Gingerbread House Tips & Tricks

December 12th, 2012 by Andrea Nickels

You have a long weekend coming up and you’ve decided to spend it creating your very first gingerbread house. Maybe you were inspired by a store display during Black Friday. Maybe you finally wanted to come up with a new way to pull the kids away from the video games by starting a new family tradition. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure, you are excited. The idea is in your head and you want it to be perfect.

You get started and work all day measuring the ingredients, cutting each piece for the frame and baking it to the right crispness. You clean up the kitchen (okay, maybe that can wait till tomorrow, too), turn off the lights and go to bed. The next morning, you return to the kitchen to find nothing but crumbs. Oh no! The dog ate the whole house. This worst-case scenario happened to a friend of mine. (Sorry Kathy, I know you didn’t want to relive that moment.)

If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t be crushed. Your dream of creating the ultimate gingerbread house can still be a reality. Besides, you promised the kids. Although you may no longer be in the mood to bake another one, Wilton is here to help. We have many different styles of pre-baked gingerbread kits to choose from; all which include icing and candy, and some of which are even pre-assembled.

Decorating a Gingerbread House

I have been assembling and decorating gingerbread houses since 1997, either at work, or most recently, as a new family tradition with my 5-year-old son. I have learned from trial and error, and have picked up a few tips and tricks on the way. Hopefully, I can share my experience to help teach you how to assemble a successful gingerbread house too.

The first thing I’d like to point out is to completely read through instructions before you begin. The instructions provide tips in each section, which are very helpful. The following are a few more:

  • What should you do if you open the gingerbread house from last year’s “Christmas clearance sale” only to find it broken? Don’t worry, this can easily be fixed. “Glue” the pieces together with your icing from the kit. Royal icing will also work, but I prefer Wilton Candy Melts®, preferably the light cocoa, as it blends easily with the color of gingerbread. The candy melts also dry the fastest. Note: If you choose to use chocolate, make sure you tempered the chocolate perfectly, otherwise it will not set up right.
  • After you prepare your icing, keep it covered with a damp towel.
  • Always let your gingerbread house dry before decorating it—at least one hour for the walls, and two more hours for the roof. If the kids are impatient, maybe do this while they are sleeping, or the night before. You can also watch a holiday movie to keep with the spirit of things.
  • Give the kids a job; my son likes to separate the candies by type in bowls. This also stops the candy from rolling off the table and onto the floor.
  • Always decorate the house part of your gingerbread house first. This ensures that you have all the icing and candy you need for the focal point, which is after all, the house. Landscape later. Once I have chosen a design, I draw a pattern on the house with a FoodWriter™ Edible Marker, utilizing a ruler to help make the lines straight and evenly spaced.

Making Candy Wreaths

  • For an elegant wreath, you will need wax or parchment paper. Roll out your green candy, such as spearmint leaves, on granulated sugar to about 1/16” thickness. Use scissors that have been dipped in warm water to cut triangles. Clean the scissors often with a warm washcloth. Now pipe a 1 3/4” to 2” circle on the wax paper. Attach triangles around it. Work quickly, but if it does dries out before you have all the triangles attached, use a wet brush to moisten the icing.  Let the wreath dry on the wax paper for a few hours. Once dry, you can gently release it from the paper and attach it to the house with more icing. You can use this technique for doors and windows too. (Draw the design on paper and flip it over, so the doors and windows don’t get pencil or ink on it.) Or you can always use rolled fondant.
  • To decorate a smooth roof, I like to thin out my icing. I also like to use a spatula that I have dipped in hot water.
  • Now it is time to work on the “curbside appeal.” Great “snowscapes” can include fluffy marshmallows, lightly dried and crumbled shredded coconut, or Wilton’s white sparkling sugar.

Making Candy Trees

      • Don’t limit yourself to just the candy in the kit. There are so many ways to enhance your house; sprinkles for that extra candy land appeal, candy melts make great roof top shingles or fences, gingerbread boys and girls cookies playing in the yard, or Wilton’s Christmas Candy Kit which includes playful elves and santas to mold. If you are feeling adventurous, make small cake pops that can be potted trees or a topiary. (Make these only a few days before serving.)
      • Use items you may have already in your pantry such as pretzels, striped gum, cereal, crackers, lollipops, ribbon candy, and/or candy canes. Add a lamp post with a large spice drop on a candy stick. Add sprinkles to gumdrops to make a decorated bush. Utilize a sugar cone to make beautiful decorated trees embellished with sugars or icing decorations.
      • Keep your gingerbread away from any sources of moisture such as a tea kettle, dishwasher, or humidifier. This might soften your gingerbread. Molasses is a hygroscopic food, which means it readily absorbs moisture from the air.
      • And again, keep the gingerbread house away from pets and small children, especially if you want it to last all month. (Make sure you take a picture when you are done so you at least have evidence of your accomplishments if even all precautionary measures fail.)

I hope these tips and tricks help and inspire you to make a new gingerbread tradition into your family. I know you will treasure the memories as much as I do.

Please visit our Gingerbread House Fun web page for more decorating ideas, techniques and frequently asked questions. You’ll also find a variety of festive ideas for delicious gingerbread cookies and cupcakes.

Andrea Nickels Andrea Nickels is a freelance decorator at Wilton. She is also a Chef Instructor specializing in Pastry Arts and Design. Andrea is currently enrolled as a student earning her BBA in Hospitality Management. Over the years, she has expanded her skills by attending continuing education classes at the French Pastry School, Callebaut Chocolate Academy, and The Wilton School of Decorating.

4 Replies

  1. Mish mess says:

    We purchased the Wilton delux kit and I cannot keep the sides together when I try to add the roof. The house just collapses. Any suggestions to keep it all together. Royal icing is not doing it.

  2. Andrea Nickels says:

    Pipe icing along bottom of side wall and along the bottom and side of the peaked wall. Join the pieces so that the side wall is positioned on the inside edge of the peaked wall piece. Press sides together and attach to the base. Hold in place several minutes until icing begins to set. If necessary, prop the wall pieces with heavy jars or cans on each side so they stay together.
    b. Add the peaked center support. Pipe icing along bottom and one side of the peaked center support. Position on the center of the side wall. Hold in place several minutes until icing begins to set. Attach the other peaked wall and side wall pieces in the
    same manner. Press together. If necessary, prop the wall pieces with heavy jars or cans on each side so they stay together.
    Let dry completely, at least 1 hour, before proceeding to the next step of attaching roof.
    Hope this helps.
    *Candy Melts may also work, but again will have to be held in place for several minutes to set up. Keep away from sunlight and warm areas.

  3. Karen says:

    We did 2 houses this weekend. We had 4 little girls of different ages and it was a blast doing these houses. I found that if we wet our fingers just a bit the icing would not stick to our fingers and it helped it to stick to the parts of the houses as well. We used necco wafers for the roof on one of the houses and it was so adorable. We had fun using some of the ideas from the kit and using some of our own including some of our own candies from our pantries. I wanted to use the candy melts but was afraid it wouldnt kepp year after year. Do you have any “wisdom” about that. Also, could you tell me how to package the little houses so we can bring them out year after year. It is also a great idea to date your houses and let the children sign their art work!! We had a blast doing these houses but it did take an adult to squeeze the icing out for the children, they did the rest, sincerely, karen

  4. […] Wilton has an excellent article written by Wilton decorator Andrea Nickels on making a gingerbread house. The article offers tips […]

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