After much experimentation, we've discovered that this recipe for intensely-scented and sturdy gingerbread makes the finest building blocks your gingerbread house could hope for.
Into a large bowl, sift together flour, spices, baking soda, salt, and pepper; set aside. In a large saucepan, melt shortening over medium-high heat, about 4 minutes. Whisk in sugar and molasses until well combined. Remove from heat, and stir in the flour mixture until just combined but still crumbly. If dough is still sticky, add a bit more flour.
Turn out dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, and wrap to enclose completely; let cool slightly, 10 to 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide dough into two equal parts, and place on prepared baking sheets. While dough is still slightly warm, roll out gently but firmly to a 3/8-inch thickness. Cut out desired shapes, and remove excess dough from around cutters or templates.
Bake 30 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.
We designed templates based on a drawing of an actual house, but you can use photo templates or cookie cutters to create your own design.