Sue Chandler turns Tim into an official gingerbread house expert

I always thought that eating lots of candy was the best part about making a gingerbread house. Boy was I wrong.

Sure, candy is delicious – and if it’s fruit flavored, it might even be considered nutritious – but it turns out that when everyone who sees your final design tells you how great it looks is the most rewarding part of the holiday activity – and it doesn’t leave you with a stomach ache.

Some of the accolades seemed to come with a bit of surprise from those who saw my finished gingerbread creation. “You made that?” is what I heard over and over again when people passed by the Insider pod, and when it comes to full disclosure, no, I didn’t make it. Well, not entirely.

Because you see, I’ve tried my hand at gingerbread house making before and it came with mixed reviews. There was the famous roof collapse of 1996, the lopsided mansion of 2007 and the great Santa’s workshop three Christmas’s ago. So instead of doing the same old thing, which is basically just winging it, I decided to call upon an expert for a few pointers – and Sue Chandler from Chandler’s Cake and Candy Supplies was happy to oblige.

Chandler has been making gingerbread houses longer than some of you have been alive (and teaches classes each year) and it shows with her precise icing work, gentle candy placement and attention to detail that makes you feel awful for even thinking about taking a nibble.

So off I went to meet Chandler one morning last week for a crash course in gingerbread house making. And since I’ve been honest so far, I should let you know that most of the stuff you see on that fantastic creation came out of a boxed kit, while the rest was graciously supplied by Chandler. She does, after all, own a store that has the word candy in its name. And FYI, there’s no way I could ever work there because there’d be nothing left to sell.

“If people just go through their cupboards, you can use about anything,” Chandler said.

Once we got all of ducks in a row, or more like candy, icing and a plan as to what the house would look like, it was time to start. We began by each taking a side of the house, complete with two windows. We filled the windowpanes with icing by using a small decorating tip and finished with a tiny paint brush to get the lines just right. The outsides of the windows are more decorative, so there was a star tip and some wiggling hand movements to give it a wispy appearance. Mine, as you could guess, weren’t as wispy as Chandler’s.

“The first thing I tell my students is to look at the candy and then come up with a plan,” Chandler said.

Now the key to attaching candy is to do it when the icing is still soft and you don’t need to use a lot for it to stick. Save the extra icing for when you need that little boost of sugar. And yes, those cute candles in the window came out of Chandler’s display case.

“My suggestion is always to buy extra candy,” Chandler said. “You’ll always be happier that way.”

Decorating the front and back was up next, and not only were there two more windows, but also a door and some open space near the roof line for just about anything Christmassy you could think of. In keeping with the creative process, we each took a side and did what we felt would look good. While Chandler’s was just about perfect with that homemade wreath and stunning icing work, mine came out pretty well with my lined door and snow effect windows. And did you see what I did with that mint and those round candies? Yeah, I know, pretty impressive.

Chandler recommends decorating the roof after its all assembled, but for our training purposes we decided to do it on the safety of the table. We didn’t want another incident like ‘96. Talk about ruining the holiday season. We lost three good gingerbread men that year under the weight of the snow icing.

“It’s important not to have too much icing,” Chandler.

Thanks Sue, where were you 18 years ago?

I went for a simple approach with half circle frosting lines, mini gum drops and the equivalent of Sprees, just not as tasty. Believe me.

But when it came to putting it all together, Chandler did most of the work. With loads of icing, the back and two sides were connected, followed by the front. The key is to let it settle and then add the roof. The icing icicles come last.

And don’t forget to slap some icing in the front for snow and to decorate the g-boy, (gingerbread men in Chandler’s parlance) Christmas tree and walkway. It’s all about the attention to detail.

All in all, if I do say so myself, it’s not half bad, and I’m not just talking about the half Chandler did. Next year I’ll be passing along my gingerbread wisdom to Sophie and those cute picture on page 10 will likely be ones with her covered in icing and not a lot of house to be seen.

“It’s the biggest mess you’ll make, but it’s a fun mess to make,” Chandler said.

Author: Tim Goodwin

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