How Disney Creates Its Massive Gingerbread Houses And Official Tips To Make Yours Better Than Ever

It's the most magical place on Earth, and it's only more so during the Christmas season. As soon as November hits, Disney World transitions from Halloween and goes into full holiday mode. A giant, 65-foot Christmas tree towers over Magic Kingdom, Main Street is lined with lights, garlands, and life-size nutcrackers, and Cinderella's Castle is draped with lights that twinkle along to music at the nightly light show. On top of that, massive gingerbread displays can be found scattered throughout properties in the park. 

And one of the park's most impressive Christmas displays, arguably the (gingerbread) pièce de résistance, sits inside of the lobby of the Grand Floridian Resort. Standing at 7 feet tall and 12 feet wide, the Grand Gingerbread House is a staple of the park's annual holiday festivities. Guests of all ages "ooh" and "aw" over the mind-blowing display of artistry, which only goes to show the dedication that goes into fostering the Christmas spirit at Disney World. 

On a recent trip to the park, Tasting Table stopped by the Grand Floridian resort to get the inside scoop from Chef Allie on what it takes to put these massive edible displays together, and how to make them last the entire season — and we took notes. Use these official tips to make your homemade gingerbread houses even better this season. 

Cure the gingerbread dough

The first tip that Chef Allie pointed out — and part of the reason why the displays at Disney take so long to complete — is that gingerbread should be cured (aka left to rest in the fridge) before it's baked. At Disney World, they actually cure their gingerbread dough for 30 days before it goes in the oven. In order to get the displays up in November, this process has to begin in May so that the dough is ready to be baked by July. 

It might seem like overkill, but it's necessary to get all of the pieces baked and secure for the house so that they last for the entire Christmas season. According to Chef Allie, curing the dough makes it come out firmer than it would normally, making it that much more secure when it comes time to construct the house. While you may not have to commit to curing your dough for that long, most Christmas gingerbread recipes recommend letting your dough sit in the fridge for several hours to a few days before you bake it. And before you start building, it also helps to give the dough a day or so to harden.

Use chocolate for support

Besides curing the dough, Chef Allie notes that using chocolate is another step Disney World takes to ensure all of their gingerbread pieces are extra-supported. When the structure is being built, the gingerbread pieces are all individually backed with coating chocolate, or couverture chocolate — the ideal chocolate type for tempering — which you should be able to find at your local grocery store. It's traced on by hand to every piece because it helps the baker's glue stick into place and stay. "When we put it on, you actually have to hear the snap of the chocolate. That's the trick when we train everyone," Chef Allie explains. The royal icing then seeps into the cracks and behind the chocolate to attach the gingerbread to it.

Sugar the sides of your gingerbread house

To make the royal icing stick to your gingerbread properly, Chef Allie offers another piece of advice: Sugar all of the sides of the gingerbread you plan to decorate with it. To do this, combine sugar and water and boil it until it reaches a softball stage, or the point when it reaches a temperature between 235-240 degrees Fahrenheit and it starts to form into a ball. Then, take a bristle brush, dip it into the mixture, and brush it onto the sides of your gingerbread pieces. You'll want to give it a bit of time to dry, but once it does, royal icing should stick to your gingerbread house beautifully.

Prevent cracking with tylose powder

One of Chef Allie's favorite ways to decorate gingerbread structures — including the ones you'll find at Disney World — is with fondant pieces, which are sturdy, yet easy to use for a variety of decorative pieces. However, to make sure that her sugar snowflakes and other festive touches maintain their shape and never crack, Chef Allie recommends adding tylose powder to your fondant recipe to make it more closely resemble gum paste. The final product can be rolled really thin, making it perfect for your more delicate decorations, and will dry extra hard. 

Use a fondant sheet to trace bricks and shingles

Besides added decorations like snowflakes, Chef Allie also recommends using fondant sheets to decorate the roof of your gingerbread houses. "It's a really neat way to give your gingerbread house that elevated look without going too crazy on the design itself," she says. But rather than freehanding the bricks and shingles, the chef recommends using a stamp (you can also use a cookie cutter) to make an imprint into the fondant pieces, which she then arranges on the gingerbread house and traces over with royal icing to add a snowy effect. 

Use a thin paintbrush for intricate designs

When it comes to the more delicate and detailed elements of your gingerbread house, Chef Allie says it's worth it to buy yourself a couple of paintbrushes. She prefers using a thin one to draw on thin wisps of icing or cocoa butter and to add tinier, more intricate designs. It's worth noting that you can even buy cocoa butter in a range of different colors (as opposed to mixing all your own with artificial food coloring), which is Chef Allie's preferred way to paint designs onto the gingerbread, chocolate, and sugar pieces used on the gingerbread structures on display at Disney World. 

The more piping tips the better

For the most festive gingerbread houses, Chef Allie recommends going all out with the piping tips. A large star one, a small round one, a half star, and a half leaf tips are just a few of her specific favorites, but really, the more the better. As she puts it, "the more tips you have, the more availability you have to make your gingerbread house really unique." You can find and purchase packs of tips from Walmart and Amazon, along with some piping tip couplers to save time and eliminate waste

Pipe royal icing decorations on wax paper

While piping tips are a great way to add unique designs to your gingerbread house, there are other tricks you should try. To create smaller, more intricate decorations like Chef Allie did with the poinsettias on the gingerbread house at Disney World this year, she recommends piping your royal icing designs onto a piece of parchment or wax paper to dry, and then applying the pieces to your structure. 

Chef Allie specifically says to opt for wax or parchment paper in this case, because your designs won't stick to the surface, and will be easy to transfer once dried. After about 24 hours, you should be able to pick it up and place it right onto the gingerbread using baker's glue or fresh royal icing. And if you sugared the sides of the gingerbread house as she recommended, it will stick easily and stay there all season. 

Check out Tasting Table's exclusive look at Disney World's Grand Gingerbread House to see the massive creation up close, and see more of Chef Allie's tips and tricks for your own holiday gingerbread house.