A pale blue gingerbread doll house sets the tone for Hagley Museum’s fourth annual Gingerbread House Contest.
The two-story confection by Wilmington executive pastry chef Michele Mitchell will welcome guests to the display by contest participants. It’s meant to embody the theme of “Home for the Holidays: A Celebration of Family.”
Mitchell, who grew up in a home with four girls, remembers how as a child — even though she was a tomboy — she loved doll houses. She still recalls a Swedish one her older sister got one Christmas when the family lived in England. It had electric lights.
She went to ultimategingerbread.com, her longtime gingerbread house design source, to hunt for a pattern, only to discover the company no longer existed.
So she told her husband Chuck Lewis she was going to buy a Victorian doll house kit.
“What?” he said.
She did, and used the wooden pieces as templates for the walls and roofs of her house.
Mitchell had planned to leave the back of the house open, so guests could see decorated rooms. She’d even started creating what looked like hard wood floors on the first floor and planned to print wallpaper.
But she’s a stickler for only using food to build her homes and realized it was going to take more time than she had. However, anyone who peeps through the upper windows will be able to see the staircase she had already built.
Most of the house is built with gingerbread, fondant, royal icing and sugar waffle cones. Its windows are gel sheets. She spent about 80 hours on it, using 1 1/2 recipes of her gingerbread mix.
But some parts aren’t food. The snowman in front of the house is two Styrofoam balls held together with a toothpick and then covered in fondant.
“I didn’t want to waste that much fondant creating two big balls,” she said.
The contest this year moves to the Hagley Barn, because the lower property still has damage from the flooding of the Brandywine River caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Visitors can reach it via Hagley’s Buck Road entrance.
It will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Friday, Nov. 26, to Jan. 2. The judging of the contest is online, with visitors asked to choose their favorites and the winner announced in January. For more information, go to www.hagley.org/holidays
Mitchell said one of the biggest problems that home bakers have when working with gingerbread is keeping their roofs from collapsing.
She offered these tips:
- Make sure your gingerbread is completely dried out before constructing.
- Make sure your four sides are up and dried out overnight before starting to apply the roof. She leaves hers standing for at least 24 hours.
- Bigger roofs may need supports inside the house to use them. The walls and stairs inside her doll house help support hers.
- Thin out royal icing a bit to make icicles look drippy enough.
The chef isn’t sure what she’s going to do with the house when the contest is over.
The first entry she made, a miniature house, is still in a spare room of her own home. The second, a replica of Lesley Manor in Old New Castle, now belongs to manor owner Darren Wright.
Michell and her husband planned to donate the fire station she made last year, but haven’t done it yet.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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