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Architect offers gingerbread tips

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CANTON — Rebecca N. Weld, a licensed architect, spends her workdays designing buildings made of brick, concrete and other traditional materials.

But at this time of year, her creativity turns to sweeter projects, such as how to transform gingerbread into elaborate structures decked out with colored icing, candy and other sweet treats.

“I treat gingerbread the way I treat any architectural modeling material,” Ms. Weld said. “But it’s a lot more fun. First of all, you get to eat it.”

She and her family moved to the north country three years ago and she opened her business, Renew Architecture & Design, Potsdam.

On Saturday, Ms. Weld shared some design tips with about 25 community members during a free presentation at Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, 53 Main St.

During the past three years, she has won two awards in TAUNY’s annual Sugar & Spice gingerbread contest. An Adirondack chalet was her first winner, followed by the sandstone gatehouse at Potsdam’s Bayside Cemetery. She also has entered a replica of Canton’s former Hotel Harrington.

“I wanted to understand these buildings by building them out of gingerbread,” Ms. Weld told her audience.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the TAUNY contest and exhibit. TAUNY organizers are hoping to attract entries from the wider Northern New York region by offering to pick up gingerbread displays from contestants so they can be displayed at TAUNY during the holiday season. This year’s theme is “Gingerbread Around the World.”

This time, Ms. Weld is serving as a judge, rather than a contestant, for the popular contest.

To start the process, she recommends drawing a sketch of a building on cardboard and cutting out the pieces to get an idea of how they will fit together. Photographs of buildings and preprinted patterns are also helpful, Ms. Weld said, noting patterns are available at www.ultimategingerbread.com.

“You don’t have to start entirely from scratch. You can start with existing patterns and modify them,” she said.

After coming up with a design plan, Ms. Weld said, she bakes large sheets of gingerbread, traces pattern pieces onto them and cuts pieces out with a band saw.

Instead of using a great deal of white icing, she suggested dying the gingerbread with white food coloring or gum paste. Cocoa powder can be used to color white icing brown.

Spices, herbs, nuts and beans are other materials that bring texture and color into a gingerbread exhibit, she said, noting she has used oregano and pistachios in her creations.

“It’s a nice way to add texture and it’s naturalistic,” she said.

Her projects also have featured sweeter ingredients such as mini M&Ms and Oreo Crisps.

“It’s a lot of fun to go through different stores keeping your eye out for things,” she said.

She also recommends giving enough time to the different steps to let all the pieces thoroughly dry.

“Level of dryness is a better indicator of stiffness than how thick the pieces are,” she said. “Moisture is the death of gingerbread.”

To learn more about the exhibit and contest guidelines, visit www.TAUNY.org.

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