The Making of a Gingerbread House

Back in 2008, I wrote a funny blog post about entering my first (and to date only) gingerbread contest. To get you all geared up for this year’s HOLIDAY BAKE-OFF! I wanted to re-share.

As a reminder: there are still a few days to send me your favorite festive cookie or candy recipe. It need NOT be salt-free or original; I’ll be adapting submissions and as long as you provide the source (whether Great Aunt Milly or The Joy of Cooking) it’s all good! So send me your recipes!! Details here.

Now onto the show!

Long ago I entered a competitive gingerbread contest…..

[INSERT WAVY MEMORY LINES …]

The year: 2006. The Place: Philadelphia. Bush Jr. was in the White House. Gas was $2.23 a gallon. And I was feeling the heady surge that was completion of my first culinary course “Cake Decorating I.” My instructor suggested I undertake the annual Peddler’s Village Gingerbread Competition. Being a complete novice as well as over-confident newbie, I said what the heck. Although I’d never created anything out of gingerbread before (not even cookies), I was PSYCHED. After all, my cakes looked better than they ever had. No gloppy sides and hanging out middles for me! No Sirree! And so, ignorant of the fact that this competition is PROFESSIONAL GRADE ALL THE WAY, I dove into the gingerbread pond headfirst.

The contest rules state ALL VISIBLE MATERIALS must be edible. I knew I was going to need a sturdy structure. Something interesting, yet not too difficult to build. I thought if I did something a little bit different, it might score me bonus points. And then it hit me. I would do a CHURCH! It was Christmas after all. The judges were bound to love that. And so I decided I’d build a small chapel. Simple and clean. An unadorned building with a steeple and humble stained glass windows. I would surround it w/ a shallow “stone” wall and to the side & back I’d lay a graveyard. Oooooh. This was IT.

I had to design the building = draw it out the way I envisioned, and then craft the dimensions. I cut each piece out of cardboard to use as a template with the actual dough. And so it began.

Each piece had to be individually measured, cut, remeasured and then baked. I used the back of an ancient cookie sheet circa 1980, b/c I didn’t have anything better. It worked. The most important thing is precision, and I took my time. The last bit I needed to make were the windows – since they had to be affixed internally. I made them out of broken-up lifesavers I melted in the oven.

Finally all of the pieces were done & I was ready to start assembling the structure. The base had to be a flat piece of wood. I forget the exact dimensions now, but my husband gave me a piece of scrap from the basement. I must mention once again, as a newbie, I had no idea you could cheat your way through this competition. I now know people glue their stuff to the base, and do all sort of “tricks” to get ahead. But, for good or for bad, my entry was 100% legit. The only adhesive keeping my church together was icing. YES, sticky and hard as hell once dry, but simply icing nonetheless.

Finally the structure was standing.. on its OWN! Now for the details and decoration. I’d made gingerbread “wreaths” to decorate. On the frosting went.

gb9

The miniature tombstones were painted grey w/ watered-down food paint, then planted in the snowy coconut yard. The retaining wall was made of dried beans and frosting. It took me FOREVER to build – and I am not kidding. If I’d laid one more bean I would have screamed bloody murder.

I did like the effect of the tombstones. Too bad I didn’t know they’d be BLOWN OUT OF THE GRAVEYARD by the stellar competition.

Here it is, completed. You can see the proud gleam in my eye, of hope and happiness and every other good and noble thing. Note also the crucificial positioning of my arms and hands, which will definitely come in handy later.

It’s a damn shame I didn’t know my poor pathetic church would be competing with the likes of (insert competition)

Oh well. At least I tried my best.

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26 thoughts on “The Making of a Gingerbread House

    1. I love your house! We decorated a pre-made kit years ago. Can’t remember whether we ate any of the rock-hard structure, but I do recall going to town on the candy. Gingerbread houses are so much fun.

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  1. My first gingerbread house (about 3 years ago) collapsed on my gingerbread man. It was a gory scene…..but still delicious. I just ate my house and watched my cousin create her masterpiece.

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    1. Hey, thanks C – you’re so kind. I was proud of my efforts, despite failing miserably in the contest. Guess it’s just another gentle reminder not to measure yourself against others. The white house and radio city music hall are important places, but so is that humble country church.

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  2. Oh my goodness, this is such a good story!! Laugh out loud funny with the competition (Tiffany presents no less, at the White House)…I was engrossed with your project, and I would NEVER have been able to create what you did. I thought your church was just beautiful. I wish I was creative like that. I’m more of the sloppy falling over cake maker, and I have a sad picture of a black forest cake attempt to prove it. I don’t even own a cake pan…I thought a small bread loaf pan would work. Like I said, it was sad. 😉

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    1. Some of the tastiest treats come out of loaf pans! And perfect cakes are often tasteless. So don’t think less of yourself! Thanks for the lovely comment. I enjoy trying new things, even when others top my efforts by a mile. It’s all a part of life. 🙂

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  3. It’s beyond impressive, Dishy!
    Even if I could refrain from eating the materials I couldn’t handle a gingerbread ‘tent’… or even a gingerbread ‘tarp’ (as in one flat piece of gingerbread)!
    🙂

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  4. Your gingerbread church is so charming! Great work, I think, and what patience you have. I love all the details – the stained glass windows, wreaths, the icicles dripping off the roof, and the wall. Okay, I love everything. AND congratulations on your book! I do know how hard it is to make salt-free soup taste amazing. What a great idea for a cookbook which will be helpful to many.

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    1. Linda, you are so lovely and I appreciate your sentiments SO much. My gingerbread church (now sadly long gone) would be warmed to its cookie cockles!

      As for the book and salt-free soup, you know how hard it is – you do! I hope that the book not only helps those on a restrictive diet but people in general. Processed food isn’t terrible in small quantities, but commercially canned soup is so notoriously high in sodium, it’s a death wish when eaten long-term.

      Thank you for your support & friendship!

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  5. I am wowed by this amazing homemade Gingerbread house!!! Delicious looking and definitely a work of an artist….baker -architect- painter combo! I salute you for bringing the joys and traditions of Christmas in a warm, heartfelt, fun and festive way. I made a pre-made gingerbread house and I can’t even perfect it. I need to show this to my son. He would love your creations.
    Wishing you and your family all the blessings of love, peace, joy and good health this Christmas and everyday. A toast for making it in 2011 and to here’s to an amazing 2012 for all of us.

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