‘Tis the season for gingerbread houses! But after you bake your cookies, don’t reach for the candy canes just yet — you’ve gotta know which icing to use, or risk sub-par houses. Because in the realm of royal icing, fondant and buttercream, one stands out from the rest as the best icing for gingerbread houses — and there’s one you should most definitely avoid.
Royal icing is the go-to choice for gingerbread house construction because it “glues” your house together. The icing starts crusting quickly, and once it’s set it’s hard, so you can use it to piece together your walls and roof. Once the house is put together, you can then use royal icing to secure any candy decorations, pipe pretty designs, or add borders to your house. Heck, you could even pipe accent gingerbread cookies so you have accompanying decorations (or mid-decorating snacks).
Whether you buy it or make your own, fondant works well on gingerbread houses, too. It’s particularly handy if you want to add color to your walls — instead of flooding your cookies and waiting for them to set, you can quickly top them off with a sheet of rolled-out fondant.
Fondant is also super easy to control and work with, making it ideal for adding texture to your gingerbread house — you could, for example, emboss fondant with brick texture mats or create a thatched roof effect and scour it with a veining tool. If you want even more decor, use fondant to add extra 3D elements, like plunger-cut snowflakes to the roof or mini snowballs to the gingerbread yard. You could even make fondant characters, like Santa Claus and snowmen, to live in your cookie creation.
Regardless of what you decide, to stick fondant to a cookie simply brush a little light corn syrup onto it and lightly press the fondant piece to the cookie using an icing smoother. That’s it!
While buttercream is easy to whip up and a favorite frosting for cakes, it’s something you should always avoid when decorating gingerbread houses. The fat from the butter will seep into your cookies, making them soft and causing a cookie catastrophe. (Read: soft cookies don’t stand very well, so your whole house will cave in on itself.) And although buttercream is easy to pipe, it isn’t strong enough to hold the panels of your house together.
That said, if you have buttercream you just need to use, there are ways to work around your gingerbread. One idea: pipe Christmas trees using ice cream cones. Another: spread white chocolate buttercream around the house (without touching the walls) to make a snowy yard. So long as it’s not in contact with the cookies, you can make your buttercream work!