Inspired by the Grove Park Inn‘s annual Gingerbread House Contest, we wanted to know what it really takes to make a show-stopping cookie cottage. Nicholas Lodge, an acclaimed sugar craft artist and instructor who has been a judge in the competition since 2004, knows a thing or two about which details can make the difference, and we got him to spill the (jelly)beans. These tips aren’t just for the pros – you can use them in making your own gingerbread creations.
Make your list and check it twice. Even in the Youth category, this is no child’s play. Everything must be edible except the gingerbread house’s base board. One year, a train-shaped entry using rock candy was disqualified due to the string inside the candy. Another time, a contestant forgot to remove the foil covering of Starlight Mints. Nicholas advises bakers to fortify houses with a strong foundation, because they’re on display at the Grove Park Inn until January 2. “Plan well in your structural design,” advises judge Lodge. “It’s just like building a real house, the foundation is very important.”
Take a trip to Home Depot. Sure, a good rolling pin is key to preparing your construction gingerbread base, but that’s not all. Making your own metal gingerbread mold yields some of the best and most unique house shapes. Lodge also recommends a pizza cutter for perfect edges.
No need to sugarcoat. Everybody thinks of candy as the main act for decorating gingerbread houses; but, according to the rules of the competition, as long as its edible, it’s fair game. Mushroom shingles, anyone?
Stick with what you know. One of Lodge’s personal favorites in the competition was a small, unassuming grand prize winner with incredible attention to detail from a few years ago. He urges against over-ambition in favor of creativity and confidence.