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Beyond the Gumdrop: 7 Ways to Step-Up Your Gingerbread House Game

a well decorated gingerbread house resting on a table between pine branches

Royal icing, candy canes, and gumdrops are standard fare when it comes to building a gingerbread house. But there’s no need to stop there! Build a manor worthy of the sweetest, festive treats using these easy gingerbread house hacks.

You don’t have to be an architect or a structural engineer to build a gingerbread house. Of course, those skills probably help. But even without an advanced degree, the boxed variety of gingerbread homes are pretty straight forward. They let you surpass the hardest step in spiced-biscuit home building: baking and cutting the gingerbread, leaving you with plenty of time to decorate.

Of course, most of those run-of-the-mill gingerbread kits come with pretty basic decor. But, with just a little creativity and a few common ingredients, you can take your pre-fab edible dwelling and make it something special.  So mix up a batch of royal icing, and let’s decorate some gingerbread.

Build a Better Roof with Nuts

A gingerbread house decorated with slivered almonds to simulate shingles
Life, Love, and Sugar

It’s common practice to decorate a gingerbread house with icing, right down to drawing the shingles on the roof. But, unless you’re a baker by trade or an artist with a piping bag, the roof tends to look less like a Christmas card and more like an ad for disaster relief.

There are many ways to avoid the intricate icing roof. Candies and sprinkles certainly work, as can a thick, solid layer of icing on it’s own.  But, for a more rustic take, try using nuts. Slivered almonds make for gorgeous shingles, but whole roasted ones work too! And for an extra special touch, try layering candied pecans.

Get the Recipe: Life Love and Sugar’s Nutty Gingerbread House

Candy Coated Sunflower Seeds

Candy coated sun flower seeds, adorning the window ledges of a gingerbread house
Not Without Salt

Sunflower seeds in clumps along the side of the gingerbread house, or as a front path, creates the illusion of gingerbread men sized stones, which is undeniably cute. But, cuter still, is using candy-coated ones to make strings of lights and Christmas wreaths.

You can buy brightly colored candy-coated sunflower seeds at most confectionary shops, or you can order them online. Clever placement in the windowsills, or around frosting wreaths complete the Christmas light effect.

Get the Recipe: NotWithoutSalt.com

Pretzel Windows and Doors

A gingerbread house covered in pretzels giving it a log cabin like appearance.
Victor Protasio/Real Simple

Rather than drawing on doors and windows with icing, use pretzel sticks. They give you a straight line to work with, and their resemblance to knobby wood branches is uncanny.  If you wanted to be super sweet, you could dip the ends of a few in white chocolate. When placed correctly, it will look like snow piling up at the front door.

Of course, you can also use pretzel sticks to line the walls or roof of your cookie cabin. The pretzels look like tiny logs, creating a perfect winter scene.

Get the Recipe: Real Simple’s Pretzel Log Cabin

The Gum Siding Trick

gum siding on gingerbread home

The walls of a gingerbread house run the risk of looking either too plain or completely overdone. Covering them with candies creates a fantastical cavern, but it hardly resembles a house by the time you’re through. And, leaving them empty makes the finished house look, well, unfinished.

But, there’s a way to easily decorate the outside of your gingerbread home, without much in the way of royal icing skills.  Use gum! Simply cut and place thin slices of gum in your favorite color to create a colorful and textured siding on your gingerbread house.

Get the Recipe: All For the Memories

Cookie Palm Trees

A gingerbread candy bungalow with palm trees.
Laura Gummerman/A Beautiful Mess

We love a good Christmas at the beach scene. There’s something pretty whimsical about Santa in sunglasses. But to really nail the look, you need a palm tree or two. Using profiterole cookies, you can easily create sugary palms. Just stand them up in icing, and use cut Airhead candies to create the leaves.

Get the Recipe: A Beautiful Mess

Rosemary Christmas Trees and Rice Krispie Bales

gingerbread barn, rosemary trees
Kate Merken

To create classic Christmas trees surrounding your gingerbread house, use sugar ice cream cones and rosemary. The sugar cones will give you the evergreen shape. Simply line them with icing and attach the rosemary sprigs. To give them a Christmas star, of sorts, use dried pineapple on top.

For more clever decor, smoosh some Rice Krispie treats between your fingers and roll them up into little bales of hay to decorate your baked-goods-barnyard.

Get the Recipe: Country Living- Rosemary Trees

There’s nothing wrong with a cookie-cutter gingerbread house, straight out of the box. But, you don’t have to leave it as is. With a few simple enhancements, you can wow the young and young at heart with an extraordinary gingerbread home.

Lauren Sakiyama Lauren Sakiyama
Lauren Sakiyama is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry. She has managed restaurants, country clubs, and large-scale event operations, but her passion has always been about the food. Read Full Bio »
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