Precision matters in the Belleville Annual Gingerbread Contest. Precisely placed mini Oreo roof tiles. Evenly spaced gingerbread cookie desks. Exactly even gingerbread blocks making up an Acropolis-inspired building.
Jennifer Morimoto, of Belleville, was possibly the most precise baker and maker among the 26th annual contest’s 54 submissions. Her “Athena’s Gingerbread Dream” used six batches of gingerbread – the recipe from the contest’s brochure – and her background from an art and engineering school to craft the Best of Show. Winners were announced on Sunday at Fischer’s Restaurant in Belleville.
Her inspiration was a small building near the Acropolis in Greece, a building she studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Other winners took their inspiration from closer to home, or the computer.
“We looked at some patterns online, and did modify a bit,” said Amy DeVaughhan, who with Bella Grosvenor took an honorable mention in the youngest children’s category with their “Bellamy Manor.” The 11-year-old girls started just a couple of nights before, spending about five hours with their decorating Friday night. But they ran into a spot of trouble when the roof tiles didn’t line up at the ridge line.
“My brother was there, eating pretzels, and Bella said, ‘Hey, we could use that and fix the roof!’” Amy said Sunday when the winners were announced. The girls glued the pretzels together with icing and covered the ridge line with more icing and gumdrops.
Amy’s mother, Lynne, used the pattern for her honorable-mention winner in the first-time entrants category, although she lengthened it and put the front door on the long side. DeVaughan said she’s long enjoyed cake decorating and has wanted to give the contest a try, but also didn’t start until about 8 p.m. Friday, with entries due to Fischer’s no later than noon Saturday. She worked until about 2 a.m., she said, then worked on it a couple more hours before turning it in.
One thing she had wanted but was unable to make work was a string of lights made of sprinkles.
“The littlest things make such a difference,” she said. “It finally dawned on me that I could color the icing, and I colored the trim and shutters.”
Lilliana Maitret, 5, spent a couple of weeks with her grandmother making their “Camp Gingerbread,” said Lilliana’s mother, Jamie.
“She goes camping a lot with her grandparents, so that prompted the idea,” Maitret said.
Lilliana said they made “big woods (for the fire) out of pretzels and rocks out of candy, so it doesn’t burn.”
Imagination and creativity are part of what the children’s creations are judged on, said volunteer judge Jessie Bostick. For the kids, judges look for energy and a “colorful expression of their imagination,” she said, like snowmen next to fireplaces. For adults, it’s got to be creative and precise to reap the highest scores.
First-time adult entrant Erin Borner took a bit longer than a month, perhaps 40 hours, crafting “A Quiet Christmas”, including lining up dozens of mini cookies as shingles.
She bakes cakes as a hobby and thought the contest would be a fun thing to try. Borner took over the kitchen counters and dining room table to make the two-story house topped with mini Oreo tiles. She also made the family’s dogs out of fondant while her daughter, Natalie, ate the extra candy and cookies.
“She wanted to help, but I’m a little particular,” Borner said.
Not everything came easily to her. She found that melted Jolly Rancher candies were too heavy for windows, so she used melted butterscotch disks poured into the baked gingerbread. She also tried to make a bridge of gingerbread, but it cracked. No matter.
“I might try to do something bigger (next year),” she said as her husband, Matt, groaned, “or maybe more detailed.”
Cracking gingerbread is a problem with humidity, said Cayenne Tisher of the Southwestern Illinois College Culinary Arts and Food Management Department. SWIC’s effort was “Andy’s Room,” inspired by the 20th anniversary of “Toy Story,” Tisher said.
Andy’s bedspread has a crackle-paint look to it from the cracked gingerbread, Tisher said. It wasn’t the plan, but it was part of the learning experience.
“Humidity plays a huge part,” Tisher said. She said the team, three main bakers and another four or five who “floated in and out” worked five Fridays to create it, also learning how to be precise in making a creation.
While most of the bakers learned about humidity and recipes to make molded gingerbread, Jan Wiggs’ second graders at Freeburg learned math.
The Best of Show winner in the children’s category – “Learning at the Primary Center” – is a replica of their classroom. They measured everything and worked to the last minute to make sure everything in their classroom was represented, from each student’s Starburst chair to the books on the shelves. They learned math terms, including area and perimeter.
“I like them to think it was a math lesson,” Wiggs said before the winners were announced. “Math can be fun.”
For all their careful design, Wiggs told them the gingerbread was really not true to life.
“This is not realistic, you’re never sitting this way,” she says she told the class.
Best of Show, $1,000: Jennifer Morimoto, “Athena’s Gingerbread Dream”
First place, $600: Kelly Kretshmer, “This Means Something”
Second place, $300: Beverly Cutler, “I Believe”
Third place, $200: SWIC Culinary Arts & Food Management Department, “Andy’s Room”
Honorable mentions: Judy Zillen, “All You Need Is Love” and Debbie Kruep, “Deck the Halls”
First place, $300: Lynda and Paul Rueff, “Welcome Home”
Second place, $200: Suzanne Kugler and Teresa Hessel, “Pub Crawl Christmas”
Third place, $100:Alice Howe, “Christmas at the Farmstead”
Honorable mentions: Angela Chininin-Buele, “True Fruitfulness”, The Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, “The Nativity at the Grotto”
Gingerbread House Category
First place, $300: Patricia Keim, “House of Light”
Second place, $200: Kaskaskia Engineering, “Belleville-St Louis Hofbrauhaus”
First time Entrants Category:
First place, $300: Erin Borner, “A Quiet Christmas”
Second place, $200: Allen and Nicholas Ernst, “Santa Wars: The Clasus Strikes Back”
Third place, $100: Kathy Manno, “Home for Christmas”
Honorable mentions: Penny Stell, “School House,”; Bradley Ebersol, “Bradley’s Happy House” and Lynne DeVaughan, “Home Sweet Home”.
Best of Show: Jan Wiggs, “Learning at the Primary Center”
First place, $75: Lilliana Maitret, “Camp Gingerbread”
Second place: $50: Isaac Trapp, “Big Ben”
Third place: $25: Sophia Trapp, “Castle of Love”
Honorable mentions: Maria Raza, “Wishyland”; Ryann Gordon and Ella Anderson, “Winter Wonderland”; Mason Schaub, “Kids Creation Log Cabin”; Amy DeVaughan and Vella Grosvenor, “Bellamy Manor”
Sixth through 12th
First place, $75: Colene Hamilton and Katelyn Jonak, “Paul’s Snow Party”
Second place: $50: Mascoutah High School Life Center, “It’s a Charlie Brown Candy Christmas”
Third place: $25: Kinsey Camboe, “House of Blues”
Honorable mentions: O’Fallon High School, “Empire State of Christmas,”; Jack Lawrence, “Merry Surfing Christmas”; Hailey, Deandra and Bailey Lewan, “Cabin in the Woods”
First place, $75: Linda Boyle, “Waiting for Santa”
Second place: $50: Girl Scout Daisy Troop 1035, “We Build This City on Daisy Love”
Third place: $25: Girl Scout Daisy Troop 607, “Daisy Town”
Honorable mention: Girl Scout Daisy Troop 168, “Girl Scout Village