Put on your apron and preheat the oven. It’s time for the Ballantyne Hotel’s Gingerbread Lane competition, a seasonal tradition for many local bakers, young and old. Registration is underway for the contest, and your gingerbread creation could benefit the Levine Children’s Hospital as well.
Ballantyne Hotel’s Executive Pastry Chef Ben Kallenbach said making a gingerbread house is a perfect way to kick off the holiday season, unleash creativity, and bring generations together using icing, gingerbread, and every kind of candy and confection you can find.
Last year’s competition tapped the creativity of more than 40 folks from all over the Charlotte region who produced train scenes and pool scenes, intricate houses, the Panther’s stadium and other creations.
Kallenbach, will again be one of the judges.
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You might say he’s a seasoned gingerbread contractor. A few years ago, he designed and constructed a life-sized gingerbread house with a porch large enough for Santa to sit on and listen to kids’ Christmas wishes. Though your gingerbread project likely won’t be as ambitious as his, Kallenbach has agreed to give some professional advice to those looking to make a gingerbread creation of any size and, perhaps, start a new holiday family tradition.
Read on to get the chef’s expert advice, and let the baking and building begin.
What’s the first step for someone new to gingerbread house construction?
“Planning. Take your time and make a plan. Unless you’re slapping graham crackers on a milk carton (which he says is fine if that is what time allows) then you need a solid plan. If you are baking the gingerbread yourself, then make a template with cardboard so you will know the shapes you need, and give yourself plenty of time. Don’t rush.”
Is there a gingerbread baking secret you can share?
“We use a completely different recipe for gingerbread houses than we do with cookies. (His recipe is available online at
www.theballantynehotel.com/assets/GingerbreadDoughforCeationsandHouses.pdf ) You need the gingerbread firmer to provide structural integrity for the walls and roof. If you use a gingerbread cookie recipe, be sure to bake it longer. “
What about box kits?
“There’s nothing wrong with a box kit, but don’t be limited by the picture on the front. Use the gingerbread and the frosting, but make it your own. Change it up, add more candy, make it unique. It’s all about having fun!”
Why is gingerbread relegated to the winter months? Why not gingerbread bunnies at Easter or gingerbread cookies at the Fourth of July?
“The spring and summer months are light and pastel. Gingerbread cookies are heavier and fit well into the season. It’s all about the nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon this time of year. And you can save yourself a trip to the candle store by baking some gingerbread and filling your home with the wonderful smells of the holidays.”
“Making a gingerbread house is all about having fun – with your kids, your family, and your friends. It’s nothing to be serious about. Have a plan, but don’t be afraid to get creative. Slap on as much candy as you want. Put on some Christmas music, heat up the hot chocolate and enjoy.”
Want to enter the competition?
Ballantyne Hotel’s Gingerbread Lane competition offers three categories -- professional, amateur and child (ages 12 and under). Participation is free with prizes awarded in each category. Entry forms and complete rules can be found at www.theballantynehotel.com/upcoming-events/. Entry forms must be received via email by Nov. 29. Gingerbread creations must be delivered to the hotel between Dec. 3 at 9 a.m. and Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. Judging will take place on Dec. 7 at 4 p.m.
Want to see the entries?
Gingerbread Lane tours are free and will be open to the public anytime Dec. 8-28. Visitors may vote on their favorite entries with $1 minimum donation per vote. All proceeds will benefit Levine Children’s Hospital . The gingerbread creation with the most votes will be awarded the People’s Choice prize.