This sweet insider intel will set you up for gingerbread house success (finally).
Credit: Getty Images

For those of us who have fully leaned into the soothing effects of stress-baking during the pandemic, the holiday season couldn't have come soon enough. When else is perfecting three types of pie, baking a bouche de noel, and icing some six-dozen sugar cookies par for the course in the span of a week? I dream of dessert season all year 'round.

That being said, decorating a gingerbread house is a whole other ball game (let alone building the thing from scratch). Many go for the pre-cut gingerbread house kits, and I don't blame you. But seeing as many of us have a bit more time at home on our hands this holiday season, I figure it's a great year to finally try baking, building, and beautifying one yourself. Here, we spoke with Kathy Krupa, culinary expert and food stylist at Wilton, about what you should know about gingerbread before you're knee deep in icing trying to keep the roof from crumbling.

Set aside plenty of time and space before you begin.

According to Krupa, the top tip for gingerbread house decorating is to take your time when it comes to the prep work. Lay out everything—clear a large portion of your countertop or kitchen table for your cookie pieces, icing, piping bags and tips, candy melts, gumdrops, sprinkles, and so on. Clutter will cause stress and spillage. If you want to go all out on making your life easy, use a turntable.

Trim your edges until they're even.

"Make sure all your pieces are even and flat," says Krupa. "Personally, I like to put the pieces back to back and shave the edges with a sharp paring knife or a micro planer to make sure they are even." As a result, when you eventually seal them together with icing, the sides of each piece will be perfectly flush with one another. This will help make the gluing process (literally) seamless.

Decorate before you build (seriously).

If you're excited about the decorating, why not decorate your house before you assemble it? According to Krupa, starting with the embellishment actually sets you up for success, too. "It's a lot easier for me to decorate the house pieces while they are flat," she says. "You can rotate the pieces so you can get to every spot and nothing will get in your way." When you're done decorating, she recommends letting your decorations set for 30 to 60 minutes before you assemble. After you assemble, make sure to cover your seams and add your finishing touches.

When applying icing as your glue, less is more.

When it comes to holding the house together, Krupa says to avoid using a heavy hand with the frosting, especially if you decide to assemble before you decorate. "I recommend using a piping tip to pipe a line of icing over the edge of panel and then holding it in place for 30 seconds," she adds. "You can also use cans or jars to help hold the house in place."

Leave plenty of time to dry—and stock up on candy melts.

If you are assembling first and decorating second, it's essential to give your gingerbread house time to dry before you decorate. In fact, Krupa says that four hours is ideal. "However, if you want to speed this process up, try using candy melts as your 'glue.' You can pipe candy melts along the edges of the house and assemble that way. Then place the gingerbread house in the fridge for about 15 minutes and you'll be ready to decorate." Bonus: candy melt disks serve as an excellent shingled roof.

Buttercream is an excellent option.

When it comes to the icing, Krupa says that premade or homemade royal icing or buttercream frosting will both work well. "Don't be afraid to use buttercream to ice and decorate your house," she says. "Buttercream spreads easier, it's easier to pipe, and it takes to color well if you decide to add food coloring." Whatever type of icing you choose, be sure to have plenty on hand.

Get Goldilocks with your icing.

The consistency of your icing is incredibly important, too. Before you start working, Krupa recommends squeezing the icing in bowl and stirring it well. If your icing seams very soft, you can add some powder sugar or cornstarch—start by adding one teaspoon at a time. If your icing seams too stiff, you can add water—but just a few drops at a time. Seriously, we're looking for *just* right.

Practice before you pipe.

If you want that perfect looking house, take a few minutes and draw out your house before you pipe. "You can use a FoodWriter and a ruler to draw perfect windows and doors," says Krupe. "You can also use round cutters to help draw perfect wreath and scalloped garland." Many of the Wilton gingerbread kits are now embossed with door and windows to make it easier create that perfect house, too.

Don't forget to detail it.

Adding details to your house can take it to the next level and make you a pro in no time. Try using a spatula or spoon to ice the board around the house. For a perfect snowy wintery scene, dust your board with sprinkles. You can create some easy ombre trees for the yard, too: Simply tint the icing in a variety of shades of green and use star tips like Wilton tips 199, 21, and 1M to pipe. "If you have ice cream cones, use that piping tip on an upside-down cone to create an evergreen-looking tree," Krupa adds. "And a little dusting of powder sugar on top of each creates a magical winter wonderland!" If you don't have any cones, try using the same tip and pipe them on parchment paper. Let them dry and place them on your board.