The Hippo


Feb 27, 2020








Courtesy photo.

Vote for your favorite

See the gingerbread house village at Frederick’s Pastries (109 Route 101A, Amherst, the day before Thanksgiving through the first week of January. 
Vote for your favorite by Christmas Eve.

Inside the Village
What it takes to create Frederick’s gingerbread display

By Allie Ginwala

Every year just before Thanksgiving, Frederick’s Pastries in Amherst unveils a new gingerbread village — it’s part contest and part tasty-looking way to get visitors into the holiday spirit. More than a dozen houses are carefully crafted by employees, who use all manner of edible decorations — including, in total, about 200 pounds of royal icing — to try to design a winning house that fits into the year’s theme (this year, it’s game boards). To find out more about the work that goes into the display, the Hippo sat down with lead designer Jennifer Wojtaszek and owner Susan Lozier Robert.

How competitive does this get?
JW: Pretty competitive. We try to schedule some night times for [employees] to come in and get some help if they need it. ... It’s nice to see what everyone’s forte is and how detailed they get.
Walk me through the process. Everyone is given a pre-constructed gingerbread house to take home?
JW: They have to be on the same size cake board so everything’s to scale, 12-inch round. … We [use] our basic houses that we sell … giving two kits to each person, and then they can make any adjustments or alterations and cut pieces off [or] add pieces to it. 
How did you come up with the theme ideas?
SLR: We actually just poll everybody, all the staff, all the stores.
What has your favorite theme been to date?
JW: Children’s books [in] maybe 2009. There was Princess and the Pea ... Billy Goat’s Gruff. Someone did the Dr. Seuss books.
What do you typically use on your houses?
JW: It’s all different candies. It depends on the theme. I did a Pinnochio one a few years ago, so that was like cereal-based because it’s all that bold, German, wood kind of look to it. I tend to lean more toward the piping and royal icing and a lot of fondant sculpting.
What’s one of the most unique materials you’ve used?
SLR: I think the coolest thing would be the ponds.
JW: The glass. Well, it’s not glass, it’s sugar. You pour melted sugar on a piece of marble and it dries out and hardens [to make] ponds, so it looks smooth and shiny.
SLR: That and stained glass windows in the houses.
What is the favorite detail you’ve ever used on a gingerbread house?
JW: Bubblegum [for] bricks. That was just a neighborhood [theme] that year. It was an old, two-story house with a porch wrapped around it. [I used] Big Red gum, cut it with scissors.
What decorating techniques do you apply to the gingerbread houses?
JW: Piping, royal icing piping. When I say piping, they can pipe anything.
SLR: That and I think the consistent thing each year is … in order to get to the part of decorating you have to build the house and walk away. You can’t put the roof on [right away]. You’ve got to remember that it takes time, it’s got to dry. So you can’t just go home and make a house today, start to finish. You have to plan it. You’ve got to take your time and do it in stages.
How do you secure or preserve it?
SLR: Don’t put it in the fridge, don’t expose it to extreme hot or cold and it will last forever. 
How long does it take you to make your gingerbread house?
JW: Probably a week.
SLR: We tell them the theme and some get right on it and others ... just know, ‘I’ll build my house Thursday, and Sunday I’ll decorate it.’ I think the more experienced cake decorators fall under that [category].
Is anything edible fair game as building material?
JW: It has to be all edible. Frederick’s supplies all the gingerbread and then they have to go and supply their candy. So no wrappers, no sticks, no glue, no fake items in there.
Do people ever stray from decorating with candies and sweets?
SLR: Spaghetti, I’ve seen that used. Dry spaghetti. I’ve seen all kinds of cereal and crackers and pretzels.
JW: Even spices, dried spices for trees and bushes.
Do you eat as you build?
JW: Yeah, we do that. Who doesn’t like Kit Kats?
Do you use certain ingredients just so you can eat as you build?
JW: That usually doesn't end well. [I] usually end up eating it.
What do you have in mind for your house this year?
JW: I’m thinking Battleship … [where] the game is sitting up and the other side’s the house. Half house, half Battleship game.
Ever had a house-making catastrophe?
JW: Oh yeah. I mean when you’re making the templates from scratch and you cut the gingerbread and you cut the wrong side or you didn’t flip it over, you cut two pieces the same angle, there’s tons of things that can go wrong and you have to start again.
When it’s all said and done, do the houses get eaten?
SLR: I mean it’s completely set up and it’s completely [surrounded] with plexiglass and it’s built so people can’t touch it, but they’re standing over it and I’m sure sneezing and coughing on it. [But] we have employees that keep them every year. 

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