Jewels: A couple years ago one of my members, Erin (an insanely talented artist herself) asked me to vote for her friend Kristen in a gingerbread competition, and I was so blown away at what I found, I just had to share it with you again on this Christmas Eve, since it “Tis the night before Christmas…”
You already know Tatjana and I have had fun tinkering with gingerbread since she was an itty bitty, but this was off the charts! Did any of you watch Food Network’s Challenge? I’ve always wondered how those gargantuan confectionery dreams became a reality, don’t you? Well here is a “behind the scenes look” into designing and executing one of the most fabulous gingerbread houses I’ve ever seen!
Kristen: Twas the night before the big gingerbread competition and all through the bakery – not a food allergen was stirring; wait, we don’t have food allergens in our facility. The gingerbread men were “glued” to the scene with care – in hopes that the gingerbread judges soon would be there. The exhausted yet excited bakers were nestled all snug in their beds – while visions of allergen-free gingerbread danced in their heads.
When the Stamford Museum & Nature Center asked Izzi B’s Allergen-Free Cupcakes to participate in their 3rd Annual Visions of Gingerbread III: The Sweetest Architects exhibition and contest, it was like Christmas came early for us. (Hey, we work at a cupcake company — every day is Christmas.) But, this was pretty special. The parameters were to create a tribute to architectural confections that dazzle and amaze, using ONLY food. And for us, only allergen-free food. From the surface upwards, everything needed to be edible. No support props (toothpicks, dowels, etc.). No cute plastic figurines. Nada.
As an allergen-free bakery, we want everyone to know there are options when it comes to making smarter, healthier food choices, especially treats, so we jumped at the chance to participate in this competition.
The Challenge: Design and create an all allergen-free, edible gingerbread house and scene. All of the candy, frosting and edible props must be allergen-free and artificial dye-free, too. When we looked for the perfect allergen-free candy to decorate, we wanted to buy from like-minded small businesses, and we met some wonderfully nice new friends along the way, at Indie Candy in Birmingham, AL, and Natural CandyStore in San Francisco. (Isn’t that what the season is really all about?)
The Process: Well, it wasn’t all holly jolly. This was not an easy project! It felt like there were obstacles at every step of the way, but we held true to our mission: everyone deserves a cupcake–or in this case, a gingerbread house. We donned Santa hats, cranked up the holiday music, and began testing allergen-free gingerbread recipes. Making the gingerbread was the easy part. Izzi B’s owner, Pam Nicholas, is a trained chef and surprised us with a perfect version on almost her first try. We then played with some shapes using lots of Long Lost Cookie Cutters (ya know, all the ones you collect over the years and never even open.) Oh, what fun it was to finally use them.
This led us to our discussion on the actual design of the scene. The board was about 2′ by 3′. Our initial idea was pretty ambitious: make the board into a rounded dome and build the dream gingerbread bakery literally sitting on top of the world, aka the North Pole. We’d color the globe with green for the continents, blue for the oceans. We’d have small houses and gingerbread men placed around the globe, each labeled with a different food allergy organization’s logo. But when we tried to actually build a gingerbread dome, logistics dictated that the dome idea had to go, and go fast. However, we kept the North Pole idea, the small houses and gingerbread men.
Then we thought it would be neat to use rubber stamps to decorate the houses and gingerbread. Except the gingerbread wasn’t perfectly flat, and the “ink” didn’t stick the stamp evenly So, we ended up hand painting the logos and the “no” signs, as well as our logo on the awning of the gingerbread house, using all-natural plant-based food coloring.
The special “glue”, commonly known as royal icing, we developed needed to be placed on thick. The gingerbread walls and roofs were heavy. I mean really heavy. And the royal icing takes a long time to dry. A really, really long time. We were two days away from delivery and the royal icing was still a little soft. We gave it one more overnight, and luckily it hardened. (Mostly. We ended up having to make a second trip to the museum to resuscitate one gingerbread man and rebuild a house, but that’s why it pays to have some extra “glue” in the pantry.)
Now we had this 2′ x 3′ base with a height of between 12″ and 18″, extremely fragile, not-quite-yet dry gingerbread masterpiece and we needed to deliver it ourselves to the museum 15 miles away. Uh, what? In the back of one of our SUVs, we placed copious amounts of bubble wrap, the creation and Pam. Driving slowly enough on highway to be considered hazardous, we made it. In one piece. It is now safely and securely on display at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center for the six weeks of their exhibit and competition.
The Outcome: See for yourself! Open voting for fan favorites takes place from November 12 to December 18, either at the museum or on the museum’s website. Who knows? Maybe Christmas really will come early for us. The gingerbread judge sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle (that’s you!), and away they all flew to vote on their smart phones and computers, but I heard him exclaim, ‘ere it was too late, “Happy Holidays to all, and to all a great cupcake!” Please help us get the VOTE out to help support Izzi B’s the food allergy/healthier lifestyle – just because everyone deserves a cupcake (Jewels’ favorite food group). The end.
* This post was originally run in 2011 – voting has long since closed.