Some families make it a holiday tradition to drive around town and look at houses decorated in lights. Others seek out the sweeter things in life: gingerbread houses, clad in icing and gum drops, chocolate and peppermint.
Leave it to the professionals
The gingerbread village at Frederick’s Pastries in Amherst is a 33-year-old tradition, and counting. Cake decorators, pastry artists and other employees in both the Amherst and Bedford stores get involved. They each build, decorate and frost a completely edible house of gingerbread to display in the Amherst store. This is the 15th year that customers have been able to vote for their favorite sugary homes.
This year, the theme is Santa’s Workshop Village. There are about 18 gingerbread houses, including a clock workshop, a dress boutique, a cookies-and-milk cafe, a gum drop factory, the reindeer and sleigh workshop, a doll workshop and even a GI Joe workshop.
“Every year we change the theme a little,” proprietor Susan Lozier Robert said. “Each house has a lot of detail. … They’re more connected because it’s the North Pole.”
Santa’s Workshop in sugary miniature allows for each artist to create his own home to add to the village, which Lozier Robert assembles.
“You can just see how creative the decorators are, because they are just given this [plain] house,” Frederick’s Pastries Marketing Director and Manager Anne Walsh said. “There’s lights everywhere, edible icicles, stained glass windows made out of candy that has been melted down, lollipops and candy canes turn into lampposts.”
The employees are given the theme in mid-October and create their gingerbread houses on their own time.
“You have a lot of time, but it’s funny because most of us wait until two weeks before. You kind of have to get in the spirit,” Walsh said.
Although it’s a competition, it’s all in good fun, Walsh said.
“When they start coming in we say, ‘Oh, who did that?’ or ‘That’s a great idea,’” Walsh said. “We all support each other.”
Santa’s surgary workshop will be on display right up through Christmas at the Amherst store, on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturdays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Customers pick up a ballot in the store and vote for their favorite gingerbread workshop. The winners are announced in the new year. Customers are also entered for a sweet raffle, and can win a classic decorated gingerbread house from Frederick’s Pastries or a kit to make their own gingerbread houses.
Stop by Martha’s Exchange during the Winter Holiday Stroll in downtown Nashua for a sweet village tour. In the Home for the Holidays gingerbread house contest, the houses have been made by professionals, adults, kids, teens, families and groups, like scouts or youth group gingerbread houses.
Home for the Holidays is organized by the teen youth group, GOYA, at St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church of Nashua.
“A lot of them are making houses to enter into the contests as well,” organizer Gail Philipon said.
The group will put the houses up for display prior to the Holiday Stroll. Then on Saturday a panel of judges will award the top houses based on criteria like most creative or best use of candy, Philipon said.
Home for the Holidays opens at 4 p.m., a little earlier than the rest of the programs along the Holiday Stroll. Admission to view the gingerbread houses is free, but guests also have the opportunity to purchase raffle tickets to win a gingerbread house to take home. Proceeds raised benefit the Nashua Children’s. Winners will be able to pick up their house the next day, except for the top winning houses in each category, which will be on display in storefronts in downtown Nashua.
The Port City has their own gingerbread tradition, and this year, it’s getting a new home. The Gingerbread House Contest is part of the city’s week of Vintage Christmas. In the past, the gingerbread houses were showcased at Strawbery Banke Museum, but this year they can be found at Discover Portsmouth.
Like Home for the Holidays, adults, families, kids and businesses alike register in advance to create a gingerbread house. Admission is free to view the gingerbread houses at Discover Portsmouth; guests can check out the sweet creations from Thursday, Dec. 5, through Monday, Dec. 23.
Tips for your own house
Whether it’s from scratch or from a kit, gingerbread houses are fun to make, but tricky too.
“You have to have a lot of patience and you can’t do it all at once,” Walsh said. “I’ve had that happen, too. Things were caving in on each other and I just had to walk away for a little bit.”
Build the frame of the house first, and use a frosting that can harden, like Royal icing. Lozier Robert recommended letting that sit overnight, and not adding the roof until later. After the house “settles,” you can decorate with all kinds of candy.
“Know that it’s going to be a two- or three-night process,” Lozier Robert said.
“I think it’s the spirit of the season. People get into it, and I have people come into our store and see what we’ve done,” Walsh said. “They say, ‘Oh, I want to do that.’ We can show them the tricks of the trade.”
Appeared in the Nov. 28, 2013 issue of the Hippo