Decorating with royal icing: details for your gingerbread house

WhiteGingerBrdHouse

Every spring and summer as our merchandising team begins their search for our newest holiday products, I get excited to begin my own holiday decorating season with a new gingerbread house design. This year it was…

…white on white, for a simple, elegant house.

What makes the house special this year are the royal icing decorations that adorn the roof line, giving the house architectural detail and dimension. The delicacy of the decorations reminds me of the wooden detailing known as “gingerbread” on Victorian homes, so it seemed especially appropriate.

If you’ve ever worked with royal icing before, you know that it dries very hard and needs to be peeled or chipped off of certain surfaces. The good news is by putting that solid drying power to work for you, intricate details that can be peeled off at your convenience are within reach.

The secret? Parchment paper. I’ve got some sheets right here so grab the recipe and the meringue powder, and let’s get started.

Don’t forget to bring your gingerbread house!

First set up your parchment work space. You can make your designs free hand or you can place a printed design under the parchment and trace it.

When making free hand designs, you’ll want some kind of guide to ensure that the pieces end up relatively the same size. I find tracing a coin is an easy way to do this.

Trace, trace, trace. Be sure to leave plenty of space in between as well.

Next, either place your design under the parchment within the circle, or draw a few different designs in the space until you’re happy with one or more.

Once you’re happy with your design, draw out a few more so that you can get a feel for the design. You can certainly fill in every space if you feel you’ll need the guide, but usually by the 5th or 6th one, your hand will know the path to follow.

**Before you start piping, be sure to turn the parchment over, pencil side down. Graphite and icing = blech! **

Next, whip up a fluffy batch of Royal Icing. You’ll want to adjust the consistency until it flows well, but isn’t runny.

Fill a piping bag and test a few lines and dots of icing. If the icing pours out of the end of the bag and won’t hold a line, add more sugar.

If the icing is very stiff and it hurts your hand to squeeze it out, add more water. These two lines look good to go.

Remember, I’m going for a white on white look here, but you can tint the icing any color you desire at this point.

Fill as many different bags as you like. I like to have one with a medium-sized hole, and one with a fine hole. Using a coupler and piping tips allows you to use one bag and switch out the tips for different looks.

Start piping out your designs. See how the pencil circle helps keep the designs an even height and width?

Sorry, bit of a fuzzy close-up.

Always be sure to pipe more designs than you think you’ll need. If you want six curls for your roof, pipe out at least 12. There’ll be breakage, it’s just a fact.

Also, don’t fret over little differences in the decorations. That’s how handmade decorations are supposed to look. Handmade, not machine perfect.

If you’re going to add accents such as sugar pearls, add them while the icing is still wet. I try to keep these to a minimum, though, as they can weigh down the design and make it more fragile.

Allow the designs to dry for at least 24  hours, more for thicker designs.

Once the decorations are very dry and hard to the touch with no soft spots, you can gently peel them off the parchment. Remember, slow and steady wins the race, and some of them are going to break no matter how careful you are.

If you feel like you’re breaking too many, take a breather. Walk away, play with your chickens, watch that guy dance on YouTube. When you’re feeling better, come back and try again.

To attach the decorations, turn them over to their flat side and use the Royal Icing as glue. They’re very light, so just a touch will do it.

Gently press the decoration into place and hold it for a minute or so. It should stick right in place.

Take your time and work your way along. Being left handed, I typically start on the right and work my way left, so that my hand isn’t hitting the one I just put up as I add another. Do what feels right and works for you.

These decos are for the front of the house, and are positioned to stick out a little instead of being parallel to the house front.

AAAArrrggghhh! Sometimes you’ll break the very last deco at the last minute. Just use your Royal Icing glue to attach the broken piece back on. Chances are once the icing is dry, no one will notice the difference but you.

Finally, take a step back and admire your handiwork. Your patience has paid off in a big way and your gingerbread house has amazing, incredible handmade details that just can’t be bought. Bask in the glow, baby, bask.

Please make, rate, and review our recipe for Royal Icing.

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Beth

    MaryJane, I notice some of the decorations are thickers than others. Did you pipe the thiinner ones; for example, around the door, directly onto the gingerbread? Or is everything there piped onto parchment first? It’s beautiful. You certainly are talented.
    Hi Beth,
    Great question. Yes, the roof and wall decorations were piped directly on the gingerbread. Only the roof edging and the pieces on the eves were done on parchment. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
    1. Jeanne

      Really pretty house…I have gingerbread dough in the fridge and sadly it’s Christmas Eve and I haven’t had a minute to accomplish my house goal this year. Boo! Maybe I’ll make a New Year’s themed structure! Wondering if the directly piped on roof and wall decorations were done prior to construction? If not, how did you tilt the already constructed house to the correct angle?

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Some of the decorations were done while the house was flat, then it was assembled. The remaining decorations were piped and dried ahead on time, then gently placed on the house. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  2. Lyna

    I’ve always wondered what people do with a gingerbread house after the holiday…eat it? store for next year? put outside for the birds?

    Feeding it to the birds sounds like the best idea :) – kelsey

    Reply
  3. SoupAddict Karen

    Oh, MaryJane – I’d like you to move into my house for a couple of weeks in December, ‘kay?thanks. Inspired by watching your handiwork, I’ll be decorating sugar cookies this year. Eeek! But whether it turns out I have the steady hand or not, I can attest to the royal icing recipe – it rocks!
    Anytime Karen! Don’t you think it would be fun for the KAF baker/bloggers to travel around the country for a month meeting folks and baking together, then writing about it? Maybe we should start a petition? :) ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. kalcantara

    Hi! I really like your elegant gingerbread house. I’m a big fan of making this houses so I was wondering how can I share a picture with you guys… Love to have some feedback. TIA Karina
    HI Karina,
    We’d LOVE to see your pictures! Send them to bakers@kingarthurflour.com, ATTN: Blog team, and they’ll get to us. Looking forward to it. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  5. Anne

    Every year we make ginger bread houses as a family. This year we will have 5 children making them! We arrange them in a little “village” and the kids just LOVE it. I have a recipe that is awesome for the gingerbread – it’s bullet proof! One year while I was dismantling our village I decided to just knock off the royal icing and keep all the parts and see if we could use them next year. It worked! This will be the 4th year for some of the houses. Each year I make at least one new house to add to the village and replace any pieces that broke while dismantling the year before :) Also, I hot glue the houses together. The glue dries right away, not in an hour or so like royal icing. Then we use the royal icing to decorate. I use the old school royal icing recipe – egg whites. Since we don’t eat our houses we don’t have to worry about the potential problems with raw egg. It dries fast and is HARD. Works like a charm!
    Thanks for all the tips on piping on parchment paper- that is genius! I printed it all out and it is going in my ginger bread house folder! You all at KAF totally rock! I so enjoy your blog.

    Reply
  6. lyna

    Here’s a blog idea for next year–a “gingerbread” birdhouse designed for the birds (and squirrels) from the ingredients to the final touch. Use ‘construction grade’ dough with whole grain flours, maybe based on your dog biscuit recipe, decorate with Royal Icing like your example above, birdseed, corn on the (dry) cob, dried apples; pick off any people-candy and add suet ‘snow’ just before it goes out. I’m guessing Royal Icing would be OK for birds to eat, better than hot glue for sure. Are there some bird watchers on the staff that could advise about things to avoid?

    What a great idea! You could probably use cranberries, raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc as well. I remember making bird feeders when I was younger and used peanut butter as a filling and “icing”. The birds of the world would love you! – kelsey

    Reply
  7. piperskeeper

    I did a double-take when I read “play with your chickens”! When I am working at home, that is exactly how I break up my workday, or refresh my mind from a twitchy task. When I walk out the back door with a bowl of veggie trimmings or a pocketful of grain, all the hens come running :)

    Reply
  8. debwoolsey

    We must do something very strange with our gingerbread house. We EAT it! It rarely sees the new year. One year I’m not sure it even made it to Christmas Day.

    I always ate mine too! Usually didn’t last longer than a few weeks, my mother was always devastated.-Jon

    Reply
  9. Marlene Johnston

    I have always had trouble putting the house together,walls falling in and such.Could it be my icing is not right.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Definitely could be the icing is too thin, or you don’t have a way to securely balance/clamp the walls/roof as the icing dries. Have you tried our Royal Icing recipe? You might also want to call and chat with one of our bakers: 855-371-2253. I’m sure they can help. PJH

  10. deb ovall

    Haha, I laughed out loud at the reference to the dancing guy, Matt. He was new when this was originally written but I just got done watching his 2012 video going around on Facebook again and I’m still grinning. That’s great! I love the idea of baking a g-house for the birds, I’m doing that! Thanks and Happy Holidays to everyone!

    Reply

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