The Ultimate Gingerbread Baking & Decorating Guide

Make gingerbread the highlight of your Christmas celebration with these amazing tips, recipes and how-tos.

 

What makes gingerbread, well, gingerbread? Recipes will tell you that it’s the blend of sticky molasses, warm ginger and wintery spices like cloves and cinnamon. But home bakers like us know that gingerbread is so much more than the sum of its ingredients.

Gingerbread is a celebration of coming together for the holiday. You’ve shared stories of how Grandma used to bake gingerbread cake and the smell that filled her kitchen was a signal that the holidays had arrived. And you’ve told us about the time when the little ones spilled the entire container of sprinkles as “decoration” for their gingerbread people. And who could forget about those big soft ginger cookies you couldn’t help but steal from Santa’s plate?

Do you have a favorite gingerbread memory? Share it with us.

However you celebrate, let us help. Keep reading for recipes, tips, decorating ideas and pretty much everything else you need to make gingerbread magic this year.

Gingerbread Houses

How to Build a Gingerbread House Store Bought

Building and decorating a gingerbread house is a time-honored (and fun!) tradition that’s the perfect excuse to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holidays. This year, try your hand at making a gingerbread house from scratch. Intimidated? Don’t be! Just check out our handy guide for how to make a gingerbread house for step-by-step instructions. Short on time? Here’s a list of our favorite gingerbread house kits that come together quickly.

Pro tip: Having a hard time getting those panels to align? Try our tough-as-mortar gingerbread house icing recipe. For best results, grab a couple of canned foods from the pantry and use them to prop up the walls as the icing dries. (And if that doesn’t work, there’s no shame in hot glue. Because who eats their gingerbread house, anyway?)

Once you have your gingerbread structure, it’s time for the fun part: decorating! Use this as an opportunity to clean out your baking cabinet and go crazy with candies, sprinkles and colored frosting. Check out our editor’s picks above for products from Wilton, World Market and Sur la Table that’ll really make your edible abode shine.

Pro tip: Organize your candies in a spare muffin tin. Sort sprinkles into one well and bundle the gumdrops in the next. So long, messy spills!

Our favorite idea for the holidays? Turn gingerbread house decorating into an excuse to party! Here’s how to throw a pop-up gingerbread party you’ll want to host year after year.

For more inspiration, take a look at some of our favorite gingerbread house ideas:

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Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cutout Cookies

While a gingerbread house might be the centerpiece of your holiday table—gingerbread cookies are what you’ll really want to eat. Treat the family (and yourself!) to something extra-special with a batch of fresh-baked gingerbread cookies. Whether you go for classic cut-outs, soft-and-billowy cookies or something new (like these gingerbread s’mores) you’ll definitely end up on Santa’s nice list this year.

Pro tip: What makes a gingerbread cookie soft or crisp? It boils down to the use of a leavening agent, like yeast, baking soda or baking powder. These ingredients release carbon dioxide when baked, which makes cookies come out nice and fluffy. Leave these out and you’ll be left with a flat, crispy cookie. Read our complete guide for how to make gingerbread cookies to learn more.

Don’t forget to decorate these spicy cuties! Grab some royal icing, sprinkles or edible marker (see how we use it!) to make your creations stand out on the dessert table. For a make-shift piping bag, snip off the corner of a zip-top bag and fill with icing for fine lines.

Pro tip: Tint white frosting with liquid, gel or paste food coloring. Liquid coloring will produce a pastel color while gel and paste create a deep hue. Get our complete guide to learn more.

Here are more ways to bring classic gingerbread men cookies to life:

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Gingerbread Cake

Taste of Home

If you’re looking for a vintage take this classic holiday flavor, an old-school gingerbread cake is definitely the way to go. Gingerbread cake became popular in colonial America because it was made with molasses, a cheaper alternative to sugar at the time. In more modern days, this fluffy and soft spice cake will look gorgeous on any dessert table. Try these recipes:

It doesn’t take much to make these deep-dark beauties shine. For extra flair consider baking your cake in a Bundt pan (here are our favorite picks!) or serve it on a pretty platter.

Topping-wise, a dusting of powdered sugar makes a pretty finish. You can also add more flavor try adding a dollop of homemade whipped cream or drizzle of caramel sauce.

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More Gingerbread Desserts

There’s no need to limit yourself to houses, cakes or cookies. You can incorporate gingerbread flavors into just about any treat. Dig into these flavorful gingerbread waffles on Christmas morning or try a scoop of our no-churn gingerbread ice cream. Mmm! Here are our absolute best recipes that take the flavor of gingerbread and turn it into something new:

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“As a child, I remember my mother making a gingerbread house once. As she explained, “It was very important that you be able to eat every single piece of it.” Therefore, we had to be very creative with our people, trees, chimney smoke etc. After we finished it and displayed it throughout the holiday season the anticipation of munching away on it was torment! One year, Mom pulled a fast one on all five of us and announced,  she was going to store it with all the other Christmas decorations and we would bring it out every year. That’s exactly what she did, to all our dismay. The following Christmas we sat again in anticipation as she pulled out all the decorations only to find out that the “attic mice” had a grand old time munching out on our gingerbread house over the last year! — Anonymous

“Whenever my mom made gingerbread (cake or rolled cookies) she would always top it off with a simple powdered sugar icing with a ‘special ingredient’: maple extract! This seems to bring out the flavor without overpowering the gingerbread.” —Anonymous

“Every year my family and I have our annual gingerbread house competition. Most of the time, I win! This is a tradition that we will forever treasure and hopefully will be passed down as it brings us closer together!” — Anonymous

“I remember one of my favorite memories making gingerbread was the day before Christmas when one of my friends brought over a gingerbread house kit. We never got the icing to stick to we ended up hot glueing the entire thing!” — Anonymous