Auburn baker offers gingerbread classes

By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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Nothing says “Christmas is coming” like the smell of fresh gingerbread, the traditional holiday treat perfect for building edible houses and family traditions.

“I’d always make the first one shortly after Halloween, as a demonstration in the store,” said Cathy Bianchi, owner of Gimmie Cake Too! in Downtown Auburn. “I would bring that one home and cover it with plastic, so you could still see it. The thing was, the kids could not touch it until Christmas Eve.”

When the anticipated night rolled around, Bianchi laughed, her children put their plan of attack into action, making quick work of the tasty creation.

Bianchi’s children are grown now, but she carries on the tradition in her bakery each year, inviting bakers of all ages and skill levels to participate in gingerbread-house classes.

On Dec. 16 and 18, families can work together to build and decorate a gingerbread house or houses to take home. The Gimmie Cake Too! crew supplies the foundation pieces, which are made in advance because they need time to dry, and the icing for construction and decoration. Families bring a bag of candy to share, which Bianchi said adds to the fun.
“We line up all the candy on the table and let them go shopping,” she smiled. “We give a demonstration on how to hold the bag, where and how to squeeze it, and then we just let them go to town.”

In the 35 years she’s been teaching the classes, Bianchi has seen houses range from the traditional to the whacky, with attendees using the candy to create all sorts of delicious decorations. Doors are made out of candy canes, sugar wafer cookies or pretzels, bushes have been made out of marshmallows and one of Bianchi’s own creations used ice cream cones and detailed icing work to create trees in the front yard.

“It’s whatever your imagination is going to let you make,” Bianchi said.

Baking tips
Bianchi recommends baking your own gingerbread as opposed to using a store-bought kit, to ensure freshness and flavor. Plus, she added, homemade gingerbread smells great.

If you’re baking gingerbread to build a house and the recipe calls for baking powder, Bianchi said, skip it. The powder causes the bread to rise, making it hard to work with. Make sure that baked pieces air-dry for 48 hours, to avoid crumbling and breaking. She cautions bakers to take their time assembling the houses.

Lynn McLaughlin, head cake decorator for Flour Garden Bakery in Auburn and Grass Valley, said the bakery sells gingerbread cookies, snowflakes and cookies that look like houses, but the most popular item is the gingerbread boys. She decorates them with a cookie fondant and makes the eyes and buttons out of chocolate.

When baking gingerbread, she advised, make sure the dough is not too sticky, because wet dough doesn’t roll or bake well. Gingerbread cookies should be baked soft, while gingerbread house pieces should be baked a little harder to provide sturdy walls to hold decorations.

“If you’re doing a gingerbread house, you want to bake it pretty good so you have it hard, more ‘crackery.’ You don’t have any of the soft in there, or you’ll have a saggy house or a saggy roof,”?McLaughlin said.

Contact Krissi Khokhobashvili at


Gingerbread House Classes
When: 7-9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, and Sunday, Dec. 18
Where: Gimmie Cake Too! 846 Lincoln Way, Auburn,
Cost: $35 per house
Information: (530) 305-2269


Did you know?
• Gingerbread was introduced to Europe in 992 by Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis, who taught French priests and Christians how to make it. The bread made its way to Germany and Sweden, where nuns used it to aid in indigestion.

• Gingerbread has become a celebrated food worldwide, and it tastes vastly different from region to region. English gingerbread is served as a spice cake, in Germany it is served in a hard form cut into decorative shapes, including those used in making houses, and gingerbread in Sweden is cut thick, decorated with glaze and candy and used as window decorations.

• Making houses out of gingerbread is popular worldwide, inspired by the witch’s house that lured Hansel and Gretel in the Brothers Grimm tale. Gingerbread competitions abound each year, including in Bergen, Norway, where residents build Pepperkakebyen, the world’s largest gingerbread city.

• In the states, the National Gingerbread House Competition is held each year in Asheville, N.C., where competitors have created castles, boats and even a gingerbread replica of the White House.

• According to Guinness World Records, the world’s largest gingerbread house was built in 2006 by Tennessee resident Roger Pelcher at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. The house was 45 feet, 6 inches long and 35 feet, 6 inches wide, and at its tallest point measured 60 feet high.