Before Carla Warren became the gingerbread architect and building contractor she is today, she was a mother of two young children who decided it might be a fun project to do together: Make a gingerbread house.
Three years ago, Warren and her husband bought a cottage near Damariscotta Lake. That December, after hearing about the Gingerbread Spectacular at the Opera House in Boothbay Harbor, she just had to check the gingerbreads out before returning home to Exeter, New Hampshire.
“I thought ‘Whoa, these are way out of my league,” Warren recalled. “I couldn’t believe how large, how detailed they were. We had a gingerbread contest at Exeter Hospital where I work, but this …”
Nevertheless, in 2019 Warren entered the Gingerbread Spectacular with “Santa’s Workshop,” which received the Best Traditional Gingerbread House Design award. In 2020, Warren returned with “Winter Wonderland” – even more elaborate than the first – and received the Almost Most Spectacular award.
This year, Warren’s “Santa’s Workshop” was voted 2021’s Most Spectacular by the judges: Brenda Blackman, Lisa Kristoff, John Webster, Cindy Steane and Kim Martin, who unanimously agreed. Warren keeps all of her creations edible except the base.
She begins construction in early November every weekend until the gingerbread has to be transported to the Opera House. Warren works full time at Exeter Hospital as a reconstructive surgeon’s scheduler.
“I don’t sketch anything first,” Warren said about her gingerbread creations. “The design just kind of comes to me. Every year I want to add something different. This year, it was towers. I put them on the house and the greenhouse.”
Most Gingerbread Spectacular viewers were taken with how clear the windows on Santa’s greenhouse were. The Christmas trees growing inside could be seen so clearly! And that’s a lot of eyes … an updated count of Gingerbread Spectacular visitors from Cathy Sherrill at the Opera House estimated 2,800-3,000-plus.
Warren watches a lot on the Food Network channel. After watching an episode on decorating that featured using Isomelt for windows, Warren knew she had to try it.
Because she has only weekends to construct and decorate each year, Warren said she easily spends eight or nine hours “at a whack.”
“You can’t just take a gingerbread in progress out and work on it for an hour,” Warren explained laughing. “You have to get out all of the decoration materials, you have to make a new batch of icing, it just works better that way. I probably use 10 pounds of confectioner’s sugar for the base, the trees, the structures … it’s a lot. And my kitchen is trashed while I’m working on one. Thankfully my husband is a real trooper!”
After packing up her Most Spectacular gingerbread, “Santa’s Greenhouse” Dec. 9 into her VW SUV, she drove it back to Exeter and straight to the hospital. There it was displayed in the fourth floor waiting room space. “Sometimes I have to ask for help – and a cart to stabilize them. Everyone is so helpful. And everyone loves to look at them and there’s lots of picture-taking too!”
Warren always has candy canes in her car, all kinds of candy in a Rubber Maid container in it. At the end of every summer they are accompanied by all the hard candy she can find to store for that year’s gingerbread creation: Mints, gumdrops, Life Savers, hard candy of all colors. And then she gets all of the sparkles she’ll need (and then some) for the roofs and whatever else she’s inspired to do.
“I just love it,” Warren said of her gingerbread building passion. “I love all of the colors and designs … I just keep adding to them. I’ll be working on one and in my mind I keep thinking ‘What can I do, what else can I do’ … Finally it gets to the point where I just have to tell myself (as sternly as I can muster), ‘Put the pastry bag down!”
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