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The Art of Gingerbread Building


Ed. Note: Seven Days intern Lea McLellan contributed this post.

Today’s the deadline for entries in the Vermont Folklife Center’s 12th annual Gingerbread Competition. Each year, the Middlebury-based nonprofit invites culinary artists to submit their edible creations.

When a representative from the VFC contacted Seven Days to submit a call to artists, e-commerce coordinator Ashley Brunelle took the call. After some doing some research on the competition, Brunelle quickly discovered that most entries are a far cry from Grandma’s traditional gingerbread house.

Intrigued, Brunelle decided to enter the contest herself. I talked to her today about her entry — an Irish Catholic Church (pictured).

You can see the church of Brunelle, and the rest of the “houses” — and vote for your favorite creation — at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury Friday, December 3 through Wednesday, December 22. There's a reception for the show tomorrow night. Winners receive "Middlebury Money," redeemable for prizes from the contest's sponsors — and gingerbread glory.

Seven Days: How did you decide to make your own gingerbread house?

Ashley Brunelle: Someone submitted a call to artists for gingerbread houses, so I signed up to do it. The guy who's running it said that people are going really crazy with it now. People aren’t just making traditional gingerbread houses. They will replicate historical buildings, make gingerbread spaceships…His favorite one is a woman who made a gingerbread fish bowl.

SD: Did you decide to take the traditional route, or did you get more creative?

AB: So I decided to do an Irish Catholic church because I have a book on Ireland, I wanted to do something different, and I just think the churches there look really cool. There are a bunch of different categories, including professional and amateur. I signed up for the amateur category because I haven’t really done this before — at least not with gingerbread that wasn’t made from a kit.

SD: What kind of ingredients and decorations did you use?

AB: One of the rules is that everything on the house has to be edible. I used gingerbread, obviously. I made this edible cement to keep everything together. There is candy coconut for snow — nothing too crazy or out of the ordinary. I used marzipan to fill up the big gaps. I also made hundreds of little chocolate shamrocks, and there is a stone wall that is also made out of chocolate.

SD: Mmm, so do these things actually get eaten?

AB: You probably could, but I wouldn’t eat mine. After it’s all done you can go pick up your house, but if you decide not to pick it up, they donate it.

SD: Was there a lot of preparation involved? How much work went into making it?

AB: I went online and did some quick research on a gingerbread recipe and on Thanksgiving Day I just started working on it. I gave myself almost a week, which was nice because as ideas came to me, I had time to implement them… I probably spent more hours on it than I would like to admit… at least 20.

SD: Were there any unexpected challenges or difficulties you encountered?

AB: There wasn’t a part that was really difficult. I guess to me, the most disappointing part was that I made all the walls a certain size and shape, and then when you bake them, they become rounder and completely changed their shape…Another part that was a little more annoying was that I don’t have a mixer so I made this whole batch of gingerbread with a spoon.

SD: Are you planning your a creation for next year?

AB: I don’t know. It’s too soon. I’m still so sick of making this one. It was a lot of fun, but I’m over it for now.