It’s finally done! As some people may know, I have spent every spare moment this last few weeks building my submission for the Habitat for Humanity’s gingerbread showcase in Victoria, BC. They put on this event every year and it’s always spectacular. This year I came across a news article titled “Calling all bakers!”, turns out it was an invitation for home and commercial bakers alike to join in on this event. I immediately was drawn to apply but worried it was more of a commitment than I could make, so I put it aside to think it over and discuss it with the family. Turns out I put it off for too long and by the time I had decided to go for it they were no longer accepting applicants. I put in my name anyway to be added to a wait list, but I was super disappointed.
It was at this time that I decided to take on another super time consuming project and went ahead with my 31 days of Halloween where I started this blog. A week or so into October I received the amazing news that someone had dropped out and I was now a part of the Gingerbread showcase. I was so excited! However, being in the middle of a huge project and then suddenly having another one due shortly after, I figured I was kissing any sleep I was going to get with two young kids goodbye, and I was right!
I decided to leave the construction of the project until October was over, being immensely busy already. I did all of the planning, practice and recipe testing while working on the October blog and as soon as it was over, I dove head first into creating my 100% edible art project. The whole thing was a lot of fun. Well, outside of the tears, anxiety and nightmares, I really enjoyed the process and would like to do similar things in the future.
This year’s theme for the event was Coastal living. When I first read this it gave me an instant vision in my head of a sweet cabin on a cliff over the ocean surrounded by the woods. Having such a clear image right off the bat was one of the reasons I think I was so compelled to take part in the first place.
The rules were as follows:
It must be built on a 2 foot by 2 foot wooden board that was provided by the organizers
It had to be 100% edible
It had to be at least 45cm high
I have pictures of most of the process of building this guy but keep in mind it was worked on every day for a couple weeks, so it’s a lot. I’ve broken it up in to 5 main parts to try and organize it a bit, although that means some of it is a little out of order. There is the landmass, the house, the trees, the totem pole and the ocean.
The land mass
The main part of the landmass is Rice Krispie squares, it took 6 batches! A batch being how much I could make in my large stew pot at a time which was about half a family size box of Rice Krispie’s and 1 bag of marshmallows. I packed them all down and shaped them with my hands. To make the cave I put one hand in the pile and packed everything down around it then pulled my hand out and replaced it with a cup to support it while it cooled.
Then I covered the whole thing in green-y brown royal icing, painted it, poured it and just kind of rubbed it around and into all the crevasses. Then I stabbed in my cinnamon sticks which would later become trees. I let it dry completely before adding melted chocolate to the areas I wanted to carve details into.
I wanted a smoother look to the parts that jut into the water, so I covered them in chocolate. I also covered the other side to look like basalt columns, a very cool coastal geological structure. Next came some chocolate in the back, in piles to make rocks and a large section coming down the edge of the land which I would carve into a staircase.
I built up the chocolate then let it set completely before carving it out. I really like carving chocolate and used this technique a few times. It’s a really interesting (and forgiving) medium to work with, it carves beautifully, can be re-melted and have more added on to build it up. It also melts with just the heat of your hands which was a bit of a challenge but also a useful tool.
Once I had everything carved out and looking good I used edible paints to make it look less chocolatey.
I used modeling chocolate from a previous project, which I left to get nice and hard in the fridge then cut and carved into large rock shapes to be placed along my coast. I painted them as well as, prior to being painted it was really hard to see it as anything other than chocolate.
I added in more royal icing, this time in green, everywhere giving it a mossy covering.
My house is built with gingerbread rolled into long logs all measured out to be about the same size then baked and cooled and cut. This process took a bit of finessing, I broke a bunch and had to scrap my first wall completely. I used isomalt to stick the logs together, and built each wall separately with them laying flat, making sure they would link up in the corners. Once all of my walls were completed I poured in some isomalt windows that I had tinted slightly yellow to make them look a little warmer. I reinforced all the walls with additional logs along the inside then I used a royal icing (Which I had done my best to colour match to the gingerbread) and piped it in the joints between the logs using a paint brush to smooth it out. This was mostly just for the look and not for any structural help.
Once the base of my house was ready to finish I realized I hadn’t left myself space for the big stone chimney I had been dreaming of. This meant I had to sacrifice one of my windows and it now sits underneath the hearth, a little hidden secret. I added it on and piped each little stone on, then painted them grey. When the walls were complete I put them all together adding additional logs to the corners for support.
I made the roof out of two solid flat pieces, which I had to make and re-make a few times. I cut out the area that would go around the chimney and glued them together with isomalt. I added in more logs to support it and attached it to the house. Then I very slowly piped on every shingle on the house in an alternating pattern to let them each set slightly to they didn’t blend in together. Then I finished off my chimney, let the whole thing set and then added in a whole bunch of mossy details.
This part was broken up a bit, at no point did I sit down and just do the trees, it was spread out over the whole project. The cinnamon sticks for the trees went in early and stayed untouched for most of the time. My arbutus tree was one of the first things done. I used candy canes carefully melted and shaped into a tree, I used a heat gun meant for fixing electronics to spot weld small sections of it, then covered the whole thing in white chocolate and attached it to the land. I built up Rice Krispies around the roots so it would be properly rooted and wouldn’t budge. Then I carved out the chocolate to bring out the shape of the tree. Next I painted it orange, then reddish brown, then green-y brown-y orange… this took a few tries over a long period of time while I was working on other things. To make the foliage I made rounds of gingerbread and stacked them on each other, then covered them in green royal icing. I attached them with royal icing as well and, while holding it in place to let it set, I leaned down to tend to my daughter and broke it, sending a bunch of pieces in a bunch of different directions.
I picked up my daughter and walked away. This took me a bit to get back in action that day. I felt like puking, so much work was just undone so fast. I talked to several members of my family about what to do next and eventually settled on getting rid of it and trying again. It took a lot to pull the roots out of the ground which I thought was pretty funny… in a sad-I am going to cry- kind of way. I decided I would make a new one if I had time after the other larger sections where done and I moved on.
For the other trees I coated the cinnamon sticks in melted dark chocolate, painting it on as it dried to make a rough texture. Later I coated it again in milk chocolate to better match the colour of the ginger bread. I applied it in the same way and once it was set I was able to carve into it a little and reveal the darker chocolate below. I added in a large part of chocolate at the base of one of the trees to carve into a burrow.
To make the branches of the trees I used a set of snowflake cookie cutters and draped them over a cardboard cone shape to bake in a more 3D shape. Then I cut holes out of the centers and piped the needles and pine cones on very slowly, doing a layer then rotating pieces and applying the next layer.
The next day I made little chocolate rings on each tree for the tree branches to rest on. Starting with the lowest one then filing in gaps with chocolate and adding the next ring and repeating the process all the way up. I broke a couple in the process and, even though I had made extra, I still needed to fix a couple with isomalt.
Once everything else was done it was time to go back and make another arbutus tree. I decided to try and make it neater and smaller and skip the chocolate layer. The first one broke while I was making it and, using the last of my candy canes, I managed to complete the next one. I placed it and surrounded it with melted chocolate to build up the land a little around it. Then I painted it and made the greens with white chocolate coloured green. I used the same chocolate to make some leafy plants to place around the grounds.
The Totem Pole
The totem pole was always a part of the design but I wasn’t sure exactly how I wanted to approach it so it almost didn’t come into being. One of my sisters gently pushed me into going through with it and I am so glad she did. I made a large log of gingerbread then shaved down the sides and broke it. So I again made a large log of ginger bread and shaved it down a bit more carefully this time. Next I coated it in white chocolate and set it in the freezer. I found starting with it frozen made it easier than room temperature as it’s not as easily melted just by touching it.
I did a ton of research when planning this part, I looked at so many poles to help work out the image in my mind. When it finally came down to it, instead of drawing anything out, I just started carving. I picked animals that felt in some way meaningful to my family and had a recurring role in our lives. I built the wings separate from the pole and added them on after. Once it was finished I painted it to look like weathered wood then added in some colour. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Which is probably why I had such a hard time when putting it up. I attached it with melted chocolate which takes a while to set and had to hold it the whole time. As you read, the last time I had to hold something for a long time while it set I broke it, so I was freaking out a bit and drove myself into an anxiety attack the likes of which I hadn’t had in years. My husband talked me down a bit while I held the thing in place, great fun! Needless to say that was the last thing I did that day. That night is when the nightmares started, dreams of something breaking kept waking me up saying “no no no!” which the next morning I thought was pretty funny. Who has nightmares about their gingerbread house breaking? What a silly thing to happen.
The ocean… I had this grand vision of the ocean and I was completely unsure it was going to work. It was a one shot kind of deal and I couldn’t do it until the end so I just had to wait and see. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would do it and having never done it before I had no idea what to expect.
The ocean is made from isomalt coloured teal with gel food colouring. I made it in batches and poured it straight onto the board. In some spots as it cooled I used a silicone mat to press into it and form a wave. In other spots I attached waves made from pouring small amounts onto the silicone mat then shaping it gently and placing it later. This was a pretty long process followed by the much longer process of using the heat gun to even out all the seams and high points, attaching loose waves, and re-melting some areas completely to reform them. Once this was completed I took some royal icing and made my white caps. Once they were all set I used white edible paint and highlighted some more.
All the little details are what really made this project for me. For a good long while my favorite part of the whole thing was the burrow at the base of my tree. I love it! The little mushrooms growing up around the trees make me really happy too. Then I built the axe. It’s a carved white chocolate wafer with a piped chocolate handle, painted with edible paint and placed in my stump which is made from gingerbread. It’s attached to the stump with chocolate which was made to look like bark. Once I placed the axe and had it look exactly as I wanted it to I was super pumped! My husband was making fun of me for being so excited by the tiny axe while it sat next to the much more impressive totem pole. The axe is probably my favorite part now.
The fire ring was something that almost didn’t make the final design but once I was almost done there was just this perfect little spot for it. I made the flames out of candied orange and that makes me pretty happy too, it’s a step aside from every other ingredient on the board and I am glad I did it.
The very last thing that finished off the whole piece was the wreath, I was never really happy with the way my front door looked. I had even made an additional door intending to just place it over top but it didn’t look right so it was abandoned. I ended up doing the wreath at the very very end, everything else was completely done and it was either leave it alone now or add this one final detail. It is the only seasonal touch to the whole project and I think it adds something to it, and it changed the only thing I didn’t like about the project into something a little special.
And that is it! It is done! I was so excited by the end to have it done and out of the house. Transporting it was super nerve wracking, every bump the totem pole would wiggle more than I liked. I even had to look away at some point. Finally delivering it was a huge relief. At this point my part is done, whatever happens to it from here on out it is out of my hands and I am super happy about that. While setting it up I got to see a couple other people’s projects being displayed at the same location. They were fantastic and I can only imagine the work and energy that went into theirs, just like mine. I am excited to go through the city with my family and see the rest of them.
The Habitat for Humanity Gingerbread showcase 2020 is on now, the displays will be up for 6 weeks! Locals should go check out all the hard work of the bakers and organizers alike.