Tales real and imagined come alive in a stack of books nearing three feet tall – mostly made of gingerbread.
Ocean creatures seep from a title by Jacques Cousteau. A Chris Hadfield perches precariously on a book of astronomy. Out of Africa sports a lioness in long grass. Stingrays, a passport, Easter Island heads and 30 monarch butterflies sprout from the stack.
“I wanted to make it so the books were coming to life,” said pastry chef Melanie Lonsdale of Ottavio Italian Bakery and Deli.
Titled Wanderlust, this will be her fifth entry to the National Gingerbread Showcase that opens at Laurel Point Inn this Saturday (Nov. 19). The all-in-good-fun competition pits baker against baker to see who creates the most dazzling work of art from completely edible materials. Participants compete for a top-three finish as either a professional or home baker.
Lonsdale took a break the last two years, serving as a judge for the Habitat for Humanity fundraiser last year. When the Around the World theme came out, Lonsdale had a concept sketched in five minutes and Ottavio’s Andrew Moyer promptly agreed to the entry.
The planned height of the structure meant she needed some form of edible dowelling. Fettuccine noodles and royal icing proved a solid answer to getting structurally sound, a least favourite part of the process.
“I just wanted to ice the cake,” she said. “You have your sketch but as you progress it’s continually evolving as you go. The problem is stopping.”
The building and decorating process includes about 30 pounds of gingerbread, a 27-pound box of rice crisps and 22 pounds of rolled fondant.
Lonsdale kept her co-workers at Ottavio in suspense until the creation was complete, just ahead of the judging. They watched as she did some pieces at work (they had some fun with the largest box of rice crisps any had ever seen), but the bulk of completion was at home.
“(It took) 147.5 hours (to build), but who’s counting,” Lonsdale said with a laugh. “Every time I do it, it takes incrementally more time.”
That could be due to a consistent increase in detail and her competitive nature. Lonsdale won a title every year she entered.
“It’s always satisfying to win. It’s a great fundraiser,” she said. “It’s a lot of work but it’s fun. It gives the chefs a chance to be creative and show what we’re capable of.”
Victoria’s Inn at Laurel Point hosts Canada’s National Gingerbread Showcase, benefiting Habitat for Humanity Victoria, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily Nov. 19 to Jan. 2. The event brings together professional and amateur bakers from across Canada and highlights their creativity, while supporting the work of Habitat for Humanity Victoria. The 2015 showcase raised $44,120.47 for Habitat’s efforts to make affordable homeownership possible for lower-income families in the Victoria region.
During the showcase, the public is invited to view the sweet creations and, in exchange for a donation, vote for their favourite.
The showcase opens to the public Nov. 19. The People’s Choice Award, voted by visitors to the display, is announced Jan. 11.