By Kristen Nowak Winn
Thereâ€™s an easy way and a hard way to build a gingerbread house. But no matter which route you take â€” from a kit or from scratch â€” itâ€™s all about the candy.
Glittering gumdrops, red licorice twists, mounds of M&Ms and creamy caramels make mouths water. And whether youâ€™re partial to peppermints or crazy about chocolate, itâ€™s enough to inspire even the most novice baker to spend a little time in the kitchen during the holiday season.
â€œItâ€™s just fun. I mean who doesnâ€™t love candy?â€ said Anna Weisend of Brunswick Hills Township, a professional pastry chef who runs her own company, The Grand Finale, out of her home. â€œEven if youâ€™re not going to eat it all, itâ€™s just fun to look at, all the colors and everything. And itâ€™s kind of like being a kid again. You get to do all this stuff, and you get to be creative, and thereâ€™s really no way to totally mess it up.â€
Professional pastry chef Anna Weisend of The Grand Finale in Brunswick Hills Township shows a few of her gingerbread creations. (Shirley Ware | Photo Editor)
But if itâ€™s a challenge you seek, Weisend can speak to difficult gingerbread house construction. Throughout the year, she bustles around her kitchen, designing elaborate wedding cakes, but during the holiday season, she also lends her expertise to some rum balls and gingerbread.
So if you want to think really big, stop by Gingerbread Lane at Tower City in downtown Cleveland and take a peek at her gingerbread mansion, which will be auctioned off at 7 p.m. Dec. 18 along with other gingerbread creations as a benefit for Welcome House. The organization operates group homes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Cuyahoga County.
Inspired by the Amasa Stone house from Millionaireâ€™s Row in 1858, Weisend said this edible masterpiece â€” reminiscent of something youâ€™d see on a Food Network Challenge â€” took her about 100 hours to complete.
â€œThat was mostly because I so desperately wanted to do this house, and there were about 90 pieces involved,â€ Weisend said.
And in order to get those perfect angles, Weisend had to dig out the power tools.
â€œThere was so much gingerbread dust all over our house,â€ Weisend said. â€œIt was like sawdust.â€
Chances are, you might not tackle a gingerbread house that involves using a sander or grinder, but that doesnâ€™t mean even the easiest design canâ€™t steal the spotlight as a dining room table centerpiece.
â€œIf you really want to go basic, you can actually buy a kit and then attach the candy, which is the funnest part,â€ Weisend said.
But if youâ€™d rather bake, she suggests going to the library or online to find patterns. Make sure to use a gingerbread recipe made for houses, because the dough will otherwise lose its shape.
When youâ€™re ready, trace your pattern on a piece of cardboard, and use that to cut out the gingerbread. Weisend recommends picking a house about 4-inches by 6-inches to start.
â€œIf you go too small itâ€™s hard, if you go too large itâ€™s hard,â€ she said.
After the gingerbread has finished baking, assemble it with royal icing, a meringue and powdered sugar-based icing that dries almost cement hard.
â€œItâ€™s basically edible glue,â€ Weisend said. â€œThat will hold your house together. And once that dries, then you can start doing the fun stuff. Basically, anything thatâ€™s edible is fair game. So it could be candy, it could be nuts, it could be pretzels, it could be breakfast cereal, it could be chocolate bars.â€
And donâ€™t worry about making mistakes.
â€œYou can cover up a lot of flaws with icing and candy and know that itâ€™s not going to be perfect,â€ Weisend said.
For some, gathering the family together to spark some gingerbread creativity is a yearly tradition.
â€œActually my mother still makes gingerbread houses with all of her grandchildren,â€ said Weisend, who has two daughters, Samantha, 15, and Sabrina, 11. â€œEvery single Christmas, even my nephew whoâ€™s 18 years old still comes in from Iowa. So thereâ€™s always been gingerbread around.â€
The grandchildren pick a theme â€” years past have included a train, a farm and Harry Potter â€” and itâ€™s up to grandma and grandpa to make the patterns and assemble the houses, leaving the kids to decorate.
And when the holidays are over, itâ€™s time to start snacking.
â€œMy nieces and nephews eat the candy and leave the gingerbread behind,â€ she said. â€œMost people just eat the candy parts. The better the candy, the more they eat it.â€
Winn may be reached at 330-721-4053 or firstname.lastname@example.org.