“The competition was tough this year,” Matt Maley observed soberly after the winners of the Hudson Valley Gingerbread Competition were announced at the Mohonk Mountain House on Sunday afternoon and the happy crowd began filtering out. He was right: A field in which Maley’s entry “only” came in third, instead of first as in some previous years, is a formidable one indeed.
The New Paltz artist’s 2019 opus was Kringle’s Mill, an impressive three-story millhouse populated by elves and powered by a stream in which one could glimpse orange koi “swimming” below a frozen surface of crystallized sugar. The back of the building was covered with exquisitely detailed ivy vines, each fondant leaf lovingly applied. “The icing doesn’t always do what you want,” Maley grumbled, already plotting how to outdo his competitors in 2020.
Top laurels in the Adult category went to Keven & Jessica Brunk of East Fishkill for their elaborate Dickensian fantasy The SS Fezziwig, and it was difficult to argue with the judges’ choice. A multileveled steamship provided the perfect Victorian steampunk setting for a cast of expressively rendered characters from A Christmas Carol, arrayed around all four sides of the vessel. “This is our third year. We came in third place the first year and won Viewers’ Choice last year, so we were really gunning to get that top spot,” said Keven Brunk. “We love the Muppets version of A Christmas Carol, and we were looking for something with mass appeal. We hit on the idea of setting it on a boat, which gave us a lot to work with. We started baking on October first.”
The second-place finisher in the Adult category, the Black family’s Fairytale Christmas, was an epic crowdpleaser, also taking the 2019 Viewers’ Choice Award with 220 out of 1,060 votes. Meant (like most of the top finishers) to be viewed from all angles, it took the shape of a block of buildings in a village populated by familiar folkloric characters, done up Disney-style. Among them were Snow White, the Seven Dwarfs each framed in a window and the Wicked Queen with her poisoned apple; Red Riding Hood with the Big Bad Wolf peering over the parapet (and doing double duty for the Three Little Pigs); Rapunzel with her hair cascading from the second story to the street outside; Pinocchio, the Muffin Man, Humpty Dumpty, the Frog Prince, the Three Blind Mice and more. “How many different fairytales/nursery rhymes can you spot?” an inscription challenged the viewer.
Disneyfied images appeared on many of the tables in Mohonk’s West Dining Room, where this event is traditionally held. There was a Belle’s Castle, several renderings of Alice in Wonderland and an Elsa’s Castle featuring delicate ice-magic effects made with aqua-colored spun sugar and a reindeer doing a comic faceplant on a frozen pond. The icy mountain backdrop was assembled from rice cakes. Other novel uses of edible materials among the entries were edamame noodles for a thatched roof in Girl Scout Troop 60179’s Polar Plunge (second-place winner in the Junior category) and potato sticks for the Lake Mohonk dock in Maggie Caputo’s Sky Top Memories (third place in the Junior category).
Other popular cultural references included the movies of Tim Burton, with scenes from Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice (The Nightmare before Christmas was so last year – literally), Stranger Things, Harry Potter and Star Wars. Second place in the Employee category went to Petros and Timothy Bunch and Ciciley and Lucas Haslem for The Battle on Hoth, which featured a collapsed Imperial Walker surrounded by The Empire Strikes Back characters and creatures in a snowy alien landscape.
New to the event this year was a life-sized Gingerbread Man milling among the crowd, with Mohonk’s entertainment manager Anthony Ceccione inside the fuzzy costume. It was the second year in a row that all entry fees were donated to the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, with more than $8,500 raised. “We’re especially pleased that we’re bringing home 50 percent more donations than last year,” said Food Bank director Paul Stermer.
Judges for the 2019 competition were Mohonk Mountain House pastry chef Audrey Billups; Gina Vaccarino, proprietor of the Cake Artist Café in New Paltz; Matthew Waldron, general manager of the Apple Pie Bakery Café at the Culinary Institute of America and a Rosendale resident; Amber Spiegel, founder of SweetAmbs Cookie Decorating and author of Cookie Art: Sweet Designs for Special Occasions; and Bryan Graham, founder of Fruition Chocolate Works and Confectionery. Following is the full list of competition award-winners, whose entries will remain on display in various spots at Mohonk Mountain House through New Year’s Day:
1st: The SS Fezziwig by Brunk Built (Keven & Jessica Brunk)
2nd: Fairytale Christmas by the Black Family (Elizabeth, Anna, Sarah & Chris Black, Carter Austin & Simon Tebbe)
3rd: Kringle’s Mill by Matthew Maley
4th: Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe by Maryanne & George Muscolino
5th: Cuckoo for Christmas by Lori Pizzoli
1st: Hogwarts at the Holidays by Sarah Ludemann
2nd: Polar Plunge by Troop 60179 (Caitlin Becker, Maeve Cadabal & Brianna Jonietz)
3rd: Sky Top Memories by Maggie Caputo
4th: Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer by Cantering Cooks (Brooke Long, Lily & Gunnar Bednarz & Harriett Seubert)
5th: Cabin in the Woods by Nielson Girls (Norah Nielson)
1st: Summerhouse by Jennifer Yess
2nd: The Battle on Hoth by B & H Baking (Petros & Timothy Bunch, Ciciley & Lucas Haslem)
3rd: Alice in Winterland by the Artsy Fartsies (Ben Fishman, Alee Desiderio, Grady Kane-Horrigan & Kwan Man Cheng)
4th: Mont Saint Michel by Coleman Kane-Horrigan
Fairytale Christmas by the Black Family (Elizabeth, Anna, Sarah & Chris Black, Carter Austin & Simon Tebbe)