Baking up Holiday Memories – Let Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge’s Gingerbread Lane Inspire You…

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgI am so excited to be a judge for this years’ Gingerbread Lane Professional & Amateur Competition at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge in Charlotte,NC.
The Gingerbread Lane competition offers two independent categories for professional and amateur entries. The grand prize for the professional category is an overnight stay for two guests in the Presidential Suite plus breakfast in Gallery Restaurant. The winner of the amateur category will receive an overnight stay for two in a Parlor Suite including breakfast in Gallery Restaurant.

Judging takes place today on Wednesday, December 11 at 5pm. So come on out for a preview of what these clever and creative area bakers have built and to see who wins the competition.
If the display this year inspire you to start your own little DIY project then consider this post your recipe for success. The gingerbread house photos in this post are from the 2012 competition at Ballantyne’s Gingerbread Lane- can’t wait to see what’s in store for us this year!

This Old Gingerbread House
Gingerbread_Lane_2012_013-1For me, as for many of you, the holidays are all about making memories. One of the best ways, I think, to do so, is to plan an annual family activity with which to enjoy the season.
So, what’s say we bake a gingerbread house? I won’t lie to you though, it’s a several day project, so you’ll need to set aside some special time, but the house you create can be kept to enjoy for years – that is unless little holiday nibblers get it to it all before you have a change to preserve it and pack it away!
If an actual house seems too overwhelming, then use the recipes here to bake cookies, but be creative! Don’t use the standard shaped cookie cutters – create designs of your own using poster board as directed in the gingerbread dough recipe on this page.

barbieI can remember one holiday season I baked gingerbread gifts for everyone I knew. Some people got large oversized gingerbread people in their own likeness– friends who golfed got cookies with carried nine irons sporting gold shoes, friends who were in business, got cookies with ties and briefcases, and friends with new babies got cookies complete with baby strollers.
If you like the idea, but are in need of a little creative shove, just walk down the Barbie aisle at your local toy store – Barbie has all the accessories necessary to life – I think you’ll get some good ideas.


For other friends with families I baked a large square of gingerbread and then decorated it to look like a checkerboard – complete with gingerbread cookie checkers of course – one time I even made a gingerbread monopoly set, but I’ll tell you, making the gingerbread house is easier!

Before you are the baker, you must be the architect
For the house, you’ll need to make a poster board pattern first. Cut two rectangles for the sides (approximately 5 inches by 10 inches) and then for the front and back you’ll need two pieces that look like a rectangle (approximately 10 inches by 5 inches) with a triangle (approximately 10 inches across the bottom with seven inch peaks) sitting on the top, then two additional rectangles for the roof (each of these is to be approximately 10 inches by 7 inches). This will give you your basic house shape – if there is someone in the family with an architectural bend, you can get more creative – feel free to start adding on porticos, dormer windows, split level additions and such!
Put your poster board house together first – just use small pieces of masking tape, to make sure all of the pieces fit together as they are supposed to, then use the patterns to cut the gingerbread before baking. Let the gingerbread pieces cool and dry out for several days so that they will be rigid enough to stand up, both to the glue which will hold them together and to heavy decorations. If this is a house you are going to keep, you can put them together with a glue gun, if its one you are going to eat, commercial tub frosting is probably a healthier choice.
Once your house is together, let it dry for one more day and then you can begin to decorate. Use wafer thin cookies connected to the house with tub frosting or Cake-Mate, for roof tiles or if you’d prefer the thatched roof look, use split wedges of large size shredded wheat. Long fat pretzels can give the outside walls of your house a log cabin look, while graham crackers or Captains Wafers make wonderful shutters. Fat straight candy canes make lovely window boxes and gum drops are good for outdoor bushes and flowers. Hershey bars work well for paved sidewalks or driveways and Snowcaps chocolate non-pariels make a great gravel area. Malted milk balls or any kind of chocolate or candy covered nut make for fabulous stones with which to build the chimney and of course, you can sprinkle everything with a light shaking of powdered sugar for the look of the season’s first snow.
Gingerbread_Lane_2012_003-8To keep your gingerbread house for years to come, wait until after the holidays and then spray it with your choice of either matt finish or high glass shellac. Let it dry completely and then carefully pack it up cushioned with Styrofoam peanuts. For the best storage results, try keeping you house in a spot that is dry and cool throughout the year.
Your finished gingerbread house may not come out looking like the cover of Architectural Digest, but then again it may be cuter than you ever imagined. Remember just to enjoy the process, have fun, take lots of pictures and cherish the memories.

HEIDI’S GINGERBREAD FOR COOKIES OR HOUSES – my personal secret for houses in using the cake flour – it makes for a lighter cookie that is easier to assemble.
1/4 cup real butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses – use local NC molasses for the very best flavor
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. ground cardamom or ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. lemon extract
1/4 cup water
Cream butter and sugar together until smooth and a little fluffy. Beat in the molasses. Add the cake flour, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and salt. Gradually add in the water and lemon extract. Blend or knead slightly until the dough forms a soft ball. Divide the dough in half. Pat each half into a flat rounded disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least one hour. The dough may be frozen at this point for later use if you so desire. To begin, Roll the dough out onto a large sheet of parchment paper to about one quarter inch thick. Cut as you would like with cookie cutters for a gingerbread house or larger cookies, make a pattern from poster board, spray the slick side of the board with a bit of cooking spray and then place the pattern sprayed side down onto the dough and cut around it. Lift small cookies off of the work surface and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. For large pieces, just slide the piece of parchment paper onto which you rolled the dough over onto the baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before decorating.

1 (1lb.) pkg powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. solid vegetable shortening
3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. light corn syrup
food coloring
Beat the powdered sugar together with the shortening, butter, water and corn syrup. Divide the mix between small bowls or paper cups – one for each different color you would like to use. Color the powdered sugar mixture in each cup with several drops of food coloring until you have created you color palate. Spoon the icing into pastry bags fitted with small decorating tips and decorated the completely cooled cookies. For a more spreadable icing or paintable frosting, increase the water in the recipe by two to three tablespoons.

gingerbread manMore for the holidays from Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge
Know that throughout the rest of the month, you can enjoy an enchanting collection of gingerbread creations from the competition: Thursday, December 12 through Sunday December 29, the creative display will be open daily from 9am to 5pm. Attendees may vote on their favorite gingerbread creation with a $1 minimum donation per vote. All proceeds will benefit Levine Children’s Hospital, dedicated to caring for the physical and emotional needs of children and their families.

Hot Chocolate & Toddies
Get cozy at the Veranda at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, Friday-Sunday, December 6 through December 29, 2pm- 5pm throughout December. Enjoy hot chocolate with the option to add Godiva or any other liqueurs along with a selection of garnishes. The cost is $6 and $9 with liqueur.

Holiday Afternoon Tea
This is one of my favorite events at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge – gather your friends and family and stop in to enjoy a lovely Holiday Afternoon Tea in the Lobby throughout  the month of December.
Holiday Tea includes a variety of seasonal loose leaf tea blends from Harney & Sons Teas and a selection of savory tea sandwiches, traditional confectionaries and holiday treats. Tea is served Wednesday – Sunday, December 4 through Sunday December 29, 1pm – 5pm. The cost is $32 for adults and $15 for children, ages 5-12, and complimentary for children ages 4 and under (plus tax & gratuity). A champagne tea is available for $40 per person and there is a live harpist as well to make it all the more special – treat your self and make it a holiday tradition! Reservations are required at 704.248.4100. Not available on Christmas Day.