Are you ever inspired during the holiday season and decide to try your hand at making a gingerbread house from scratch? Annnnnd then your dreams of edible decorative glory come crashing down when your gingerbread house looks more like a shanty shack than a storybook chalet? I’ve been there, and maybe you have too. Have no fear! Expert baker and cake decorator, Jodi Rhoden will be here to save the (holi)day with her upcoming weekend class: Handmade Gingerbread Houses.
CP: What do you like about gingerbread houses?
JR: The first time I ever made a gingerbread house, I was enchanted. I really felt like I wanted to become miniature and live inside the house! It feels completely magical and fantastical to create a little home out of candy and sweet gingerbread, and the smells, and textures (and of course, tastes, because there’s always scrap pieces of gingerbread that need to be eaten!) are uniquely pleasurable to the senses.
CP: Do you have to be architecturally skilled to make a good gingerbread house? Who is the ideal student for your class?
JR: You do not have to be architecturally skilled to build a gingerbread house! The icing and the candy make it very forgiving. Like most things worth doing, though, it does take time. We will spend a good amount of time in the planning phase, cutting and measuring templates to create the right sizes for the pieces. I also always like to bake extra pieces, in case something breaks or bakes wonky.
CP: Have you ever participated in the National Gingerbread house Competition is at the Grove Park Inn? Did the proximity of this annual event in Asheville influence your interest in gingerbread house making?
JR: It has always been my dream to enter a house into the competition at the Grove Park Inn, though up until now I have been too busy with my business, Short Street Cakes, to seriously consider it. But now that I have sold my business to my employee, this just might be the right time!
CP: I was just looking at past galleries of the competition and I noticed that the five criteria that entries are judged on are:
• Overall Appearance
• Originality & Creativity
• Consistency of Theme
What quality is the valued most by you?
JR: While all of these are important, the gingerbread houses that I have loved the most in the past are ones that have a distinct and consistent aesthetic. I tend to love traditional european-style piping, and anything that is twee and miniature I love the most. One year there was a gingerbread house that had a little mouse in the corner. The mouse’s body was a pine nut, it’s nose was a poppy seed, and its ears were sesame seeds. Now, I’m not saying we’ll get that detailed in our workshop but it delighted me so much!
CP: When you eat a gingerbread person, what part do you eat first?
JR: The head, obviously, while pretending that the gingerbread person is saying, “ No! Please don’t eat me!” But seriously, I think there is a universal myth in all cultures about food that takes on a life of its own and runs away. There’s not a baker in the world that hasn’t imagined her creations coming to life after the world goes to sleep. I think that’s why we love ginger folk so much, there’s the element of ancient magic.
CP: What are your favorite winter holiday traditions?
JR: I love Christmastime so very much. I love tradition of burning the Yule log to celebrate the turning of the seasons, and so of course, my favorite cake to make at Christmastime is the Buche de Noel, a traditional French chocolate roulade crafted to look like a Yule log. Also, my mom used to make me walk around the neighborhood in Georgia where I grew up every Christmas and collect all different kinds of evergreens and holly, and we would stuff it on all the mantles and windowsills. The smell of fresh greenery mixed with the smell of her mulled cider filled the house with warmth and sweetness.
CP: What’s your favorite flavor?
JR: Solid tie between caramel and bourbon vanilla. Preferably both at the same time.
CP: Can you tell me about a career highlight as a professional baker? Or a time when you thought to yourself “this can’t be real, I can’t believe this is even happening!”
JR: My life as a baker has led me in directions I would never have imagined years ago. The best things that have happened to me through baking have been the opportunities I have been given to travel, teach, and write. Like all art forms, baking is the medium, but life itself, the connections between people, that is the message. I feel invigorated and enlivened by this path of storytelling through food.
CP: Have you ever been to the Folk School? What made you want to teach here?
JR: I have been to the Folk School once, just as a visitor. But it seems to be a pilgrimage for many traditional bakers, especially pie makers like the wonderful Barbara Swell. I have heard for many years what a respite and a balm being at the Folk School can be. I wanted to be a part of that tradition.
Jodi Rhoden is the founder and former owner of Short Street Cakes in West Asheville. She has also written a cookbook, Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition. We are lucky she is taking a weekend to spend with us in the Cooking Studio to demystify the secrets of incredible ginger bread houses. If you love holiday tradition and sweets, this is the class for you:
Oct 28-30 (Weekend)
Learn to design, bake, build, and decorate a classic gingerbread house from scratch. Luscious gingerbread aroma will fill the air and set a festive mood! Get as detailed and fanciful as you like with design elements including piped Bavarian icing and vintage candy decorations. Receive guidance on your individual creation, resulting in a beautiful and enchanting gingerbread house to take home to your loved ones. Register today!
Cory Marie Podielski is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and writer for the John C. Campbell Folk School. She has been writing for the Folk School Blog since 2012 and enjoys interviewing artists, musicians, and craftspeople. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the banjo, dancing, printmaking, playing in clay, and assisting in Folk School bread baking classes. podielski.com