Decorating the House
Now is the time to really let your imagination go wild. Start looking at food in a new way. Look at colors, shapes and textures to see if that food can be used as something to decorate your gingerbread house.
About Icing Consistency
You can use the same icing you used to put your house together to “glue” your decorations in place. You will probably need to thin the icing a little to get it to spreadable consistency. Add water a drop at a time and stir it in until you have reached the right consistency. You want your icing to be thin enough to spread easily but not so thin that it is runny. For spreading or “gluing” icing consistency, you want your icing to be about the thickness of honey. You want the icing to still mound on a spoon but drop off the spoon in a thick stream, not a glop.
If your icing is too thin, just add more powdered sugar or a bit more of the thick icing if you have more left. However, it is easier to add a bit of water to thick frosting than it is to make a thin frosting thicker. This is where adding the water drop by drop comes into play. I’m not trying to be tedious. The icing thins out quickly, and you don’t want to overdo it.
Gallery of Houses
These are houses that were decorated at my 2015 Gingerbread House Party by kids of all ages. Click on a picture to open the gallery. Sorry about the quality of the pictures. I was concentrating on having fun, not being a good photographer.
My Favorite Decorations
I like to use edible things for my decorations. Here’s a list of my favorites:
- Tootsie Rolls–These can be warmed in your hand and shaped like clay into many shapes; stack them up to make a woodpile. You can also shape caramels and Starbursts, too.
- Necco wafers–These are great for roof decoration or broken to make slate walkways or a stone look for your house.
- Popcorn–looks like snow so spread it on the roof or around the base of the house for a nice wintery look; make popcorn balls into snowman or bushes.
- Shredded coconut–also looks like snow over the roof or around the yard
- Sliced almonds–good for roofs or siding
- Cereal–great for roofing shingles; try Shredded Wheat or Golden Grahams or whatever your favorite is.
- Gumdrops–These are cute used as is or sliced to make different shapes and decorations. They come in different shapes and sizes including rings which make great wreaths.
- Licorice–both red and black are nice additions to your decorations. You can even find black licorice in Scottie dog shapes.
- M&Ms or Skittles–These give a very festive look used anywhere on your house.
- Graham crackers, sugar wafers and Hershey’s small candy bars–These make convincing doors and window shutters.
- Candy canes–add festive color; these can be cut with kitchen shears or other strong scissors; I like to use these along any edge of the house.
- Rolos, miniature peanut butter cups or Hershey’s Kisses–Put them wherever you wish. A little chocolate never hurt anybody.
- Pretzels–You can make a log cabin look with these. Different shapes make good windows.
- Ice cream cones–Spread or pipe green frosting on sugar cones to make trees for your yard. These make great turrets if you are going to make a castle.
- Marshmallows–Glue these together to make a snowman.
- Shaped Cookies, either homemade or store-bought–These make cute additions when propped up against the side of your house or made into some other thing like a chimney, door or window. Animal crackers and gingerbread people can be especially fun.
- Fruit leather–use your imagination with this one–maybe a scarf for your marshmallow snowman or a bow for a wreath…
- Rice Krispie treats and Corn Flakes wreaths–The wreaths are self explanatory. The Rice Krispie treats can be warmed in the microwave for about 10 seconds and shaped into anything you want them to be. Leave them plain or cover them with icing and/or candies.
- Hard Candies–just about any type would work.
- Red Hots and other nonpareils–adds a little bling to your house
- Et cetera, Et cetera–This is by no means an exhaustive list. Keep on the lookout for any other interesting things you can use for your decorations.
Use Icing instead of Candies
You don’t have to use any candy or different foods to decorate your house. You can spread or pipe icing onto your house for decoration. You could keep your icing all white and get a certain look, or you could separate your icing into several bowls and add colors to the icing. There are also tubes of colored icing you can buy, but I find those are often a little too thick to stick to the gingerbread. (You could squeeze all the frosting out of the tube and add a little water a drop at a time to thin it out.)
If you don’t already own cake decorating equipment, I would recommend to start with plastic disposable bags and circle, star and leaf tips. The bags are not too expensive and the tips are very inexpensive. You can use couplers with your icing bags if you want to be able to change the tip on the bag containing a certain color, or you can simply put the frosting tip into the bag by itself.
If you are not going to eat your house and everyone including children and pets know not to eat your house, you can use anything you wish to decorate your house. Paper, wood, cotton balls…
When Things Go Wrong
Sometimes gingerbread houses fall apart. Here are some of the common culprits:
- Using icing other than royal icing–buttercream-type frosting is just not strong enough to hold the pieces together.
- Not waiting long enough after assembling the house–the icing needs time to dry.
- Humid weather–moisture in the air is not good for gingerbread houses.
- Embellishments are too heavy–this is still just cookies and icing. The structure simply can’t hold the weight.
- Soft cookies–Underbaked cookies will sag or break.
So what do you do when disaster strikes? Have fun with it! Decorate the inside of your house. Take the whole house apart and decorate the pieces like large cookies. Try putting the house back together with more icing. Remember that you can look back and laugh at this next year.
The recipe in Part 1 can be used for any size or shape of gingerbread house. If you haven’t looked at Part 2, go there to see how to put the house together. This series covered the basics of gingerbread house making. There are more elaborate ways to design, assemble and decorate a gingerbread house. This year, the series is for the beginner. Start with this easy gingerbread house and next year you’ll be ready to try something more difficult.