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Posts Tagged ‘gingerbread’

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Photo: Kristen Hartke/NPR
For the 2018 grand prize winner in Asheville, the judges were impressed by the intricate, working gingerbread gears of the clock inside Santa’s workshop.

Following up on last week’s post about extreme Christmas cooking, I’ll just say that whether the labor is for love or business, for fun or for cutthroat competition, it’s a treat to see what sorts of edibles our cooks turn out for the winter holidays.

Kristen Hartke reported at National Public Radio (NPR) on Christmas Eve last year, “Nadine Orenstein never expected to judge gingerbread houses. But several years ago, the curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art happened to see a program on the Food Network about a competition in Asheville, N.C., and was intrigued. …

“Fourteen years later, Orenstein is still a judge for the National Gingerbread House Competition. … ‘In a way, it’s very similar to what I do as a career and, in some ways, completely different,’ she says.

“The biggest difference, of course, is that each entry must be entirely edible — although it’s fairly rare for the judges to actually eat the sweet creations — and must consist of at least 75 percent gingerbread. …

“The competition didn’t originate as a contest in 1992, but as simply a display of gingerbread houses made by Asheville locals. … This year, there were 195 entries from across the U.S. and Canada, which means that judging this contest is no cakewalk.

“Other than Orenstein, most of the eight judges come with a serious pastry pedigree, like Mark Seaman, master sugar artist for Barry Callebaut chocolate company, one of the world’s largest cocoa producers. Seaman has been judging the competition for over a dozen years.

” ‘It is a long and somewhat complicated process,’ he says. ‘Some people are literally spending hundreds of hours creating their entries, so we want to pay attention to the work they’ve put into it, but we also have to do all the judging in one single day.’ …

“Using specific criteria — creativity, difficulty, overall appearance, consistency of theme, and precision — each judge starts the morning by spending two hours choosing 10 favorites in each category. The competition staff collects the information, plugs it into Excel, and tabulates the first round of results, narrowing it down to a universal top 10 entries. Then the judges really get down to business, parsing the technical difficulty and design elements in half-points — numbers that go back into the spreadsheet for the final result.

“But while the competition relies on numbers to achieve fairness — sometimes the grand prize winner isn’t even selected by all the judges as one of their initial top 10 favorites — it’s ultimately a combination of technique and creativity that determines the winners. …

“For Seaman, craftsmanship is a key element, particularly when he sees something especially innovative, like this year’s

grand prize winner, which depicts Santa’s workshop with a clock made of functional gingerbread gears. The gingerbread was baked by creators Julie and Michael Andreacola, of Indian Trail, N.C., for several hours, then precision-cut with lasers. …

“While Orenstein finds the technical elements impressive, she is also looking for a compelling story, … ‘Sometimes, the lack of perfection is key in art,’ says Orenstein, ‘but what I’ve learned over time is that perfection in these gingerbread houses matters.’ …

“Those details might be the tiny copper Moscow mule mugs that grace a table where a group of reindeer are playing a game of poker, the labels on the cans lining the walls of a general store — all edible, mind you — or realistic-looking candles made of white chocolate that stand next to a gingerbread clock. …

” ‘You don’t enter a competition because you want to win,’ says Seaman. ‘You enter because you want to do the best work you can possibly do. The people who win are attached to the piece in some personal way. Even though the technique is really important, you shouldn’t learn how to do hot sugar just for the purposes of entering this contest.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

Noncompetitive gingerbread displays involve less pressure and may be more fun. Here are a few local efforts: one at the library, two at the Colonial Inn.

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Today I’m posting recent photos, including a few gingerbread pictures that really get me into the spirit of the season.

The first is of a gingerbread house that two of my grandchildren decorated. You can see that they also made a garage from some extra pieces of gingerbread.

Next there’s one of my shadow pictures, followed by the random donkey that graces the yard at Boston’s old city hall.

Background for the photo after that: About a week ago all four grandchildren were at a Christmas crafts workshop where grownups in elf hats made everything run smoothly. The next day I found elf hats on parking meters around town.

Next are several gingerbread creations at annual displays in town. The tree house, hobbit house, Victorian advertisement for the Gentleman Handyman, and the Acton Dental house with Santa inside in the dentist chair are all at the Colonial Inn. The last gingerbread house is in the library and is created every year by a local physician who starts to work weeks in advance.

Finally, what’s this? Another shadow picture. A Christmas-y one this time.

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Now for something a little different in the Christmas cookie department. How about gingersnaps that look like ancient clay tablets? With cuneiform inscriptions.

As Jennifer A Kingson writes at the New York Times, that’s what Katy Blanchard of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology brought to her holiday party a few years ago. Now everyone wants to try it.

“Ms. Blanchard, whose passions are archaeology and baking, used chopsticks, a fish knife and a gingerbread recipe that came packaged with a Coliseum-shaped cookie-cutter she once bought. Not only did her cuneiform cookies beguile her colleagues at the office party, they also gained some measure of internet renown after a Penn Museum publicist posted an article about how she made them. (Sample comment from the public: ‘Mine will probably taste more like the Dead Sea Scrolls.’)

“From there, cuneiform cookies started to become — as the newspaper The Forward put it — ‘a thing.’ Bloggers were enthralled, including one who said she was taking a class in Hittite and opted to practice on shortbread. …

” ‘It really struck the world in just the right nerdy place,’ said Ms. Blanchard, noting that a number of people, including home schooling parents, classroom teachers and scholars of ancient languages, had taken the idea and run with it. …

“Inspired by Ms. Blanchard’s cuneiform cookies, Esther Brownsmith, a Ph.D. student in the Bible and Near East program at Brandeis University who has been studying Akkadian for years, went all out: For a New Year’s party, she baked four tablets of gingerbread, each on a 13-by-18-inch pan, and copied part of the Enuma Elish, a seven-tablet Babylonian creation myth, onto them. A stunning step-by-step description of this feat has drawn thousands of ‘likes on her Tumblr blog.”

More here, at the Times.

Photo: The Forward and Kay Blanchard
The online world is snapping up recipes for these gingerbread cuneiform cookies by Katy Blanchard of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

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I thought I’d collect some early-winter images, but an out-of-season iris decided to redefine early winter for me. The iris loves that Dunkin Donuts brick wall so much it decided to bloom. Then the temperatures went down into the teens.

The USS Concord (1923-1947) had a bell that the town acquired and put on display in a public ceremony shortly after Veterans Day this year. I enjoyed watching the evolution of the pocket park that hosts the bell and was amazed by what a deep hole had to be dug for the pedestal support.

The unusual “Lost & Found for the People” is beside the path that runs down the middle of Blackstone Boulevard in Providence. (I hope that “the people” will find what they lost soon.)

The next picture is of the daily dog-walker gathering at Emerson Field, where I was delighted by a message nestled in the roots of a tree: “Just do right.”

The veggie colors spoke to me of Christmas.

The gingerbread house competition is at the Colonial Inn and will be up until January 1. The last gingerbread house is in the library. It all makes a person want to try her hand at some decorative baking.

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You have until Jan. 3 to see beloved Boston landmarks in the form of  gingerbread, gumdrops, frosting, and pretzels. The annual competition is put on at the Boston Society of Architects, which has a public exhibit area on Congress Street between Atlantic and Dorchester avenues.

The public is invited to a reception on Monday.

“Please join the Community Design Resource Center (CDRC) for the Gingerbread Reception, where we will view more than 20 gingerbread designs from teams of architecture and landscape architecture firms on exhibit, enjoy light refreshments, announce the winners, celebrate the incredible bakers, and launch CDRC’s first Open Call for Projects.

“Vote for your favorite gingerbread house now!

“At the Gingerbread Reception we will launch our first Open Call for Projects — an open invitation to neighborhood groups and community nonprofits in the greater Boston area to apply for a design assistance grant. Underserved audiences are especially encouraged to apply, as well as projects that otherwise fall between traditional funding cracks but that somehow serve to make communities better. …

“While challenging designers to explore a new medium, this sweet event also raises funds for the CDRC. A special thank you to the Boston Society of Landscape Architects and the BSLA ‘gingerscapes’ for joining us this year!” More here.

The BSA’s photos are on instagram. Look for bsaaia. It’s fun to guess what you are seeing.

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