Disney magic.

“You can use our trick. We use chocolate and it dries faster so we can put our roof on immediately and then you can start decorating,” DiGiovanni said.

3. Don’t skip on the icing

One of the most important features of your gingerbread house is the icing.

“Even if you buy the one of the store-bought kits, you need to make your icing fresh,” she said. While you can’t build a house out of toothpaste, the consistency of the product will help you nail this part of the recipe.

“It sounds a little weird but you want the consistency of toothpaste,” DiGiovanni said.

4. Ditch the hot glue guns and tape

It may be tempting to pull out a hot glue gun or tape but resist the urge! Design with your tummy in mind, DiGiovanni said: “You want to be able to eat the final product.”

5. Get creative and build your own candy wonderland!

Whether your house is inspired by your favorite Disney characters or it takes on a classic holiday theme, let your creativity flow!

“I start by outlining around the windows, then I’ll put snow around the house,” DiGiovanni said. Add chocolates, gumdrops or sugar candy to complement your design.

The Grand Floridian’s gingerbread recipe

No matter how big or small your gingerbread house will be this holiday season, DiGiovanni said there’s one important feature. “The secret to building a perfect gingerbread [house] is of course having perfect gingerbread,” DiGiovanni said.

Ingredients for three dozen cookies

1/4 cup of milk

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of ground fennel

1 teaspoon of ground ginger

1 teaspoon of ground cloves

1 cup of butter softened

2 1/2 cups of confectioners’ sugar sifted

3 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

2 1/4 teaspoons of ground coriander

2 teaspoons of ground star anise

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1 cup colored decorating sugar

2 eggs


Combine butter and sugar in a mixing bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until smooth. Beat in eggs

Sift together cinnamon, coriander, flour, anise, baking powder, ground fennel, ground ginger, ground cloves, salt and mace in a separate large bowl.

With mixer on low, slowly add dry ingredients to butter mixture until butter holds together.

Remove dough from the bowl and wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, two to four hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two cookie sheets.

Remove dough from refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, until pliable. Divide dough in half, return one half to refrigerator. Place other half on floured work surface. Using a rolling Roll dough to 1/8 inch thick, flouring the work surface and rolling pin as needed.

Cut out cookies with cookie cutters. Transfer cookies to baking sheets, one inch apart.

Lightly brush cookies with milk and sprinkle with colored sugar.

Bake until firm and edges begin to darken, 10-14 minutes. Allow cookies to slightly cool on sheet for a minute, then transfer to wire racks to completely cool.
Once your cookies are completely cool, decorate as desired.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

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