Gingerbread construction draws 50-plus builders

Sat, 11/18/2023 - 11:30am

    Master Gingerbread Architect Baker/Designer Kevin Kiley told the 2023  gingerbread 101 construction class at the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor, “If there’s a rule that makes it less fun ... forget the rule!” The 2023 class drew the largest group of people ever: More than 50 signed up, including 10 or so members of the younger set.

    There were also experienced, award-winning gingerbread builders among them, including Susan Brackett, Sheila Wikens and Peg Helming, Vice President of the Opera House board. Brackett has already begun making two for this year with her partner Bob Eisele who was cutting the gingerbread to scale for one of them.

    “We’ve never had so many people,” Kiley said. “The number grows every year, but we may have to put a limit on sign-up next year! Sheila helped me put the 50 kit gingerbread houses together the day before, which only took four hours.”

    Kiley has been building gingerbread houses since he was a kid, taught by a master: his mom, Pat Kiley, the first gingerbread building instructor at the Opera House. In 2016, she passed the rolling pin to her son. The classes are held every November and are attended by both experienced and newbie gingerbread builders. 

    “The hope is that many of them will go on to enter the Gingerbread Spectacular,” said Opera House Executive Director Cathy Sherrill. “And some of them do!”

    This much anticipated, beloved event is Dec. 15 - 17 this year with Friday, Dec. 15 the date of the preview party, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The gingerbreads will have been judged by five to six people invited by Sherrill to decide which entry wins the coveted Most Spectacular, the most Obsessive-Compulsive, Most Icing, Largest, Most Hilarious, Best Traditional Gingerbread House, Best Landmark, Best Holiday Spirit, and so many more!

    And the Novel Jazz Quartet (sometimes a septet) will be tempting people to the dance floor during the preview. Saturday, Dec. 16 and Sunday, Dec. 17, the gingerbread masterpieces can be ooohed and ahhed over (and you will) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Former Gingerbread Spectacular entries have depicted local landmarks like Burnt Island lighthouse, Boothbay Railway Village, the Footbridge, and Wilson Memorial Chapel; local events like the Charlie Begin Memorial Lobster Boat Races; and who could forget the giant S’more, the skating rink that revolved around with gingerbread skaters; a TARDIS, and, in 2014, the Boothbay Register’s entry with King Kong atop the Empire State Building (an endeavor engineered by Mike Marr). 

    And now, here are some of the useful tips shared by Kiley during the class:

    Do not build your gingerbread on parchment paper. It’s good to use for baking your structure walls and roof, but not as a base to build on. Wikens suggested the dull side of freezer paper.

    Put in the windows before you put the structure together and, to create stained glass, melted Jolly Ranchers (among other sweet materials) work well.

    If you’re planning to use lighting in your gingerbread structure, it’s better to install it before the roof goes on. LED lights do not burn as hot as others and they help release the aroma of the gingerbread.

    If you don’t have pastry bags to use for piping your icing, do not panic! Just use the now empty plastic sugar bags used to make the Royal Icing. Store the bagged icing in a glass with a wet paper towel in the bottom with the tip facing down. 

    Make sure your walls are solid before putting on the roof – several hours or even overnight. You can use small cans or spice jars to help support the drying walls.  

    To make icicles, place the tip of the icing bag on the roofline or top of the window and move the pastry bag downward.

    Most of all, remember to have fun! Don’t stress. At one point, Kiley was showing the group some human figures, including a pirate Wikens had made for one of her past creations. Unexpectedly, one of the pirate’s legs fell off. Said Kiley without missing a beat,  “Oh well, he’s a pirate, he can lose one leg, right?”

    The Gingerbread Spectacular made its debut in 2006 and every year the creations grow more detailed, more experimental and more spectacular! For more information, and/or to enter a gingerbread creation, call the Opera House at 207-633-6855.