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Gingerbread House Challenge with a difference

What better way to get in the festive foodie frame of mind than with a Gingerbread House Challenge.

Lisa Vincent, organiser of the Gingerbread House Challenge
Lisa Vincent, organiser of the Gingerbread House Challenge

What better way to get in the festive foodie frame of mind than with a Gingerbread House Challenge. Katharine Capocci finds out more from competition organiser Lisa Vincent.

DOLLY mixture and Midget Gem sweeties will no doubt feature large when it comes to a Gingerbread House Challenge with a difference.

And Lisa Vincent, seen here with her practice run gingerbread house, had plentiful supplies of jelly beans, Gems, Smarties and chocolates to hand for decorating the walls of her pretty-as-a-picture house.

Lisa, organiser of the Gingerbread House Challenge, and the lady at the helm of the hugely-successful Newcastle Clandestine Cake Club, has turned mini developer for the charity fundraising project.

The event is planned for the afternoon of Sunday, December 2, at Newcastle’s City Library and will run from 2.30-5pm in the Bewick Hall.

Lisa, along with fellow organiser, cake maker Kate Emmett from Jesmond, is thinking big.

A street of houses is planned and the multi-coloured display will be open to the public.

Organisers are hoping to raise hundreds of pounds for the Sick Children’s Trust at Newcastle’s RVI, which provides accommodation for families of poorly children being treated at the hospital.

Lisa, 34, who lives in Monkseaton with husband Carl, says: “That was my first attempt at making a gingerbread house. I did it from scratch and guessed the templates.

“The idea is to build a street of houses. It will look very striking. Everyone will have their own little design. It will look something really different. It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this in Newcastle.

“I’m entering one myself but I haven’t decided what to do yet.”

Lisa was planning to construct a lighthouse but has had a change of plan as it looks like that idea’s already spoken for. There’s even talk of an elaborate international space station construction!

Fellow baking enthusiast Kate Emmett, who runs her cake-making business, Cake Poppins, from the kitchen of her home, sums it up neatly, when she says: “There’s nothing more fun than sticking a lot of Midget Gems on a gingerbread house!

“It’s really Christmassy. People can look at the gingerbread houses, and there will be face painting. We’re having a judging competition.”

Kate hand bakes and decorates everything from birthday cakes and wedding cakes to her hugely- popular cake pops, which are delectable bite-size cakes on lollipop sticks.

You can catch our full interview with Kate in the Taste section of this month’s Culture magazine, out with The Journal on Tuesday.

Already 23 teams have signed up for the gingerbread event, which is open to both amateur and professional cooks.

Participants can also use ready-made kits or bake their own.

“We don’t want to discourage anyone,” says Lisa. “It’s just the idea of having a go at it. It will be great to see them all laid out on the day.”

Competitors build and decorate their houses at home and bring them along to the event to place on Gingerbread Street.

Each house base must be no bigger than a piece of A4 paper, says Lisa, although the sky’s the limit when it comes to height! And competitors can really go to town with their decorating.

It costs £5 to enter for an amateur team and £10 for a professional team to reserve a plot.

A small prize will be awarded for the best-looking house on the street and BBC Look North weather presenter Hannah Bayman will be helping to judge.

Keen baker Lisa, who works in IT at the School of Computing Science at Newcastle University, was partly inspired by an episode of BBC2’s Great British Bake Off.

She was really taken by the fabulous baker boys and girls’ imaginative structures, which included Brendan’s gingerbread bird’s house and James’s inspired barn.

“Their gingerbread house designs were spectacular. While I was researching the subject I came across a chap in Cirencester who’d organised an event and he gave me advice and tips.

“The challenge ties in nicely with the family idea of what the charity does too.

“We’ve got 19 teams so far but we still have room for more. We’re keen to get more, particularly professional interest from bakers and pastry chefs.”

Lisa and Kate are also spreading the word about the competition via Twitter.

“There are a few conversations going on on Twitter and there’s friendly banter between the teams.”

Lisa is also the organiser of the hugely successful Newcastle Clandestine Cake Club, whose members meet at ‘clandestine’ locations around the city.

Members bring along a cake – and a friend – and basically devour each other’s home bakes at the convivial gatherings, held in venues such as cafes and pubs.

There are strict rules for the club, part of a national network of Clandestine Clubs, with no cupcakes, muffins, brownies, pies or tarts allowed.

Lisa organises her gatherings every six to eight weeks. “It’s taken off hugely. Many of the events fill up within a week or two of being advertised.

“There’s a surge in people wanting to bake. And with the cake club there’s the social aspect as well.

“We’re also supporting local cafes and businesses where we meet.”

Lisa does not restrict her cake- baking talents to the Clandestine Club but has also taken part in three annual Cakebook events, organised by the Newcastle- Gateshead Eat! Festival.

She made fantastic cakey replicas of the Bridge Hotel pub in Newcastle, Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland and the iconic Gherkin building in London.

Back to gingerbread houses, though, and Lisa says they are hoping participants will be happy to have their houses eaten at the end. A sweet – and fitting – finale.

For more info on the Gingerbread House Challenge visit www.gingerbreadhouse-challenge. blogspot.co.uk or email newcastlecakeclub@gmail.com

There’s nothing more fun than sticking a lot of Midget Gems on a gingerbread house


David Whetstone
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