My fascination with gingerbread houses began as a child, after seeing the cover of my mother’s Cooking of Germany (Time-Life books, 1969), featuring a simple gingerbread house decorated with cookies and candy.
I recall baking the gingerbread walls and roof according to the pattern provided, mixing up the royal icing to be used as the glue to bind the pieces and for the icicles dripping from the roof. I also remember some of the frustration along the way, trying to keep all the pieces in place while the icing dried - the roof pieces were always sliding off and had to be propped up. All I wanted to do was get through this first part of building the house so I could move on to the fun part of decorating with candy and cookies. What seemed like an eternity before reaching the decorating stage was, in actuality, probably only a few days. Little did I know, my gingerbread fascination would continue into my adult years and my gingerbread creations would become much more elaborate, now taking weeks to complete.
In 2007, John and I entered our first gingerbread competition, sponsored by Coronado Lifestyle Magazine. The rules simply required the structure to be something reminiscent of Coronado. During our morning walks with the Newfs, we discovered a historic cottage on Loma Lane and that became our inspiration.
Our gingerbread cottage was apparently cute enough to win!
Our First Place prize package included a two-night stay in one of the Mansion Suites at the Glorietta Bay Inn and tickets to the theater. We have yet to redeem our two-night stay, and I think it's about time for a little mini-vacation down the street!
The following year, we kept waiting for the announcement for Coronado Lifestyle's Third Annual Gingerbread Competition, but it never came. I heard about the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County's competition and called to inquire. The 15th Annual competition had just been announced for the season. Although most of the competitors are "premier chefs, artists and designers, we were invited to participate.
Based on the theme, Gingerbread and the City, each gingerbread artist was asked to create a recognizable structure found in any city, anywhere in the world. A few of the entries included: The winning Christmas at Philadelphia's City Hall, Second Place Ain't Misbehavin' at the San Diego Zoo, Christmas in the Gaslamp, Fanciful Victorian Queen Anne, San Diego Historical Courthouse, and St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow. There was also a hotel, theatre, spa, fire station, toy store, mission, and candy shop. A few of the gingerbread artists included chefs from the San Diego Culinary Institute, Hilton Torrey Pines, Pala Casino Spa & Resort, Roy's La Jolla, The Keating, and Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino.
Our entry, Brownstones & Batali, depicted a row of brownstones on one side; a rendition of Mario Batali’s BABBO restaurant, and the buildings on each side of BABBO, on the other side; West Village Florist on one end; and Mario Batali’s Italian Wine Merchants on the other end. Here's the Brownstones side, with the Flower Shop on the end.
Close up of West Village Florist
Close up of the Batali side with BABBO, and Italian Wine Merchants on the end.
Here's the real BABBO and adjoining buildings in New York. Although I have never dined at Babbo NYC, it was such a compliment to overhear one of the women at the Gala gleefully exclaim how our gingerbread BABBO looked exactly like the real thing!
Close up of Mario's Italian Wine Merchants (with edible ink printed on frosting paper for the wine inside the window.
Although we didn't win, our creation provided many hours (weeks!) of enjoyment and was auctioned off at the Gala to help support San Diegans with epilepsy. I was also thrilled to receive a personal reply from Mario Batali's Press Secretary after forwarding some photos to BABBO.
The Gingerbread and the City Gala was held at the Hilton Torrey Pines, and featured live entertainment, silent and live auctions, and over 15 celebrity chef stations, each with a featured course. My favorite local chef, Martin Woesle of Mille Fleurs, served Soup of "Musque de Provence" and Pumpkin-Cinnamon Croutons. Another favorite dish of the evening was Braised Beef Short Rib, Charred Asparagus, Crushed Potatoes, Point Reyes Blue Cheese Foam, by Chef Jeff Thurston, The Prado at Balboa Park.
This year, the San Diego Epilepsy Foundation invited us back for Gingerbread City 2009: The Greatest Stories Ever Told. As indicated in our invitation: This year's gala will feature interpretations of some of the greatest books ever written. Your imagination is your only limit, take cues from the book, movie creations of the book, pop culture that arose from the book, etc.
After reviewing the list of suggested books, including Gone with the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, The Hobbit, Cinderella, and Where the Wild Things Are, we chose The Wizard of Oz.
This year, there are two categories: Petite (base no larger than 20 x 20 inches); and Grand (4 x 4 foot base with no height restriction). We are entered in the Grand category.
Rules, Judging & Prizes:
- Creations may convey any theme but must represent the book selected;
- Structure should be comprised of mainly gingerbread, with the remaining materials comprised of other edible confectionary materials such as pastillage, gum paste, marzipan, and rolled fondant;
- Prevent structure collapse!!! The frame (base, reinforcements, etc.) may be made of non-edible materials;
- Entire structure must be covered in edible materials;
- Decorations may include lights and small motors, but ALL other decorations must be edible materials;
- Please use preservatives. Structures are for display purposes;
- All structures will be judged using a standard 5 point scale, based on the following criteria: Originality/Creativity, Precision, Overall Appearance, Difficulty, and Consistency of Theme/Category;
- Prizes/Grand Category: First Place, $2,500; Second Place, $1,000. Petite Category: First Place, $1,000; Second Place, $500.
My plan is to post a weekly entry to There's a Newf in My Soup! so you can follow along. We are not professional chefs and are still learning as we go, but I do believe this will be our most elaborate creation to date. Last year, we found out about the competition late and did not have the time to complete alot of the detail work we planned. This year, the details are crucial. Our initial drawings include primary gingerbread structures for Munchkin Land houses, Dorothy's broken Kansas house, Tin Man Cabin, Wicked Witch Castle, and Emerald City. We also envision the yellow brick road weaving across the base from Munchkin Land to the Emerald City, with farmland, corn fields, forests and poppy fields along the way. If were're able, there will be miniature characters made of gumpaste, including at least Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion.
I hope you'll subscribe to There's a Newf in My Soup and join us on our journey down the yellow brick road to Gingerbread City 2009 - The Greatest Stories Ever Told. Of course, we welcome any ideas, suggestions and comments along the way! My goal is to post regularly about our progress, with lots of photos. In between, I will continue with my Daring Cooks' and Daring Bakers' Challenges, holiday food posts, and any other interesting things that come out of the kitchen!
Denise & John