Last week, our Food pages shared some tips on making a Gingerbread House from scratch from Sinclair Community College’s associate professor of culinary arts, chef Frank Leibold.
This week, we’re introducing you to someone who has earned a name for herself with the Gingerbread Houses she creates each year for the holiday.
Donna Brinson-Alexander, who lives in Brookville, has taken top prize at the Dayton Holiday Festival’s Gingerbread Homes for the Holidays Contest three times. For this year’s contest, she was judged “Professional Best in Show” and won a $500 cash prize.
“Each year I get excited about baking my entry,” says Brinson-Alexander, who runs a baking business from her home. “It’s just a fun time of the year for me. It takes a lot of time and hard work to achieve the look I want, but with practice and determination anyone can be successful.”
The contest is part of the monthlong festival presented by the Downtown Dayton Partnership, city of Dayton, Montgomery County and the Virginia W. Kettering Dayton Holiday Festival Fund. Competition winners and all other entries were displayed for public viewing at the Old Court House during the Grande Illumination and Dayton Children’s Parade Spectacular in Lights held downtown the day after Thanksgiving.
Brinson-Alexander was in her car on her way to work in November 2009, when she first heard about the annual baking competition.
“When I got to work I got online and located the entry form, completed the form and faxed it,” she remembers. ” I only had six days to complete my first Gingerbread House! I used a modified version of my own home and by working endless hours I completed it on time.”
She says it was exciting to see all of the other entries and talk to contestants.
“I received a call later that day informing me that I had won. I was so surprised and excited.”
We invited Brinson-Alexander to share tips and her own baking history as this week’s featured cook in our series.
How did you come up with the idea for this year’s winning Gingerbread House?
My love of log cabins inspired me to try to build one for this year’s contest. My first step was to construct the cabin using cardboard. I baked each log individually and placed them on the cardboard structure using royal icing to hold each log in place. Using a cardboard or other solid structure gives you a good foundation and that helps to prevent a collapses and loss of all your hard work.
My winning house also had a stone fireplace and a tiny full kitchen, reindeer and Santa Claus in the yard. There was also a tree inside the house with working lights.
I started making it at the end of September and finished the night before the competition.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to make their first gingerbread house?
When you build your first gingerbread house, start simple. Explore different food items to use. I’ve used different beans, candies and pasta. Fondant, gum paste and gel food coloring are necessities. These items give you endless possibilities. Let your imagination run wild. It’s so much fun.
Have you entered other gingerbread contests?
I’ve entered National Gingerbread Competition three times. It’s always held in Asheville, N.C., at the Grove Park Inn, a beautiful hotel.There are hundreds of competitors and a really educational experience because you talk to them and learn a lot. People this year were especially willing to share.
Their slogan says “where a house is not always a house” and that’s because people do a variety of things. There are many categories. I’ve done a nutcracker, for example, that was made out of gingerbread with handles that actually worked.
I transport the houses from Dayton to North Carolina, which can be a problem because they are always so delicate.
How did you learn to bake?
I retired four years ago and wanted something to do with my time. Shortly before I retired I went to Sinclair and took a class on cake prep and decorating. I have used what I learned many times.
What do you bake professionally?
I have baked cakes, cupcakes and cookies for birthdays, weddings, retirements, other social events and competitions.
Why do you enjoy baking?
It is a lot of fun to use your imagination to be creative. Most of my baking is for family and friends. It doesn’t take any special equipment to bake successfully. A regular oven, a good mixer and patience are all you need.
What early memories do you have of baking?
I’ve always liked to bake and try different recipes. I remember when I was young I baked biscuits at the fair and won a big ribbon. It was so exciting. That was an awesome memory. To this day I love those big beautiful ribbons.
What advice do you have for someone who is learning to bake?
My final advice is to bake, explore, be creative and most importantly: Have fun.
What recipe are you sharing with our readers?
It’s my favorite gingerbread recipe. This is a construction grade recipe and is wonderful for building gingerbread houses. Also, I have included the recipe for royal icing, which is a must to have a well-constructed house.
Construction Grade Gingerbread
3 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of ground cimmamon
1 tablespoon of ground ginger
¼ cup of honey
1 cup of sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon warm water
• Preheat oven to 325F degrees. Sift together first three dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
• Put honey in microwave for 30 seconds, remove from microwave and add sugar. Stir and add two large eggs and water. Whip together.
• Put dry ingredients in mixer bowl and add your honey, eggs, sugar and water mixture and blend well. Put dough hook on and knead for about 5 minutes to absorb the honey.
• Roll and cut pieces as desired. Bake 15-30 minutes, depending on the thickness.
You can also color your gingerbread dough before it is baked using paste color. One teaspoon of ground cloves will also add a deeper color to your gingerbread dough and can be added without changing the texture of the dough.
1-½ tablespoons powdered egg white
¼ cup warm water
Pinch of cream of tarter
2 cups (1/2 pounds) confection sugar
• Beat powdered egg whites, water and cream of tarter until combined.
• Add confection sugar and beat at medium speed until combined
• Increase speed to high and beat until icing is thick and glossy (about 5 minutes)
• Add more water if needed to thin to desired consistency.
Use immediately or store in a covered plastic container and rebeat before using.
Meredith Moss spotlights at-home cooks or professional chefs throughout Southwest Ohio and invites them to share their favorite recipes, cooking tips and family traditions. If you know of someone we should feature, please send an email to Meredith:MMoss@coxohio.com
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VIDEO: To see Donna Brinson-Alexanderand her winning Gingerbread House, visit MyDaytonDailyNews.com
Anyone interested in participating in the 2014 Gingerbread Homes for the Holidays contest can be put on the mailing list by calling the Downtown Dayton Partnership at 937-224-1518 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.