I think I have done it.
I have made my gingerbread magnum opus.
I did not do it alone: Kristina helped with a good chunk of the decorating.
Pre-decoration, it looked sad:
It’s always ugly at first, but this was worrying ugly. It’s challenging making irregular pieces fit together neatly using imperfectly formed gingerbread pieces.
I had seen the previous years’ entries and noticed how bakers often fall back on fondant to make their entries stand out. Fondant is just candy Play Doh. What a cop-out: It’s a gingerbread competition! I decided not to stray from my usual style of decorating it with colourful candy and concealed the shoddy joinery with a generous amount of icing.
I should have known to make a skylight so that the inverted waffle cone Christmas tree I went through the trouble of making could be appreciated. Christmas sharks circle this tree, waiting for mini M&M baubles to fall off.
I don’t know why others haven’t figured out that you can somewhat form gingerbread dough into 3D shapes. The questionnaire Habitat for Humanity sent me asked, “What was your inspiration?” to which I submitted some bullshit (but genius!) descriptor written by a co-worker. In the end, I drew inspiration from the name Kristina came up with–The Cliffs of Insanity.
(Note my road bike in the background: it is a fantastic bike, and I am lucky to get to ride it.)
Anyway, I skipped the fondant and made the boulders out of gingerbread dough. For the sand, I used crushed almonds: evidence that I hate peanuts so much, I’m willing to splurge for almonds to avoid dealing with the smell.
The Cliffs of Insanity now had nutty sand and starfish with their mouth iced on backwards. I wanted to use colourful old fashioned candy sticks as supports for the balcony, but they slid off after a few days. Thicc pretzel rods took their place.
Now, I needed something resembling water. Blue meringue would look like a dream, but as I discovered last year, meringue is a nightmare to manipulate. Instead, I took a different gamble made the sea out of hard candy, even though my first attempt at making hard candy two years ago was a runny failure. Precision is everything: the sugar and corn syrup mixture needs to reach 160° C for the candy to set. This is what happens when you’re a rookie working with bubbling hot syrup:
It felt like what I imagine it feels like to get stung by a jellyfish, which fit well with the Coastal Living theme. As a side note, my thumbs are thinner than my index fingers. But, if you look at other people’s hands as often and as intensely as I do (it is how I communicate, after all), you’ll observe that pretty much everyone has weird-looking thumbs.
I did two test runs to see how the candy would behave with the other ingredients. First, I wanted to see whether I could use crushed almonds as sand. They floated to the top. My second attempt was to see if I could make it in layers so that I could press the nuts in after pouring the candy. I also wanted to find out if I could mash in some gummi sharks. It was a no go: they bubbled and turned into a cloud of goo.
As per the rules, everything but the base was to be edible and could not extend over the edges. To hold the candy inside the perimeter, Yann made a removable frame, which I then lined with parchment paper so that the candy wouldn’t fuse with the wood.
I did not know until the night before whether my hard candy sea concept would work or if all the hours Kristina and I had put into decorating would be for naught. This project was supposed to help families without homes!
I did not do this for charity: I’m a renter. I would love to have a house that isn’t made of cookies!
It most definitely worked! Look at the dimension in the hard candy sea! Expensive nuts encased in a kilogram of sugar made for a stunning effect. The tentacle is made of gingerbread dipped in sugar cookie icing. But, hold your applause for…
GOATS ON THE ROOF. Like in Coombs! The town of Coombs bases its whole existence around a market that keeps goats on the roof. It’s a good gimmick, I’ll admit, hence the meta-gimmick.
Enfoiré snuck onto the platform a few nights ago and nipped the ear off the goat grazing on the side of the cliff. Although I was able to avoid having him do any damage, Bubble was even more persistent about exploring my project up-close. Had he gotten the chance, he might’ve noticed the cookie elephant I snuck among the grazing goats.
The base measured 24″ x 24″, and the structure was also about 24″ high, meaning the only place it was safe from the cats while it was in progress was in the bedroom closet. I have some green sprinkles to vacuum out of the closet after I upload this post.
The Cliffs of Insanity and assorted inferior creations will be on display at the Parkside Hotel & Spa on Humboldt Street from November 21st until January 3rd, 2021. Go see The Cliffs before the hard candy sea collects a film of dust. Or check out these additional photos:
On the ride back home I said to Yann, “It was mostly fun. I’m glad I did it, but I could have managed my time better.”
He responded, “Yep.”