The secret to the best royal icing for your gingerbread house

You might not have realized it's a thing, but we have: every holiday season celebrity chefs post pictures of their gingerbread houses. Alton Brown, for example, is showcasing a bizarre, Die Hard-themed gingerbread house made by his daughter, Zoey. Buddy Valastro, on the other hand, made a 13-foot tall gingerbread house in November, spackled, per Food Network, "with real gingerbread cookies and decorated with so. much. candy." (YUM.)

There's no denying it: both gingerbread creations are impressive. But watching Valastro and his family put together the giant house was especially eye-opening: not because of the final, gorgeous, product, but because of the enormous (boundless, cosmic) amounts of icing that went into the project. Gingerbread may be the star of the gingerbread house, but the royal icing that holds it together is its manager. Or, if you prefer superhero-themed analogies: if gingerbread cookies are Batman, the royal icing is definitely Robin. So, while you've, undoubtedly, spent time perfecting your gingerbread cookie-making skills, we thought we'd step in to make sure you didn't forget about its sidekick. 

The secret ingredient to the perfect royal icing

This isn't astrophysics. A good, royal icing needs only three ingredients: confectioners' sugar, warm water, and, all importantly, meringue powder (via Wilton). All you'll need to do is beat the three together — about four cups of sugar, five tablespoons of warm water, and three tablespoons of meringue powder, until peaks form. You can even use one tablespoon less water for a thicker royal icing. Don't worry. You want your icing to be thick for gingerbread construction. You can always thin it out later with a teaspoon of water at a time until you've reached your desired consistency.

If you don't have meringue powder, don't sweat it, The Pioneer Woman says. You can go the traditional route and use egg whites and lemon juice instead. If you're going this route, you'll need one 1/2 of a strained lemon for every large egg white you use (via The Food Network). Allrecipes also suggests you add a bit of almond extract for flavor. But, just like extra shots of flavor in your favorite Starbucks Frappuccino (What is: their secret menu candy cane frapp for 1,000, please), this step is completely optional. That's it. You're off to the races.