YMCA plays host to gingerbread house workshop

Published 9:09 am Monday, December 12, 2016

From candy canes to gumdrops, sweet treats are an integral part of the holiday season.

Local children took part in the age-old tradition of making gingerbread houses Saturday at the W.K. Purks Center YMCA with pastry chef Heather Burns and her assistant Nancy Gates.

Burns has been leading gingerbread workshops with all ages, from adults to children, for 30 years.

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“I started doing them with adults and teaching about the history of gingerbread,” Burns said, adding gingerbread was originally made with expired ingredients like rotten eggs and old ale. “There is just so much history about it.”

Eventually Burns started teaching children in workshops downtown,  hosting 20 in the morning and 20 in the afternoon. Now she said she is teaching those children’s children.

Millie Wolfe, YMCA director of camping and childcare, said the gingerbread workshop was brought to the YMCA as a fun and novel activity to provide to children. This is the second year it has been held at the Y.

“When my children were little she did gingerbread houses,” Wolfe said. “She actually bakes the gingerbread pieces. She melts sugar. It’s hot sugar that holds it together.”

Each wall and roof slat is dipped in the caramelized sugar and stuck together the form the house. Burns took the reins on this part and allowed the children to bring her their pieces and help with dipping.

“I think it’s fun. It’s a fun activity for kids. I think it gives them a lot of confidence to do stuff and to work in a group like this. At first they are hesitant about becoming creative and want to do everything in a line, but then they just do crazy things. It’s just a lot of imagination, and I love that,” Burns said.

Once the house was constructed, children went back to their table to add real icing and a whole bag of candy to their house. Children then used their icing to add a chimney, Christmas trees and gingerbread men to the outside of the house. Burns calls the real icing cement because it dries hard and helps hold everything in place.

Ellie Tennison, 8, drew a window on her house with icing and then started making designs with different candies, like candy corn and M&Ms, on the roof of her house to make shingles.

“I really like it because it looks realistic like it’s a candyland,” she said. “I like designing. I think I like it the most.”

Carrie Smith, 7, was also focused on deign and decorations. She learned about French doors on home building shows on television, and she drew them on her house with icing.

“I’m trying to fill up the side of the roof here so it looks like it’s made of candy, and then I’m going to put a chimney on the top.”

Burns said there is one things all gingerbread house creators must do while working.

“You can’t make a gingerbread house unless you have a little piece of candy,” Burns told the class. “It’s alright to eat some. It’ll just help you make a better house.”