Decorating with royal icing: details for your gingerbread house

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. 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

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *