The Gingerbread Gristmill (Part 1)

The Gingerbread Gristmill
By Jennifer and Audry

What happens when you put two architects together to build a miniature “gingerbread” replica of a building at OSV?

This is what happened!

Jennifer: I think we lost track of the time it took to brainstorm, talk about, draw, and visit stores after around thirty hours. Needless to say it was a lot of fun filled hours.

Prep Work
Jennifer: Saturday, October 30th I went out to OSV…I’d already been planning on going out there with some friends, so the timing was perfect. While they wandered around, I spent an hour or so sketching a site plan. I got a few strange looks when I pulled out the tape measure, but I was a girl on a mission! Then I proceeded to take about 50 pictures all around the site.

I sent the site plan and pictures to Audry and she then drew them in AutoCad so we could determine just how much of the site we could fit on the 24” x 24” base. In the process, Audry created a three dimensional model in SketchUp to help her figure out proportions. Once we defined our site and the scale, she drew up the templates for all the pieces we’d need.

Site Plan Work
Time to Complete Task: 2 hours
Completed On: October 30th 2010

Drawing Template Pieces
Time to Complete Task: 4 hours
Completed On: November 17th 2010

Making the Base
Audry: Since we wanted to include as much of the context as possible, it was a no-brainer that we’d make our base to the maximum size allowed – 24”x24”. I used SketchUp not only to figure out all the pieces we needed for the building itself, but also to figure out how to build the tricky site. With two ground levels, a pond, and a channel for the wheel, a simple square of plywood wasn’t going to cut it. I printed out a view of the SketchUp base with dimensions, and armed with my trusty college model-building supplies (cork backed ruler, x-acto L-square, Olfa knife), several cardboard boxes and a glass of wine, I settled down in front of the fire to build the base. Like everything always does, it took longer than I expected. Partway through, my husband Jeff went out and got some Chinese food, and by the time we’d watched (well, Jeff watched, I listened to) the first disc of the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, I still wasn’t done.

The next afternoon, this time armed with iced coffee, I spent another 45 minutes finishing up the cardboard base, then brought the whole thing outside to cover it with aluminum foil, both to protect the cardboard from getting soggy and to make it look nicer. I used Super 77, another flashback to college model building, to stick the foil directly to the base. I ended up with a patch of grass super-77’ed flat to the ground, but it worked like a charm.

Time to Complete Task: 3 hours
Completed On: Nov. 21st, 2010

Making the Gingerbread Walls
Jennifer: This was a four day process. After Audry completed the CAD drawings I printed them out. Sunday, while I watched TV (hey I’m big on multitasking!), I cut out all the templates. After over an hour of cutting, a cramping hand, and reading the recipe and realizing I didn’t have everything I needed, I decided to make the dough on Monday.

Monday I spent an hour and a half making two batches of dough. In the process, I managed to make the biggest mess I’ve made in a long time while baking. Unfortunately one batch (as big as it was) wasn’t going to be enough. We had A LOT of pieces. In the end it took two and a half batches to make all the pieces we needed.

Tuesday I got home from work and started making another (not quite so big) mess cutting out the pieces and cooking them. Lesson learned: Gingerbread expands when you cook it and all pieces don’t expand equally!

Wednesday I remade two pieces. I broke a piece of the roof on Tuesday and one of the sides cooked so unequal the piece didn’t even remotely match up to the other sides. So I redid those pieces and then packed everything up, which included three bags of supplies and box of gingerbread pieces.

Time to Complete Task: About 6 hours over 4 days
Completed On: November 24th 2010

Collection of Supplies
Here’s a list of supplies we gathered (not including the materials used for the gingerbread recipe):

Edible Items: gingerbread (18 pieces), three bags of confectioners sugar, 15 eggs, granulated sugar, three different types of pretzel rods, three bags of pinto beans, graham crackers, green candied cherries, red sprinkles, chex cereal, corn syrup, gelatin, dried coconut, and almond meal.

Cooking Utensils: bowls, frosting bags and tips, spoons, knives, parchment paper (probably about 2 rolls between the two of us!), aluminum foil, and scissors.

We’re proud to say that every part of this gingerbread gristmill (minus the base) is 100% edible.

Time to Complete Task: Gathered over a period of time
Cost: More than I want to think about!

Making the Frosting
Jennifer: We used more frosting than I thought possible on this gingerbread house. We went through three bags of confectioners sugar and fifteen eggs! Not only did we use the frosting to hold the house together we also used it for the siding, to attach the beans (stonework), for the landscaping and to attach the wreaths and garland.

The Waterwheel
Audry: Making the waterwheel was an interesting challenge. I originally made 4” diameter cardboard rings and cut strips of gingerbread dough, which I wrapped around the cardboard before baking. The idea was that they would bake into nice rings that could be used to form the waterwheel. The reality was that gingerbread dough gets really soft when it’s first heated, so my pretty dough rings turned into round piles of smoosh in the oven.

Plan B was to bake the strips flat and then wrap them around my cardboard forms while they were still soft. It sort of worked. The strips cracked in a few places rather than bending, but were close enough, considering they’d be covered by the little pieces that catch the water and make the wheel turn. Unfortunately, when I glued it all together I mistakenly thought that I could attach it with the little fins going whichever way I wanted, so I didn’t pay attention to which direction I was gluing them on… and of course, I ended up attaching them backwards.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 (the completion)!


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