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The gingerbread challenge

Learn more about the gingerbread creations you saw on ‘Today.’
/ Source: TODAY

We invited four top New York chefs — Francois Payard and his assistant Craig Harzewski from Payard Bistro, Katy Sparks with her assistant Sani Hebaj of Quilty’s, Luis Robledo-Richards from Le Cirque, and from Aureole Charlie Palmer — to spend one week, with a strict budget, making what they think is their best gingerbread structure. Read highlights of each of the gingerbread masterpieces.


Executive Pastry Chef Le Cirque 2000 

Gingerbread Ingredients:

450g (3C) cake flour

170g (12 Tblsp. or 1 1/2 sticks) soft butter

180g (6 1/2 Tblsp.) molasses

1 egg

180g (1 1/4 C) brown sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ginger

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. cloves

The sides of the circus tent are made of 8 4”X8” pieces of gingerbread formed into rectangles. The big top is made of 8 8”X13” pieces of gingerbread formed into triangles. Royal icing is used for glueing the pieces together. The big top is held up by chocolate poles which were made by pouring tempered chocolate into plastic tubes. Once the chocolate was hardened the plastic was removed and then cut to scale. The tent’s exterior is painted with royal icing and decorated with chocolate, spun sugar and animal crackers with circus animals and clowns along the outside.


Executive chef/owner Aureole Restaurant 

Ice Skating Rink:

1 part sugar and 2 parts water

boil until golden brown and then pour into mold

allow to cool until hard


Executive chef Quilty’s

Gingerbread Ingredients:

6 3/4 cups all purpose flour

4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 1/2 cups solid vegetable shortening

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

3/4 cup robust (dark) molasses

Sift flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and cardamom into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat shortening in large bowl until fluffy. Add sugar and beat to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add molasses and beat on high speed until well blended. Add dry ingredients in 4 additions, beating at low speed until dough forms. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Flatten each piece into rectangle. Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, at least 6 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Rolling, Cutting and Baking:

Each of the six pieces of dough will be used for one of the large sections of the house (the two side walls, the front and the back walls, and the two roof sections). The scraps will be rerolled to make the roof tiles, trees, stars, figures and other cookies for nibbling.

Rolling dough:

1 roll kitchen parchment (at least 10 yards long sold at cookware stores and at some supermarkets)

1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter for roof tiles

Assorted cookie cutters (such as Christmas tree, gingerbread man, and star)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 350F.

Roll out 1 dough piece (keep remaining dough refrigerated) between two 15-inch-long sheets of parchment to scant 1/4-inch rectangle, turning over dough and parchment occasionally.

If parchment wrinkles, peel off, smooth wrinkle and reposition parchment over dough; continue to roll out dough to required thickness.


You will prepare this recipe twice: once for assembling the gingerbread house, and again for decorating it.

4 large egg whites

7 to 7 1/2 cups powdered white sugar

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in medium bowl until very foamy, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Beat until well blended. Add remaining cups sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating untilwell blended after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Beat icing at high speed until very thick and stiff — about 5 minutes. (Second batch of icing will be made later.)

The dimensions of my gingerbread brownstone are: 13 1/2” high, 8” wide and 16” long. The main structural challenge was needing a lot of open work for the facade, which meant reinforcing it with perpendicular struts about 1/2” deep running vertically between rows of windows, also similar struts on the center plane of the bay windows. The garnishes are entirely edible, including the gold leaf for the angels in the front window. The garnishes include: vanilla bean runners on sleigh, beet chip fence, cardamom, clove and cinnamonstick decorative trim, bay leaf plants, red currant berries, snow is royal icing(egg white and powdered sugar).


Executive Chef/Owner Payard Bistro 


Honey/Lavender — 3lbs. 5 oz

Brown Sugar — 1lb. 2 oz

Ammonia — 1oz

Milk — 4.5oz

Potash(soda) — 1oz

Milk — 4.5oz

Bread floor — 5lb. 8oz

Spices (cinnamon,cloves, anise, cardamom, ginger) 1.25oz

Egg Yolks(5) 2.5oz

Total prep time: 1 hour, let rest for 2 days


1. Heat honey and sugar to 130F

2. Mix the two leavenings with the milk

3. Add cooled honey to the flour and spices

4. Add yolks and leavening and knead well

5. Let dough rest for 2 days.

Scaling Instructions:

Knead dough lightly, roll on sheeter to #8. Cut desired shapes, brush with milk.

Baking Instructions:

Bake at 350-375F

Brush with gum arabiguq (5:1) to give a nice shine.