Cream together shortening, dark brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with a beater attachment or in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer until fluffy, about 1 minute.
Beat in molasses, egg, fresh ginger if using, and vanilla extract until combined, about 30 seconds.
In a separate mixing bowl whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt and dry spices, until combined, about 30 seconds.
With mixer running on low speed, add dry mixture slowly and mix until evenly incorporated, stopping to scrape sides when needed, about 1-2 minutes.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into 2 rectangles about 1 inch thick. Wrap each tightly with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour or overnight. You can also freeze dough at this stage to use at a later date. Defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before continuing.
Take 1 rectangle of dough out of fridge, unwrap and roll to 1/4" thickness on a floured work surface. turning and re-flouring as needed to keep dough from sticking to surface or rolling pin.
Place house templates over dough and cut out shapes using a small sharp knife or an x-acto knife/razor blade.
Transfer cut outs to baking sheets spacing them about 1" apart. When first sheet is full, place it in the freezer for 10 minutes while you continue rolling and cutting out more shapes.
After 10 minutes in the freezer bake the first sheet at 350˚F for about 10 minutes until cookies are cooked well done. They will still be slightly soft to the touch when warm and will harden and crisp up as they cool down.
Pop the second sheet of cookies in the freezer while the first sheet is baking. Continue this process with the remaining dough and trays until all of the pieces are baked.
Transfer cookies to cooling racks and cool to room temperature before assembling houses. Once cool, cookies can be kept at room temperature in a covered container overnight to assemble the following day.
To decorate cookies, fill a pastry bag fitted with a #1 round writing tip with royal icing. To do this place the pastry bag in a tall quart-sized jar and fold down the ends over the outside of the jar. Add royal icing to the bag filling it 1/2 way. Then pull up the sides of bag and push down the icing with your hands. Twist the pastry bag so there is no air left in the bag.
Working with one cookie at a time pipe icing in decorative patterns. I like to outline the shape then make doors and windows and decorative designs on each section of the house.
Let icing set until it is hard and firm to the touch, about 1-2 hours or overnight, before proceeding to assemble houses.
To assemble house fill a pastry bag fitted with a #12 round tip with royal icing as detailed in step 13 above. You can also use the #1 tip for this (as I did in the video) but will need to add a few layers of icing with it.
Gather sections to complete a house and pipe royal icing on edges then stick sides together and hold in place with your hands for about 30 seconds. Continue piping on royal icing where needed to act as glue to hold the pieces of each house together.
Pipe royal icing over the seam of the roof pieces and along the trim of the roof line to create a snowy effect. Attach chimneys with royal icing. Pipe icicles with the #1 tip by piping a little mound of royal icing onto the roof trim and pulling down. See video for detail.
Allow houses to air dry overnight so royal icing hardens. Royal icing becomes brittle when dry so be extra careful when moving the completed houses. Icicles will break off easily just by touching them.
If eating the houses or just making cookies, use them up within 1 week. Keep assembled cookies in a covered container at room temp for up to 1 week.
I do not recommend eating houses that will be set out as holiday decor. And if holiday decor is your end goal, then use cheap ingredients and skip the fresh ginger and vanilla.
Shortening can be swapped with butter or vegan butter. Use 1 stick/1/2 cup/115g of butter.
Recipe by Fare Isle at https://fareisle.com/gingerbread-houses/