Help Wanted: Seasonal position requiring architectural background, extraordinary gifts of creativity and dexterity helpful. National recognition for work a possibility. Volunteers considered, but must be available for graveyard shift.
Four years ago sisters Marilyn Keyte, Mona, and Sheryl Cordner, Provo responded to the above ad with the construction of a gingerbread Mexican holiday scene, complete with a Posada parade and luminaria.The project, entered in the Good Housekeeping gingerbread contest, took an honorable mention award.
The pair are pros with gingerbread as a building material, but their architectural skills come from the school of experience.
"We're no Frank Lloyd Wrights," Cordner admitted, "but it would helpif we were. We are a little crazy, and that makes the whole thing work."
Without an architectural degree, the pair produced prize-winning entries in the national contest for three consecutive years.
Construction of the second entry involved baking a dome-shaped roof for an angel house.
"We looked up all kinds of angels at the library before we decided on how we'd decorate our angels," Keyte explained. "We spend a lot of time in planning and research before we start baking."
Research doesn't always eliminate construction problems, however.
"We often improvise as we go," Cordner added. "For example, when you look at the walls of the angel house, you see they are glazed with icing. To
get that smooth, dipped appearance, we thin the royal icing with an extra 2 tablespoons of water, then let it run over each piece. That creates a smooth surface."
The baking pair described their struggle to find an even-textured wall for this year's entry, a San Francisco townhouse.
"We needed a way to make indentations that looked like frame sides. We knew the lines had to meet at the corners," Keyte said.
After trying several hand methods, Cordner suggested using the oven rack to create an even impression in the dough.
"Then the corners matched perfectly," she laughed, "but it was by accident we happened to think of using the rack."
Gingerbread construction is not without its share of mishaps in the process.
After working for hours on the townhouse, the bakers gave up in despair. Long past the midnight hour, they tossed the entire house in the trash can, only to rescue it the following morning. The house survived to become a contest entry.
The townhouse met with a second disaster before its demise.
"After we sent in the photographs, we knew we didn't have a chance. So when I dropped a book on the house and broke the roof, I threw it away. The next week Marilyn was notified that we had placed in the contest," Cordner said. "If we'd had any idea, we would have saved the house for the Festival of Trees."
Careful attention to detail can help avert catastrophes during gingerbread construction.
"We always use cans and boxes to hold our pieces in place. Last year it was olive cans; I guess I must have had a case of olives around," Cordner admitted. "You must be careful to support the pieces until they dry or you have an instant disaster."
Another night, the sisters spent the wee hours hitting every 7-Eleven in Provo and Orem in search of licorice Nibs.
The exasperated pair lamented, "I bet you didn't know that Nibs are not the same size. There are fat ones, skinny ones, short ones and long ones. It was so frustrating; we needed the pieces to be identical. I wanted to write the licorice company and complain about their inconsistency."
Even though gingerbread projects expand to the living room, the laundry room and the dining room before completion, Sheryl's husband swallowed any complaints.
"Calvin would say, as he went to bed with gingerbread expanding around him, `Just leave me a corner of the table so I can have my cereal,' " Sheryl recalled.
Cordner and Keyte admitted the gingerbread adventures spread into life beyond the holiday season.
"Its become quite a project. Once you get into it, you really get into it. We've gotten so we can't drive without wondering how we'd make a building in gingerbread. There's that old church in Payson, and then an old Victorian house . . . We have at least three ideas we've planned to try, but we're not telling. It seems like you get an idea, and if you don't use it yourself, you'll see it done by somebody else the next year. It's like people can read your mind," Keyte explained.
Not to be outdone by the competition, the gingerbread sisters contemplate another project. They thrive on the clear-cut division of labor involved in house construction.
"I could make a house without Marilyn, but it wouldn't be as pretty without all her fancy work," Sheryl admitted.
"But I couldn't make a house without Sheryl. She has an even touch with the rolling pin; her pieces come out perfectly," Marilyn confessed.
When the architectural tools surface for another season, the gingerbread house may not be perfect, but the procedures are well-rehearsed.
Marilyn Keyte and Sheryl Cordner continue to top the competition and maintain their holiday employment.
- Note: Wilton makes two types of gingerbread house kits, one containing pattern and recipe, the other, a "No-Bake Gingerbread House Kit," contains all the supplies to make a cardboard house that looks like gingerbread. Kits are available at Baker's Cash and Carry, 367 W. 1170 South, Salt Lake City, 487-3300, or by calling Wilton directly at 1 (800) 772-7111.
Taste of France makes a gingerbread kit, complete with gingerbread, frosting mix and some decorations, which is available for $16.95 at Mormon Handicraft, 105 S. Main, 355-2141.
A homemade kit, containing everything for house construction and made from German Lebkuchen (honey) cookie dough is available for $16 from the Gingerbread Man, A.J. Kirby, Orem, 1-224-2136.
Detailed instructions for a giant gingerbread project, Notre Dame Cathedral, are available in a new holiday publication, "Rose's Christmas Cookies," by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
10 easy tips for gingerbread
Here are some tips for successful gingerbread baking:
1. Plan carefully before you begin construction of the house. Consider all the supplies you need and assemble them beforehand.
2. Begin with a simple, basic pattern. "Use someone else's pattern that fits together. You may want to build your first house with the help of an experienced person."
3. To design your own pattern, calculate the scale design on graph paper, then transfer it to oak tag.
4. Thoroughly mix and chill the dough. Roll it out directly on foil-lined and floured cookie sheet. Use cardboard pattern to cut each piece, carefully removing scraps. After baking, quickly place pattern on hot gingerbread to trim edges. Cool completely before assembling.
5. Broken pieces can usually be mended with frosting.
6. Decorate each piece before assembling. For the roof sections, start at the bottom and work up.
7. As you assemble sections, use boxes, cans or tall bottles to support drying pieces. Make sure the foundation is completely dry before attaching the roof.
8. A styrofoam sheet, glued with frosting to interior walls, provides additional long-term support for the house.
9. "Be willing to experiment. If something doesn't work, you can wipe it off and start over. Use what you have. I burned a batch of toasted nuts," Cordner admitted, "but they made beautiful stones for the chimney and the path."
10. "Above all, have fun," Keyte concluded. "Gingerbread is still a great family project, a neat way for kids to express themselves. Not every house is contest-bound."
Pepparkakor (Swedish Star Cookies)
Keyte-Conder Gingerbread Dough
Basic Gingerbread House