For many of us, the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without building a gingerbread house. It’s a wonderful family activity — arguing over the decorations, taste-testing the icing again and again, and of course, stealing a few candies before they get glued on. But when it comes time to bring it all together, one side inevitably tilts, and the house collapses. How in the world are you supposed to create a steadfast structure out of cookie and icing? It might seem impossible, but there are a few simple gingerbread house icing tricks you can try to keep everything sturdy.
1. Don’t use as much water in the icing.
If your cookie home is prone to falling year after year, try creating a thicker royal icing than normal. Most kits come with an icing packet that requires water, so add a little less than recommended. Spoon in the water gradually, and stop when the consistency is like thick glue rather than runny syrup. Extra tip: Keep the bowl of icing covered as you decorate to prevent it from drying. Or put it in a plastic baggie and cut off one corner — use this as a makeshift piping bag.
Making your own royal icing? Whatever you do, don’t thicken it with butter, shortening, or any form of fat. The added fat will soak into the gingerbread, causing it to soften and leading to a collapsed house. Here’s a simple icing recipe: 1 pound powdered sugar (3 ½ cups), 2 egg whites, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar.
2. Decorate the walls first, then wait.
It’s easy to get into the swing of things, and you may want to finish your gingerbread project in one go. However, this is a surefire way to create a gooey mess! The Omni Grove Park Inn, which hosts The National Gingerbread House Competition every year, told Woman’s World that the trick is to decorate the walls and roof of the house first, before putting it all together.
Some sources recommend gluing the sides and roof together first, waiting for the icing to dry, and then decorating. While this method helps keep the walls upright, heavy candies often end up sliding down the roof, leaving globs of icing in their wake. Plus, it’s more of a challenge to decorate objects upright.
Instead, try decorating the sides and roof while they are lying on a flat surface. Make sure not to go too heavy on the candies. (Have kids who insist on using heavy candy? Suggest that they glue it along the bottom of the walls. This adds support instead of creating wobbliness.) And when your royal icing is the right thickness, just a pea-sized dab or even smaller is enough for each piece of candy. Let the decorated gingerbread pieces sit for one to two hours to dry, then set them upright and glue them together.
3. Glue the walls together first, then wait before adding the roof.
If you want to be extra certain that your house stays up this year, The Omni Grove Park Inn says to wait to glue on the roof. This gives the icing between the walls a chance to harden, creating a sturdy base. Also, grab a family member for help; it’s much easier if one person holds up the walls while the other places the additions.
To do: Squeeze a line of icing onto the bottom of your first wall, and press it into your plate or base. (Don’t draw a line of icing on the plate — it’s harder to get a straight line this way.) Hold the wall in place. Next, have a family member line the base and one side of a second gingerbread wall with icing. Gently glue the two walls together. Repeat the process for the other two sides. When they are all standing upright, let them dry for an hour before adding the roof.
Want to see these tips in action? Check out the beautiful winners of this year’s national competition on the Omni Grove Hotels website. And let us know if these gingerbread house icing tricks worked for you in the comments.
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