Hoppo Bumpo (n): A children's game. Played by folding one's arms and hopping on one leg. Aim is to bump opponents, so that they lose their balance. Last person standing wins.

December 18, 2008

Gingerbread-Cottage-Along: construction and decoration

Previously on Gingerbread-Cottage-Along ...
Introducing the cottage-along
Selecting a gingerbread recipe
Selecting a template
Humidity proofing your house
A gingerbread recipe with a twist

This is the second last of my gingerbread-cottage-along posts. Next week I will be jumping right in and making a cottage - and hopefully sharing some photos. If you are making a cottage too, I hope you will show us too!

On your marks, get set ...

Once you have your gingerbread recipe and cottage pattern, you can make your pieces ahead of time. It is best to make the pieces a day ahead to ensure that the gingerbread has cooked and firmed properly.

Prior to baking, make any decisions about placement of doors, windows and other cut-aways. Carefully cut your windows and doors out before baking (unless you are using Norma's recipe). If you want to cut other small decorative shapes - such as small hearts or circles - do this before baking too. Try not to make cut-outs too large, as you might remove some of the structural stability of the piece.

If you would like "glass" in your windows, you can sprinkle a layer of crushed boiled sweets (hard candies) in the windows before the gingerbread goes into the oven. The sweets will melt during the baking, forming glass.

Finally, make sure the gingerbread pieces are nice and even. You might need to do a little trimming right after baking to square up the walls, roof and other pieces. This is best done while the gingerbread is still slightly warm and with a serrated knife. Place your template pieces back on top of the gingerbread and use these as a guide for cutting. It is also important to make sure that non-load bearing pieces, such as the roof, are not overly thick and therefore, too heavy.

Store your baked pieces in an airtight container until you are ready to assemble your cottage.

Home base

Before assembling your cottage you will need to find a suitable base. A purchased cake board is ideal, but equally you can make your own from a sturdy piece of board, such as masonite or plywood. Cardboard is also OK, but it has to be very thick and strong. Simply cover your board with heavy weight paper or aluminium foil. Alternately you could use a tray or a large plate.

Remember when considering the size of your base, that the cottage will need a little room around it. You may want to put some garden around the cottage, but a little space for gripping the board to carry it is rather handy too!

Before getting started you may like to also cover your base with a layer of rolled out white fondant icing. The icing could be left white (for a snowy effect) or coloured (say green, for grass). This step is, however, entirely optional.


When you are ready to assemble your house, you will need to make the "glue" to cement the pieces together. The most common method is to use royal icing, but some people use melted sugar. (Note: melted sugar is exceptionally hot and can cause dreadful burns, so is unsuitable for children to use).

Royal icing is typically used in cake decorating. Its an icing sets very hard and is commonly used for cake and cookie decoration. Sugar aside, the key ingredient in this icing is raw egg white. If you are pregnant or wish to avoid raw egg due to salmonella concerns, you can use powder albumin or meringue powder. These are pasteurised, powdered versions of egg white and usually available in cake decorating stores. If you are vegan or have an egg allergy, I have posted some links to egg-free royal icing recipes.

There are various royal icing recipes about.

Link to Google search for royal icing recipes

Make sure you use pure icing/confectioner's sugar when you make up your royal icing. Some sugars are packaged with a measure of cornstarch to prevent clumping. The starch makes royal icing soft and it tends to not set so well. Many recipes contain lemon which helps whiten the icing and dry the surface quickly. Alternately you might find cream of tartar is used. This acidic ingredient also helps set the icing quickly.

Once you have made your icing keep it carefully covered with cling film or a damp tea-towel, or it will start to crust and dry before you can use it. Its best made up at the time that you wish to use it.


Make sure you allow yourself enough time to assemble the cottage (I have been known to put one together on Christmas morning, which is a completely ridiculous idea) and have plenty of "props" to hand. Props are things like tins, which can sit against a wall or under a roof piece to stabilise it while the icing is setting.

To make up your cottage take a wall and pipe (with a piping bag and nozzle) or spread a line of icing along the bottom edge, then position on the base. If you have someone helping you, ask them to hold the wall in place. Alternately place a prop next to it. Working your way round the cottage, add the adjacent walls in the same manner. Fill the wall seams on the inside and outside with a bit more icing, to cement it well. If you have quick setting icing and the walls fit together nicely, this will be a simple process (less likely). If you find it all a bit wobbly, keep using props to keep everything upright until its setting firmly (more likely).

Some people say you should wait up to 12 hours before adding the roof pieces. And even then if you are super-cautious, add just one panel at a time, leaving drying time in between. I have made a number of cottages all in one sitting. It depends on how stable you find the cottage is and how quickly the icing is setting. If your pattern is incredibly elaborate, I'd allow for the extra drying time.

To attach the roof, you pipe or spread icing on the seams and match it to the walls of the house. Some people recommend using crossed wooden skewers iced to the inside of the roof, to increase the strength. If this is your first house, doing this might give you a bit of extra confidence.

I have only had one irretrievable cottage disaster in my time. It involved a complete cave-in and was due to rushing and a good measure of carelessness. On the whole, it is possible to save most mishaps. Pieces that crack or break, can be glued or covered with more icing. You can also brace a dodgy piece with some cardboard or more royal icing on the inside. Icing really is the key here - you can never use too much. Take a look at most mass produced or commercial cottages and you will notice that icing features generously.


After allowing your cement work to dry, it is time for the really fun part - decoration. You will need more royal icing for this task. You can pipe designs onto your cottage or glue on sweets or both. I read somewhere that "less really is more" when it comes to decorating a cottage. Pah to that, I say. If you want to cover your cottage from top to bottom swirly ornamentation and sweets, then go ahead!

Shiny dragees/cashous, nonpareils/sprinkles, sanding sugars, chocolate buttons, candy canes, gumdrops and jellies and other sweets all make marvellous decorations. You might like to made gingerbread trees or people to put in the garden. You are limited only by your imagination ... or ideas that you have borrowed from other people's creations!

Well, that's it folks. If there is anything I have forgotten to cover or you have any questions, let me know and I will try and answer them to the best of my ability. Good luck!

Next week: Show and tell - a finished gingerbread cottage

(Download 11-page PDF of all related posts)


  1. Oh, Liesl! What a lot of effort you've put into these tutorials! And I'm sorry to say, I haven't even been reading them - I've put it all in the too-hard-for-now basket, to be read thoroughly at a later stage when I'm feeling less rushed and more calm.

    I really look forward to seeing your finished house, though!

  2. Thought you'd like this: Over at Adventures in Ethics and Science, they are taking part in "Sustainable" and edible gingerbread houses (http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2008/12/edible_and_sustainable_constru.php)

    I can't wait to see it next week!

  3. What a dedicated Gingerbread House maker you are!! After catching a nasty cold I think I'm going to go with the pre-cut house and decorate with Moo - if I can stop her trying to eat it.....

  4. Thank you for all the tips! These are the houses we created:


  5. I saw that picture of freckles and basically wanted to eat the screen - do you think I need a chocolate fix? Cant wait to see the cottage in all its glory!


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