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Gingerbread 101

Inspired by the medium of gingerbread, local bakers have pushed the boundaries of edible art to wow crowds at an annual Medford fundraiser.

But nine years since the first GingerBread Jubilee, there's still plenty of room for newcomers to make their mark in the cookie competition, say organizers, who are looking for at least two-dozen more participants by the end of this month. A weekend workshop with a three-time Jubilee champion can give novice bakers the confidence to enter the field.

"We take 'em through the whole process step by step and help 'em figure it out," says Rebecca Hill, owner of Sweet Stuff, a downtown Medford baking boutique that sponsors the event, which last year raised nearly $100,000 for Craterian Performances.

Hill's two-hour class, planned for Saturday, Oct. 22, starts with brainstorming ideas for gingerbread houses that fit into the year's theme: "A Silver Screen Gingerbread Holiday," followed by advice for cementing the concept and drawing up patterns. Hill, 42, will display her "Ginger Pointe Lighthouse," awarded Best of Show in 2008, along with the patterns she used to create its gingerbread structure.

The seed-shingled, elaborately furnished house perches on cliffs formed from Rice Krispies Treats.

"I just find pictures of things that would be really cool as a gingerbread house," says Hill. "Some people feel more comfortable with making a model ... with cardboard or foam-core board."

The second half of the class gets hands-on with techniques for rolling out gingerbread dough to the ideal thickness, cutting windows and doors in the panels, even filling openings with crushed candies to simulate glass. Participants will practice cementing graham crackers with royal icing before leaving with Hill's recipe, plenty of decorating ideas and dos and dont's for building an entirely edible entry.

"Rules are rules," says Hill. "You have to take the wrappers off the candy."

Although she can't compete, the former professional baker is keeping some secrets for her own gingerbread sculpture, auctioned as a "mystery house" during the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater's fundraising gala, Nov. 18, and assembled during the five-day community tour. Hill won't reveal any details of the piece, except to say she's had the idea for several years and has been working on logistics for a couple of months.

"Give yourself the maximum amount of time because you just don't know what's gonna happen," says Hill, recalling a collapsed roof she had to rebuild and her own dog's destructive taste for gingerbread.

Gingerbread houses as a holiday pastime will be the topic of a Dec. 3 class at Sweet Stuff. The cost is $55 because participants will work with actual gingerbread panels.

For more ideas, see the books, "Gingerbread," by Jennifer Lindner McGlinn (Chronicle, $19.95); "The Gingerbread Architect," by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chattman (Clarkson Potter, $22.50); and "How to Build a Gingerbread House," by Christina Banner (Penny Publishing, $19.95).

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

Graham crackers are used to model gingerbread houses in workshops at Sweet Stuff in downtown Medford. - Bob Pennell