This is my fourth year entering the Maritime Aquarium’s Festival of Lighthouses. I have won, placed and showed in the past three years, so the creative pressure was on to make something that was purely delightful. I chose gingerbread and peppermint for my vocabulary. I pictured brickwork out of gingerbread, with ornamentation of peppermint.
Going through my laundry basket-sized collection of cookie cutters, I realized I had quite a few different man-cutters. That gave me the idea to do “mankind”, with an emphasis on “kind” by using hearts.
So I pressed into service a visiting relative to make six recipes of my tried-and-true gingerbread cookie dough, and copious quantities of men and hearts.
Then I brought in more talent, to help decorate the random people-themed gingerbread men and ladies.
It helps to have very talented neighbors 😉
I wondered what would happen if I baked some men in and on a ball-shaped cake pan, so they would come out concave and convex…The trick was to use half the butter the recipe calls for (butter makes cookies soft), and bake them at a lower temperature (300 degrees) for a long time (30 minutes). This makes the cookies as sturdy as pirate’s hardtack biscuits! It worked, and decorating them with scrollwork and using them on the ornate top gave a nice carousel-like appeal.
Shopping on an online candy store, I spent about $200 on a variety of peppermint shapes–canes, balls, sticks, suckers and swirlys. To cover the base of the lighthouse, which is what it’s handled and carried by, I photographed the peppermint balls to make an all-over pattern of wrapping paper, printing it out on my 13″ x 19″ printer.
I started to worry about the overall weight of all the icing, cookies, and peppermint. So I cheated a section of peppermint sticks, making that out of paper too.
After spray-gluing the wallpaper to the foamcore base, and with all my cookies decorated and peppermint candies unwrapped, I was ready to start adhering it all to the lighthouse. I mixed up a batch of Royal Icing and began to glue. Royal Icing is made only of confectioner’s sugar, meringue powder, which is dried egg whites, and water. I have always found you have to use about half again as much water as the recipe calls for. You mix it on medium speed on a heavy-duty mixer (love you, KitchenAid!) for 7 minutes and it increases in volume. The peaks should be stiff but not too dry or you’ll have trouble getting it through the piping bag. If it’s too wet, your decorations will glop. But it doesn’t take long to get the feel for “just right”.
Then I started gluing men and ladies and hearts, section by section, onto the foamcore armiture (I happened to have a foamcore armiture of a lighthouse laying around my studio. But if you want to see the How-To for that, see my blog “How to Make a Lighthouse Out of Twinkies”) 😉
keep adding men, women, children and hearts until all sections are covered.
After working out a pretty pattern for the peppermint, I clipped the sucker sticks and poked them down into the 1/2″ foamcore. This held them firmly, and I added a thick spreading of icing around the stem to further solidify.
The lighthouse had to be worked in two sections in order to transport it in my minivan. The “glass” was again just a big plastic cheese-puff container. It had to be removable in case the lightbulb needed to be changed or other electrical problems occurred. The cone-shaped cap was hot-glued onto the container. To make the peace dove “weather vane” up on top, I found a clever how-to on Pinterest: Melt peppermint candies slightly on parchment paper for 10 minutes at 300 degrees. While soft, cut shapes with a greased cookie cutter. Then I pressed the still-soft shape onto a sucker stick and voila, weather vane!
The bottom rim of black foamcore could not be iced and decorated until it was transported and assembled at the aquarium. Then the last layer of icing and row of ribbon candy was added.
When the competition is over in mid-January 2015, this sugary creation will go the way of all gingerbread houses, snowmen and sandcastles, which makes us appreciate them all the more during their short lives, and also makes us take good pictures!
Delivery day is always exciting, as aquarium patrons offer oohs and ahhs of their first impressions.
Ready for display! The competition at the Festival of Lighthouses is fierce, worthy, inspiring, and always fun! The winner is selected by the voting patrons of the aquarium during the holiday season.
Was it worth it?? By now, in my fourth year, I have learned a bit about keeping costs and time down. I spent $200 on peppermint, $80 on cookie dough ingredients, and $0 on the foamcore, for a total of $280. As for time, there were 18 hours spent making dough, baking and decorating the gingerbread people. I spent approx. 42 hours on everything else, for a total of 60 hours, over a period of about 3 weeks.
So, as I explained to my son, let’s do the math. If I win first place, which is $1,500, and subtract my costs, I will have worked at a rate of $20.33 per hour. Second place would mean $7.83 per hour. Third place would mean $2.83 per hour, and lower placing than that would mean we lost money on the project. But we all know that the reason one participates in a competition of this sort is not for the money, but to share others’ creative efforts and challenge one’s own.
Now go back to the home page and buy my book, thank you.