‘Tis the season for us to get a little crafty with our cover. For our December 2017 issue, glue guns and baking trays were pulled out to help us build gingerbread Calgary. Avenue Calgary’s senior art director Venessa Brewer built the city with help from associate art director Sarah McMenemy.
It started with the building selection. There are lots to choose from. We narrowed it down to 13 structures that are a mix of old and new. They represent government, recreation and arts spaces. We threw in an iconic art installation and bridge and added Calgary’s most famous dinosaur. We wanted the gingerbread structure to be immediately recognizable as Calgary, but we were also after a great cover shot so we chose buildings with interesting shapes and detail that balanced each other out.
After the initial planning, creating the gingerbread city took about six hours for baking and the first round of trimming. The next day it took two people another six hours to finish the detailing and complete the build.
Here’s how it all came together, complete with templates of all the buildings at the end for you to print and create your own gingerbread city.
Disclaimer: We were building a city that had to stand up to the hot lights and jostling of a photoshoot. We used some food styling tricks that you will want to skip if you plan on eating your Calgary.
The templates were printed twice. The first time it was on standard printer paper. A single cookie of all of the buildings will fill two baking trays.
There are lots of gingerbread recipes to choose from. Go for one that is specifically for gingerbread houses. Those have less molasses and create harder gingerbread. Also, look for a recipe that makes a big batch.
We lined the tray with parchment paper and rolled out the dough into a large rectangle. There was also a layer of parchment between the rolling pin and the dough to prevent sticking without having to use flour. We baked the dough and cut the shapes after. Work quick at this stage. You want to cut out the shapes before the dough completely cools and hardens. You can also cut out the shapes before you bake the dough. That will give you rounded edges and we wanted flat edges for our gingerbread city.
Once the shapes are cut out, put the gingerbread on a rack to completely cool and harden. We made doubles of all of the cookies so we could choose the best, most photogenic gingerbread building for our cover.
We used the template again to help create the details on the building. This time the template was printed on label paper, which is a little heavier and stayed in place better when we placed it on top of the gingerbread. It also makes it easier to cut out the details of the buildings. We left a border on these templates to help create the stencil look.
We carefully peeled the templates off the paper backing and stuck them to the gingerbread to get ready to add the white details.
At this stage, we veered from what you might want to do at home and used some photoshoot food styling tricks. While one person held down the stencil, the other applied acrylic paint with a makeup sponge to fill the large areas of white.
If you want an edible gingerbread city, skip the paint and go right for the dusting. You can find this tool in the baking section of Michael’s. The powdered sugar is dusted out through a mesh bag for even coverage.
We peeled off the template to reveal the building and see how the details turned out. Remember that our gingerbread buildings are also cover models so we went back in to make sure the lines were good and the contrast between the brown and white popped. For thin, linear lines, we dipped string in paint and used the Exacto knife to press the string down. For some buildings, we gently scraped away some of the paint and sugar to reveal the brown gingerbread.
Our gingerbread shapes are ready to be propped up into a three-dimensional sculpture.
To stand them upright, it took two boxes and hot glue (you could substitute Royal icing for the glue). First, we put the bigger of the two boxes down and glued the bottom row of buildings (Telus Spark, Wonderland, Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre, City Hall) to it. We stacked another smaller box on top of that box and glued on the next row of buildings (The Plaza Theatre, Fairmont Palliser and Scotiabank Saddledome). The Canada Olympic Park skijump, The Bow, Calgary Tower and Studio Bell are secured to the top of the second building. It’s all set on a bed of model snow. We accessorized with laser cut snowflakes and trees and gave the whole thing a final dusting of sugar.