Around Town: Making gingerbread magic

For thousands of visitors who experience what has become a yuletide tradition at the Inn at Laurel Point, Canada’s National Gingerbread Showcase is an enchanting opportunity to relive Christmas memories.

When Alia Wafaei and her daughters Tulip, 16, and Nemo, 11, ventured out on a bitterly cold Thursday afternoon to see what many of us take for granted, however, it was a whole new experience.

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“They didn’t even know what a gingerbread house was, so that’s why we brought them to see this,” said Jill Plasteras, who sponsors Syrian refugees locally.

“This is the first time I see these,” said Alia, snapping photos of 25 gingerbread creations by professional and home bakers in the seventh annual edition of the showcase and Habitat for Humanity fundraiser.

This also marks the first Canadian Chistmas for Alia, who moved here in July from Aleppo, which she fondly recalls as an ‘old and beautiful city” in contrast to a barrage of media images of a devastated war zone.

While some might assume our recent cold snap, ice and snow were different from what she experienced in her homeland, she cheerfully dispelled that notion.

“It’s very cold in Syria. It’s snowing, and [there are] four seasons in Aleppo,” she said with a smile as she viewed a creation that couldn’t have been more appropriate under the circumstances.

She was transfixed by Ball of Inclusion, a striking piece by amateur bakers Yvonne Roslin-White and Michelle Rinald highlighted by a large globe encircled with international flags, and dozens of M & Ms.

“What binds communities and nations together,” reads a description. “Unity in a global way. What do we all need?”

The theme of this year’s competition, which continues daily until Jan. 1, is Around the World.

Rules stipulate each creation have a minimum height of 45 cm and all ingredients must be edible, with the exception of the obligatory solid base.

A steady stream of visitors passed through a large gingerbread house archway surrounded by a white picket fence, white Christmas trees and wreaths and outsized bonbons dangling above the first row of entries. Many took their time exploring these culinary wonders before making a donation to the Victoria branch of the charity that has built 22 homes locally for purchase by low-income families.

Donors are eligible to vote for the People’s Choice Award.

“It’s been a pleasure hosting this,” said Keir MacPherson, the hotel’s director of rooms. “We have a few hundred people coming though on a daily basis.”

Stantions had to be installed to ensure an orderly flow, and to discourage enthusiastic school and community group participants from touching or tasting.

“Some of the kids just race through and others take a long time. It seems important to them that they cast their votes carefully,” said retiree Sue Lejeune, who volunteers with her husband, Ted.

Inn at Laurel Point pastry chef Kimberley Vy won second-place in the professional category for The Retirement Plan, a colourful piece featuring a large hot-air balloon, a bridge, trees, luggage and a windmill.

“A lot of people don’t realize the amount of work that goes into it,” said Vy, whose creation took 200 hours.

“You’re not just baking. You’re almost doing engineering. And you have to be battle the elements in Victoria. Everyone I spoke to at the gala ran into issues with humidity. If something’s held together by icing but it’s humid, things might fall apart. It might not be dry and hard, or structurally sound.”

The aforementioned features were made from solid gingerbread. Thin layers were rolled out, then baked, then glued together with royal icing to create a 2D structure.

When the pieces dried her team carved them into a 3-D structure with a chisel “just like you would with a wood sculpture.”

Creations were judged by a panel including Times Colonist reporter Jeff Bell.

First-place winner was Ottavio Italian Bakery and Delicatessen’s Wanderlust, a dazzling tower of antiquated books, butterflies, a tiny astronaut, vintage camera and suitcase, a pile crowned with urban landmarks.

Canada’s National Gingerbread Showcase has raised $128,292 for Habitat for Humanity, including $44,120.47 raised last year.

This year’s goal is $50,000.

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