Looking for a way to use up all that Halloween candy? Set it aside to make a festive fall gingerbread house for Thanksgiving or a cozy winter retreat to celebrate the December/January holidays. Our family has been decorating gingerbread houses for the past 15 years. We also give gingerbread house kits to friends and family as holiday gifts each season. Here are a few tips for the novice wanting to start this fun family tradition:.
Top 10 Tips for Decorating Gingerbread Houses
1. Use Cake Release to prevent a white film from forming on the cake surface, which occurs when using the traditional grease/flour method. This fantastic Wilton product is found at Walmart, Hobby Lobby, and Jo Ann’s Fabric and Craft Store.
2. Use a toothbrush to scrub dried pan crumbs away before soaking baking pans to wash.
3. Freeze cakes before decorating. This gives them more stability when trying to assemble the pieces. Warm gingerbread will make the royal icing runny, which makes the structure unstable and prevents candy from staying in place.
4. Use royal icing, made with meringue powder, as “glue” to provide a strong bond. Use a large drinking cup to hold the icing bag while you fill it with royal icing. Insert the pastry bag tip down into the cup. Fold the top of the pastry bag over the top of the cup. This allows you to pack the icing down near the tip and prevents messy icing drips at the end of the pastry bag.
5. Use rubber bands or clear plastic hair bands to prevent icing from escaping the back of the pastry bag when squeezed.
6. Purchase special holiday candy decorations (e.g., candy canes, and jelly beans) and trays after the season and set aside for next year. We like to use leftover Halloween candy to make Christmas gingerbread houses.
7. Gingerbread house kits make unique, crafty gifts to say: "thank-you," "get well soon", or "happy birthday."
8. Put meringue powder (used to make royal icing) into a snack-sized Ziploc bag with icing directions if you are making a kit. Royal icing often becomes runny if it isn’t used immediately after it is made, especially in our humid Missouri climate.
9. Decorating gingerbread houses is a versatile activity you can enjoy year-round—from fall harvest houses (candy pumpkins, pumpkin-flavored coffee for dirt), Christmas gingerbread (powdered sugar dusting for snow) and winter bird houses (nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter or Crisco for icing) to Easter (white chocolate house, sugar mold, edible grass), and summer beach scenes (crushed vanilla wafers for sand, mini paper umbrellas, gelatin “water”).
10. Find fun alternatives to the traditional gingerbread house. We alternate each year and use a train pan to make our own version of The Polar Express. We also use our molds to make edible bird feeders in the winter months of January and February. You can find the instructions for that below.
Gelatin Bird House
½ cup water (microwave for 30 seconds)
2 ½ teaspons unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons corn syrup
¾ cup flour
4 cups bird seed mix
- Grease baking pan well with Crisco. If you don’t have a gingerbread mold, use a bunt pan to make a birdseed wreath.
- Whisk together warm water and gelatin until gelatin is completely dissolved.
- Then add corn syrup and stir until it completely dissolves.
- Combine flour and bird seed mix together. Stir well until flour is evenly distributed.
- Pour gelatin mixture into floured birdseed and stir well.
- Press birdseed mixture into greased pan.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- Run hot water over the bottom (or set bottom of the pan in hot water) before inverting mold to remove the gelatin bird house.
- Decorate with shredded mini wheats, fresh/dried cranberries, pretzel rods, popcorn, and sunflower seeds.
- Use peanut butter or Crisco as icing.