Living the Sweet Life
A whimsical new book is putting a fresh spin on the traditional gingerbread house this Christmas.
In The Magic of Gingerbread, award-winning pastry artist Catherine Beddall inspires readers to build unconventional projects like bird houses, space rockets and robots. She even offers up step-by-step instructions for making a jaw-dropping chess board, complete with playing pieces.
“I really love the medium of gingerbread,” says Beddall, a pastry arts instructor at Algonguin College in Ottawa. “You can put pieces together; you can build it in stages.”
Beddall has long been a mastermind of wedding and celebration cakes — her fanciful creations can be custom ordered through Catherine Beddall Edible Art. She credits her early beginnings largely to cake books, and says that when she developed a passion for gingerbread she was disappointed to find that there weren’t a lot of good books available. That inspired her to create her own book — one that would enable even beginner-level bakers to tackle a gingerbread project.
“What I was hoping is that people who were intimidated by the thought of it would be inspired to make a house,” says Beddall, adding that her book details the methodology for creating a successful product. “I really go into the methods I use to make sure the walls are stable, to make sure they hold.
"These methods have worked so well for me that I hope they work well for other people, too.”
Indeed, her methods have a track record of success; Beddall is a two-time winner of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) Gingerbread House Competition in Ottawa. In 2010, Beddall’s winning entry was a two-storey gingerbread home that included a little fireplace scene inside — complete with a cozy armchair and a side table topped with a miniature plate of cookies and a glass of milk. For her second win in 2011, she created a Victorian-style dollhouse — complete with edible furnishings. She recalls that each project took more than 60 hours to complete.
“I have fond memories of the first CMHC contest because that was what really sparked my love of gingerbread,” says Beddall. “It was essentially the first gingerbread house I ever made, apart from the generic ‘gingerbread kit’ creations of my childhood.”
After the judging, CMHC displayed the gingerbread creations at the Rideau Centre. Shoppers could then bid on their favourite homes in a silent auction — with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity NCR. Over the 10 years that CMHC hosted its Gingerbread House Competition, about $80,000 was raised in support of Habitat for Humanity’s work building afford able housing as a means to breaking the cycle of poverty in the National Capital area.
Beddall’s winning entry for the CMHC Gingerbread House Competition in 2011 — the Victorian-style dollhouse — also earned a first-prize win at the Canadian Gingerbread House Championship at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg. That project also included incredible detail — including floors made of gingerbread. They were painted with food colouring to resemble hardwood. Beddall even modelled a tiny painting after Vincent van Gogh’s Poppy Flowers. Less than five centimetres tall, the painting was made with gum paste and food colouring to hang over the miniature mantel.
In The Magic of Gingerbread, Beddall details her award-winning techniques in exacting detail. But the science of baking is balanced with equal portions of creativity — each of her 16 projects are paired with beautiful, full-colour photos that she took herself.
“Since I have a graphic design background and I love layout and the visual aspect of books, I wanted to do something that would be a little more elegant in terms of design; that’s what I didn’t really see out there,” Beddall explains. “I’m very proud of it; I put a lot of love into it.” All recipes aside, it seems the key ingredient to Beddall’s success is sheer imagination.
“I’m a big miniature fan and I also love architecture,” says Beddall. “I like to look at houses and imagine if I’d like to live in them, and there’s something about looking at a little house and envisioning what must be going on inside it. “With these little houses, I can live that in a small way.”
Catherine Beddall Edible Art