When it’s time to decorate gingerbread houses you can really do whatever you want, but there are basically 3 ways that involve more or less of different skills. One of the methods might be easier for you, or for different groups like kids or non-professional decorators!
The three basic methods of decorating a gingerbread house are to use all piping and no candy, all candy with no decorative piping, and a combination of those two. Most gingerbread houses involve the combination, with some piping and some candy added to the design, but for kids and people with no piping skills, the all-candy method may be the easiest.
Gingerbread houses decorated with all piping.
Some countries have traditions of decorating gingerbread houses with no candy at all, and only using piped icing to decorate them. These types of houses can be very impressive because piping icing is a skill that takes practice, and it’s difficult to master. An all-over pattern created by piping will generally look like a more traditional style of gingerbread due to the monochromatic style.
Professional decorators and experienced gingerbread decorators tend to use more piping-heavy designs, because piping is a separate skill that shows off experience.
If you want to do an all-over piped design, you may want to practice your piping if you don’t have a strong skill set yet.
You should also plan the design beforehand so that you’re not at a loss when you go to pipe the designs on the house. Knowing where the piping is going to go can keep the design cohesive and keep things from being messy.
Another tip for this style of house is to pipe the designs onto the house sections before assembling the house. It’s a lot easier to pipe icing when you’re working on a flat surface, so don’t make it more difficult for yourself.
If you’re not an experienced decorator, be aware that piping royal icing, which is the type that’s used on gingerbread houses because it dries hard, is VERY hard on your hands. Make sure to take frequent breaks to stretch your fingers and wrist so that you don’t end up with a claw for a hand.
I used to do a lot of royal icing piping when I decorated cookies for weddings, and it mess my hands up. One of the things about gingerbread that’s decorated entirely with royal icing that’s piped on is that it’s impressive to think about how much work went into them!
For an article that I wrote about piping royal icing on cookies, go to my cake decorating blog here: Piping Cookies is Hard On Your Hands
Decorating a gingerbread house with piping and candy.
The in-between method, this is the style of decorating that uses some candy and piped icing to fill in the majority of the design. This will help to minimize the amount of candy needed to cover the house, so it tends to cost less than the all-candy method. Many gingerbread houses are done in this style because candy is used for adding color and pattern, and the piping is used to add the structure of the pattern.
This combination style is better for older kids and adults, but younger kids might have trouble with the piping bags.
In general, the piping is done in combination with adding the candy when you use this method because you’ll pipe the design in, them embellish it with candy.
The idea is to add color and some design elements, but you don’t want to cover the piping up completely because it’s part of the pattern.
Most gingerbread houses have some combination of multiple decorating methods, so this is probably the most common style. The kits that you buy to make a house usually assume that you’ll be decorating using both piping designs and candy because they can give you less candy that way!
If you’re planning on doing this style you might also want to decorate the house first, then assemble it when the pieces dry. However, you can definitely pipe the icing on after the house is put together, it will just be a little harder to do it if you have complicated designs that you want to put on the upright walls.
I tend to assemble everything then decorate it, because I want to see how it looks as everything gets added to the house. For this house, I piped the vines on the side, and also piped the window sashes and the designs on the front porch, and those were all done after the house was put together.
However, I did this for my own amusement, so if you have to go for high-precision because you’re entering a contest or something like that, it’s probably a good idea to pipe on a flat surface if you can.
Decorating a gingerbread house with all candy.
The typical gingerbread house in the US is decorated completely using candy all over it, especially if it’s being decorated by a child. Most younger kids can’t handle the precision of a piping bag to create designs, so it’s easier to spread the icing on and press candy into it. This usually ends up being a house that’s completely covered in candy and icing, but can also include cutouts made from other edible materials like fondant.
I have to say that I prefer this kind of house because they tend to be a lot wilder than gingerbread houses that have a lot of piping on them.
The piped houses can be very impressive and beautiful, but I personally want to feel like I can eat the candy house, even if I’m not going to do that.
For younger kids, this kind of decorating is a lot easier, because piping bags aren’t easy to handle, and it can be frustrating for them.
By spreading the icing onto the assembled house, they can stick the candy on without having to worry about placing the icing in an exact spot, and they’ll usually end up having more fun.
It’s also possible to cover the houses with edible materials like rolled fondant, like this house that had a fondant lace roof and fondant details on the front. I didn’t do any piping on this one, but if you use silicone molds you can still get fancy details.
The only downside to the completely-covered candy houses is that they’re going to be more expensive than the piped ones, or the ones with minimal candy. Plan accordingly, because those costs can add up! Here’s a link to an article about how much candy you need for different types of houses with candy on them: How much candy do you need for a gingerbread house?
There are obviously other techniques that you can do to decorate gingerbread houses, but these three combinations are the broad categories, and most houses will fall in one of them. The method that you decide to use will vary depending on how skilled you are or what effect you want to create.
Regardless of what you choose to do, have fun with it!
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