Cut out template pieces and place them all in a large ziplock bag so you don't lose anything.
Baking your gingerbread house
In a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, combine sugar, molasses and spices.
Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly until sugar has melted.
Turn off the heat and stir in the shortening
Once the shortening is mostly incorporated, add in the flour a little bit at a time.
When you reach the point your arms are too tired to keep stirring in flour, transfer to a lightly oiled work surface ( I did this on my marble countertop) or to a very large bowl.
Knead in the remaining flour and then make a well in the center of the dough.
Add in a little bit of egg and knead until incorporated.
Keep adding a little egg at a time until it's all incorporated and the dough is smooth.
Separate the dough into 4 or 5 disks and wrap all but one in plastic wrap (but do not refrigerate).
Roll out the first disk between two sheets of parchment paper to about 3/8th inch thickness.
Lay your template over the dough and with a sharp knife, cut out the template.
Using the parchment paper under the dough, transfer the gingerbread piece to a cookie sheet.
If necessary, trim the parchment so it all fits on the cookie sheet, then place the dough in the refrigerator to chill, 30-60 minutes.
Repeat the process above for your remaining gingerbread house pieces.
If you have any gingerbread dough left over, wrap it tightly and refrigerate it in case you need it later.
Once your pieces are cut and chilled, preheat your oven to 325F.
Bake one or two cookie sheets at a time, baking until they are hard and the dough bounces back when your touch it lightly, about 12-20 minutes depending on the size.
Cool cookies on the tray, transferring only once they have cooled completely.
Let cookies dry out for a day or two before decorating for best results.
How to make royal icing
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine egg whites and cream of tartar.
Whip egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
Slowly sift powdered sugar into egg whites, mixing between additions.
Once the icing is completed, cover with plastic wrap, pressing into the icing to keep it from hardening.
To color, place some of the frosting in a bowl and add gel color and mix with a spoon.
To pipe, place icing in a piping bag and place a rubber band on the end to keep the air out.
Place the bag in a glass with a damp paper towel at the bottom to keep your pastry tip from clogging while you work. Store any icing you aren't using currently in the refrigerator.
Building your gingerbread house.
Gather a bunch of canned food from your food pantry.
Add icing to the seams of two side pieces and place them together, using the cans to hold the pieces in place.
Make sure to smooth out any unwanted icing before it dries.
Keep adding walls, until you four walls are glued together then let it dry until the royal icing is completely dry...about 12-24 hours.
Meanwhile you can assemble or decorate smaller items to place inside your gingerbread house, things likes trees, wreaths, snowmen, and sandwich board
Gather your decorations and organize them in a cupcake tin so you can easily grab them while you decorate.
Cut small pieces of parchment to place under the decorations you're making so they're easy to move later. Remember that this stiff royal is like glue!
Any decorations made with royal icing should be left to dry completely before moving around but make sure to add any sprinkles before it starts to set.
Once the house walls are dry, decorate the outside of your gingerbread house.
Place decorated figures inside your house and then glue on the roof.
Ice the entire roof, making dangling icicles and scattering sanding sugar on top before the icing dries.
Once the house is decorated, thin a little white royal icing by adding a 1/4 teaspoon of water at a time until it flows nicely. Spread it around the ground of the gingerbread house to make snow. This will also keep the house from sliding around when you move it.
Place any outside decorations around your house while the royal icing is still wet.
Give the entire piece a dusting of powdered sugar and step back to marvel at your creation!