Perhaps they should have involved some engineering students in this project.
But then, it probably would not have been nearly as good of a learning experience for students in the University of Akron’s School of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The school’s interim director, Sandra Hudak, received a request to create six gingerbread houses to be featured on the annual Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns being held Sunday and Monday in Holmes County. (See tour details in box.)
The call came from Kurt Kleidon, a public relations consultant for the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the tour along with the Amish Country Lodging Council. Kleidon also is a member of UA’s Nutrition and Dietetics Advisory Board.
The tour, which donates its proceeds to charity, offered $3,000 in scholarship money for the advisory board to award to a student who took part in the project. Hudak said the students who worked on the houses will have to apply for the scholarship. In addition, there will be a popular vote on the houses during the tour with the winning team being awarded $500 in prize money.
After this weekend, the gingerbread homes will be put on display at Akron Children’s Hospital for the remainder of the holiday season.
Hudak’s students are not studying to be chefs; most aspire to positions as clinical dietitians in the medical field. However, she felt the scholarship money was a great incentive and believed the project would help students learn valuable lessons in planning and organization.
Just ask Matt Frantz, 22, of Independence, and Andrew Mendez, 21, of Macedonia.
The pair is part of a group of four male students in the school’s first-year coordinated program, who have dubbed themselves Team Ambition. When it came time to put together teams to build the houses, the foursome decided they wanted to make it a battle of the sexes, with their 10 female classmates creating their own house.
Hudak wanted them to even up the sides a bit, but the men insisted they could take on the women, 4-to-10.
“Ambition” is an appropriate name for their team. The group selected plans for a large, three-story structure complete with a cupola on top.
Unfortunately their first try was more Humpty Dumpty than English manor house — it had a great fall.
As Hudak explained it, the group learned that it is important to cement the walls together with royal icing two at a time, not all four at once.
On this day, Frantz and Mendez had their first floor securely in place, bolstered at the foundation by a row of Rice Krispie treat building blocks, which also would serve as a porch area for the house.
The top of the first story was definitely more sugarplum than builder’s plumb, but the pair were hoping to level things up with more royal icing when they attached their second story.
Frantz said the initial collapse taught his team a valuable lesson: “Patience.”
“It won’t turn out quite as pretty as you see in the pictures and it’s not going to turn out exactly perfect,” he said.
Mendez added, “But most importantly, have fun.”
Their 10 female counterparts were re-creating a gingerbread version of the house from the movie Up, complete with gum paste likenesses of retired balloon salesman Carl Fredriksen and Russell, his 8-year-old friend, made by student Meghan Rice of Wauseon.
Second-year students already had finished their creation, a house decorated entirely in nuts, which they dubbed Sandra’s Nut House, in honor of Hudak.
A team of food and environmental nutrition students were making a gingerbread version of Clark Griswold’s house from the movie Christmas Vacation, with colored candy used to re-create the multitude of Christmas lights on the house.
Even the faculty and staff were putting together a house, The Faculty Inn, that used sections of Hershey bars to create four-pane windows.
Members of the Student Dietetic Association, along with their adviser, Michelle Boltz, a clinical instructor in the school of Nutrition and Dietetics, were creating an Amish farmhouse and barn, complete with gingerbread animals.
Student Madeline Leapaldt, 19, of Bismarck, N.D., said the group felt their choice would best showcase the Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns, in Amish country.
She showed the barnyard animals — cows, pigs, sheep and of course, a cat — that would become part of the barnyard display. “We’re staying true to the theme of the tour,” she said.
Boltz and Leapaldt agreed that patience and a well-thought-out plan were the key to success when making a gingerbread house, especially for beginners.
Hudak said the students have learned the importance of planning, organization, and especially time management when it came to getting the houses done on time — making it a worthwhile lesson for the classes.
If you think you’d like to make your own gingerbread house, here are a few tips:
• Remember to make a plan beforehand. Plenty of house plans can be found online or in books at the library.
• Leave yourself plenty of time for baking and constructing. Royal icing needs time to dry and harden, so be patient.
• If you plan ahead, you can decorate your walls before erecting them.
Here are the recipes for construction gingerbread and royal icing that the UA crew was using to help get you started.
1 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups old-fashioned molasses
½ cup warm water
7 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
Combine dry ingredients.
Melt shortening, and add molasses and ½ cup warm water. Mix in dry ingredients until smooth. If necessary, knead last of flour into dough until smooth and flexible. Chill, then roll dough to about ⅛-inch thickness on cookie sheets. Cut out patterns, remove excess dough from cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes.
Makes a medium-sized house with 8-by-6-inch sides, 9½-by-8-inch front and back, and two 10-by-7-inch roof pieces.
— The Gingerbread Book, Allen D. Bragdon (1984, Arco Publishing Inc.)
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar, or more as needed
½ cup pasteurized egg whites (about 3 large egg whites)
½ tsp. cream of tartar
Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and combine, scraping sides down. Turn the mixer to high and beat until thick and very white. Mixture will hold a peak. This should take at least 7 to 10 minutes.
When finished, cover with plastic wrap, making sure it touches the royal icing so a crust doesn’t form. Royal icing dries out quickly, so make sure it is covered all of the time. Otherwise, there will be lumps in the icing and they will never pass through an icing tip.
You may tint the icing any color by using a small amount of paste food color. For ¼ cup of tinted icing, dip the tip of a toothpick into desired color, then into the icing, and stir well. Repeat until desired color is achieved. For strong colors, such as red, royal blue and dark purple, use ⅛ teaspoon color to ¼ cup icing.
Makes enough to decorate 1 small house.
Note: Be careful not to over-whip icing, or it will crack as it dries and your house will collapse.