The classic way to glue a gingerbread house together is to use royal icing, which is a decorator icing that dries hard and acts as an edible glue.
Royal icing isn’t the same as regular cake icing, so you need to make sure that you’re using the right thing!
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Using a hardening icing is important because it will keep the house together as you decorate it, and later as it’s displayed.
To glue a gingerbread house together with icing, you need to use a strong royal icing that hardens, which is made with confectioner’s sugar, egg white or meringue powder, and water. It includes no fat at all, which makes it different than regular cake icing, and allows it to dry out quickly. It creates a strong bond for the gingerbread walls, so it’s a good icing to use for gingerbread house glue.
Royal icing recipe with meringue powder or egg whites.
The basic recipe for royal icing is 1 pound of confectioner’s sugar (about 4 cups,) 3 egg whites or 3 Tbsp of meringue powder, and 3 Tbsp water. Some recipes include cream of tartar or flavoring, but those aren’t really necessary. Beat the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, but be careful because the icing can be thick enough to burn out the motor of a hand mixer.
If the icing is too thick, add more water 1/4 tsp at a time to thin it out, but not too much.
Royal icing needs to be fairly stiff but still sticky enough to hold onto the gingerbread, and a tiny bit of water can make it too runny.
When the icing is stiff but still sticky, you can use it to glue the pieces of the house together.
How long can royal icing sit out?
Since royal icing has either egg whites or meringue powder in it, you need to treat it like it’s perishable.
You can use pasteurized egg whites to minimize the risk of salmonella, but it’s safest to tell yourself that you should be careful!
To store the icing, press a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the icing to prevent any air from getting in. This will keep the icing from drying out.
Refrigerate the icing if you won’t be using it due to the egg whites or meringue powder in it, then rewhip it before using it to test the consistency and make it less runny.
If you’re going to be working with the icing you can leave it in the mixer bowl as you’re working, and put a wet paper towel over the top of the bowl so that you can scoop out more icing as you need it.
The wet towel will keep the surface of the icing from drying out. But if you’re going to be away from your decorating for a while, put it in the fridge.
If the icing is going to be used in something that won’t be eaten, you don’t need to be as cautious with it, and leaving it out on the counter overnight is fine.
I’ll cover my bowl of icing with a layer of plastic wrap pressed onto the surface of the icing, then another layer covering the bowl completely to keep it from drying out.
As long as what you’re using the icing on is something that’s decorative and not meant to be eaten, it’s fine to handle it that way.
If you’re wondering about whether you can use regular icing to make gingerbread houses, click for an article that I wrote about that.
Can you buy royal icing?
You can buy royal icing in both mix and ready-to-use forms.
Since there’s no fat in royal icing, all you need to do to make it from a mix will be to add water and whip it until it’s stiff.
If you buy it pre-made in tubs, you might be running the risk of having it semi-dried out by the time that you get it, depending on how long it’s been between when it was made and when it was sold.
The safest option would be to get the dry mix and make as much as you need, a little at a time.
Since royal icing is meant to dry out, you’ll probably have the least wasted icing if you do it that way.
Icing in gingerbread house kits.
I used the icing that came with a gingerbread house kit, and it was obvious to me that it was just royal icing with some chemicals added to it. (It didn’t taste very good.)
I would suggest that if you plan on eating your house eventually, that you make your own icing and skip the premade stuff that comes with the kits.
It does have a nasty chemical taste, and regular royal icing is better for eating.
Gingerbread house building tips for royal icing.
- Build the houses the day before decorating them so that they have time to dry.
- If it’s really humid, make sure that your royal icing is stiffer than you think you’ll need it. It will soften up as it absorbs moisture from the air.
- When you’re building the house the royal icing usually needs to be a little stiffer than the icing that you use to decorate it later.
- A tiny bit of water added to the icing can make it too wet and runny. Be careful adding water, and if you need to dry the icing out just add more confectioner’s sugar and beat it until it’s stiffer.
- You can add some food coloring to the icing to tint it, but make sure not to add too much if it’s liquid color. Gel colors work well.
- Royal icing needs to be totally grease-free, so wash the bowl and beaters before making it, and keep fats like crisco and butter out of it!
- Cover the bowl with a damp paper towel while you’re working with the icing to keep it from drying out.
- If you’re in a super humid climate and you don’t mind not having the house be entirely edible, hot glue might be better than royal icing to glue the house together.
Start planning the house.
To start assembling your house kit, take all of the pieces out and identify what’s going to line up with what.
The parts that are usually the most confusing would be the sides, because they might be meant to go in either direction.
If there are any designs on the sides, they can help you figure out which side should go up.
See how long the sides are and how they line up with the front and back of the house.
This kit came with a little tray to stand the house in, which was convenient.
Deciding on the roof placement.
The other thing you’ll need to determine is whether the sides of the house should go on the inside or the outside of the house.
Depending on how you arrange these, the roof may or may not lie flat when you glue it on.
I decided to put my house sides on the inside of the front and back because that way the roof wouldn’t be lifted at the bottom by the top edge of the house side.
Either way that you do it, you might have a gap to fill with icing, but it doesn’t matter which way you choose.
Just do it however you want to. You can cover the edges with candy later!
Pipe designs on ahead of time.
If the house that you’re making will have piped designs on it, it’s generally easier to do the piping before the house is assembled.
If you’re not going to do that and will just be decorating with candy, you can assemble the house before doing any decorating on it.
Glue the house together.
The easiest way to build the house will be to put it on the tray or plate that it’s going to be stored on.
That way the houses can be moved around after they’re built and you won’t have to worry about picking them up on their own.
Starting with the front or back, add a line of icing on the edges of the house.
Press the two sides up against the icing stripes to attach them together. Add more icing if you need to.
Put icing on the back of the house and attach it to the other side of the house.
I was using the little tray that came in the kit to make sure it was square, but if you don’t have a tray just stand the house on a paper plate or the counter and make sure it’s lined up with the corners at right angles.
If the icing is soft or it’s humid, you might want to let the icing dry for a while to set up before you put the roof on.
If it’s really humid, let the house dry for a few hours.
You might have to prop the sides up with cans to keep them in place as the icing dries.
I used to live in Florida, and we used a lot of soup cans during gingerbread house construction.
When I moved to the Northeast and there was no humidity, I was shocked at how fast I was able to put a house together!
Add the roof.
When the base of the house is dry enough that it won’t fall apart, add some glue to the top edges of the house and place the roof section on top.
It might not fit flush against the wall section, but that’s okay, you can fill that gap in later.
Attach the second half of the roof by adding more icing to the top edge on the other side, as well as along the top of the first roof section.
Place the other roof part on top and line them up at the top.
Hold the roof in place until it feels like it’s stuck.
This is another situation where you might have to prop something up under the roof edges to keep them from sliding off the house if the icing is too thin, or if it’s too humid.
Let the house dry overnight or for at least an hour if you’re impatient.
If you start decorating the roof or the house before it’s totally dry it can cause it to fall apart.
When the house is completely dry, you can decorate it using more royal icing for glue to stick the candy onto the house.
If the icing has set out for any length of time, you might want to re-whip it to make it fluffier and less likely to run.
If there are gaps where the roof or walls aren’t completely attached to each other, you can fill them in with more royal icing before decorating.
You can also cover the gaps with large pieces of candy, like peppermints.
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