Bless Your Spoon — A little slice of gingerbread heaven — The creative arts

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 27, 2018

“I believe God had His hand in this. He’s led me to this point.”

This was the way Cynthia Clinard, purveyor of Artist Market on Main, described her journey after opening up the arts and crafts store on Main Street.

The small emporium, located in the former Princess Theater and nestled away in historic downtown Mocksville, is one of the best-kept secrets in town.

Beginning with seven artists over a year ago, the artist market now houses 67 plus artists whose cache of creations cover the spectrum of visual arts.

Cynthia always hoped to have a shop where she could showcase artists from all over the state. But with a husband, three boys and a busy life, she wasn’t able to follow her dream. Little did she know that one day she’d be widowed, but her husband would leave a bit of money to help bring that dream to fruition.

Recounting the first steps in making her vision a reality, Cynthia smiled, saying: “I was in Mocksville when the tenants were moving out of the space and began talking about whether it was available. I asked myself, why not? I signed a lease for a year, and we’re still here.”

As often happens in life, Cynthia experienced a moment of serendipity. A customer came in the store one day and brought an artist, Shari Keller. Shari was hunting for a place to showcase her handmade jewelry and teach art workshops. While Cynthia had thought of offering some classes in the future, with Shari’s artistic background, the vision began to be realized.

“It was like we’d known each other for years. I thought she’d be a wonderful help. She had business sense, she was talented and creative. She truly has the eye of an artist,” Cynthia said of Shari’s artistic nature.

With the holidays approaching, the ladies agreed that crafting gingerbread houses would be a fun class to offer the community while giving shoppers a chance to see the unique wares the market offers to those who enjoy cooking, baking and entertaining.

Recently during the town’s downtown holiday crawl, I dropped by the market with my grandson to take one of the classes. But first I wanted to know, how did Shari, a retired nurse, end up teaching the construction of gingerbread houses?

Being an artist and coming into the holiday season, Shari gets inspiration from everything happening around her. Baking and decorating has been a large part of her creative past. As the only daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher living in a small town without a stoplight, she had ample opportunity to be creative. Shari learned to cook, bake, write and read anything that offered an opportunity to learn something new. And although her mother baked and decorated cakes, she wouldn’t allow Shari to help her — only allowing her to decorate the cookies. Not only was Shari’s mother the church secretary and pianist, but she was also an excellent cook and in the kitchen all the time — baking was her thing. If there was a downfall to her expertise, it was not letting Shari participate — she was only allowed to watch. But watch, she did. When Shari got married, her wedding gift from her mother was a Betty Crocker cookbook.

“That cookbook from the ’60s — well everyone knows and recognizes that book. I lived in that cookbook. That’s where everyone learned to cook and bake. It had good instructional pictures.”

Over the years, Shari taught herself more culinary skills. She baked a lot with her kids as they grew up and began constructing the gingerbread houses with her grandchildren.

“It’s one of the best memories you can have with your children. Take time to step back and slow down. With all the hubbub and push of getting everything ready for Christmas, time in the kitchen doing anything with family is one of the most memorable moments,” reflected Shari.

The Artist Market on Main is not just about retail. With eyes focused on customer experience, the women wanted to offer community learning opportunities. What better time was there to offer a gingerbread house workshop?

Decorating these houses built out of gingerbread is not just for children, as many adults have interesting in building one too, but never have. Sometimes the adults have more fun than the kids.

Noting how the parents surprise her sometimes, Shari said: “Many adults say they can’t decorate, but you put the candy and icing in front of adults, and they’re going to create something,”

Learning to create dripping icicles is an art, and it’s fun because there’s no perfect icicle. Snow always melts and drips differently.

“When you do a house, it’s just a house, but the final touches with dripping icicles, it transforms into a winter masterpiece.”

Shari learned all she knows by taking a cake decorating class years ago. She loved creating all the tiny flowers and especially pansies and made all kinds of cakes. Once she created a Mother’s Day cake that was a basket of flowers.

Shari recounted her worst memory. “I forgot to shut the back door of my car, and my friend’s dog got in my car and ate half the cake.”

Thus ended any thoughts she had of decorating and delivering cakes to people, but Shari laughed, saying, “The dog was so happy, but I sure wasn’t.”

People don’t have to limit themselves to building a house from a store-bought box. When you learn what the construction takes, you can take that to another level by baking your own gingerbread and designing your own themed house based on your personal interests. There are worldwide competitions, one regionally is going on now at the Grove Park Inn, and that’s a great day trip for a family. Those houses take 200 plus hours to build.

Being a self-taught artist, Shari explained, “As far as the arts — baking and cooking is just another art form. Not knowing how to do something is not an excuse for not doing it.”

Shari understands that the challenge for many is having patience. When making the gingerbread houses, people want to construct the houses too quickly and try to hurry the process. She was challenged, too, until learning to take her time.

“I bake my own gingerbread. You’ve got to find a true gingerbread recipe, and in baking, the one thing that’s the most important — follow the instructions. One challenge in baking is people don’t read the recipe.”

But for most of us, the greatest challenge is staying out of the candy and icing. If you don’t have a sweet tooth before you begin building the house, you will when the icing begins to drip — and you’ll find yourself licking it off the table.

So many skills in creative arts, which includes baking, are literally going by the wayside due to today’s fast-paced lifestyles. We see young people and their kids deeply engaged in tech, and many art forms are getting lost along the way. This has much to do with why Shari’s so focused on teaching.

“One reason I focused on building the gingerbread houses this year was to give families an activity to do together — not just for children — but for the entire family. It would be a memory for them.”

Shari feels more children should be introduced to the art of baking. A child’s interest in creating and designing takes off when their creativity is unlocked, and they create the most amazing houses.

“Their imagination just goes wild when they get a tube of icing in their hands and bowls of colorful candies.”

For those who have never made a house but are interested, Shari advises to first take a class. If you go buy a prepackaged kit, the packaging is minimal, the instructions aren’t complete, and you’ll need about $20 more candy. A key thing to remember is when you’re putting the house together before you put any candy on this house, the icing that holds the house together has to cure. Shari recommends letting the house sit overnight. You never want to put it in the refrigerator as the cake will absorb moisture, and the house will collapse.

When starting construction, use a tray to build on to help support the walls. It’s ideal to stack some books that will hold the walls in place. When putting your roof on, lay both sections at the same time so weight is evenly distributed. Then leave it alone overnight.

The next day, be sure the icing is worked with your hands — room temperature and very pliable — the icing should flow easily without much pressure. Be sure to not cut a hole too big in the pastry piping bag because too much icing will come out and makes it more difficult to control. When not using the piping bag, place it in a Ziploc bag so it doesn’t harden. Never put the icing bag in a microwave.

Decorating starts from the ground up just like building any house. Do your roof last because of the weight of the candy. This is where the artist gets most creative. Use tools — toothpicks, forks, spoons — anything you can use in the icing to create all kinds of shapes.

Giving instructions on applying the frosty icicles, Shari notes, “At this point, the inner arts — a person’s creativity begins coming out. When you look at building a gingerbread house, there are no mistakes. If something doesn’t look right, don’t worry about it. When we put the icicles on, it will all come together. Snow covers up everything, right?”

After the holidays, if you want to save the cake, wrap it snugly in plastic wrap, put the cake in a box, and support with styrofoam peanuts around it. Just seal it up well and put it away. Next year, if you have any candies that fall off, buy a tube of icing at the grocery, and stick the candies back on.

Hopefully, children and adults will want to build more houses every year. Take the time to learn how to do it right. Find someone who knows how and can teach you. Your children will be learning an art form, not just engaging in busy work.

“That’s one reason I’m so focused on teaching here at the shop, whether painting or baking. Once you learn, it will last a lifetime, and you can pass it on to your children, and they can pass it on to theirs.”

Artist Market on Main also showcases the wares of three potters who take simple, humble serving pieces to another level. From ladybugs to farm animals, there’s much diversity in the creations. All the artists come from Davie or sister counties so it’s a great regional market for unique items. Bowls of all shapes and sizes, cutting boards, lazy Susans, serving trays, and the most unique utensils are handmade — everything a good cook would want for special holidays and entertaining to elevate their dining table.

Squeezing out the last icicles over the roof, my grandson and I were thrilled with our candy-laden house. On my way out of the store, I picked up a unique, handmade serving piece with a tree bark inspired handle for spooning out preserves for biscuits on Christmas Day. I couldn’t pass up the fresh, homemade gingerbread men at the checkout counter either. There’s just something about the warm smell and spicy taste of ginger that defines the holiday season.

To schedule a class with Shari Keller, call 336-753-9000. The market will be offering “Make a Merry Gingerbread House Workshop” or other class through mid-January and food-related classes throughout the year.

Call the store for more information on their “Make a Gift and Take it” workshops. Classes in barn quilt design painting, crochet, no needles knitting, acrylic painting, and kid’s creations are offered.

From terrific cookies, bread, and puddings, to a holiday fruitcake in a cup, enjoy a few recipes that inspire nostalgic memories with the comforting smell of ginger.

GINGERSNAP MUFFINS WITH LEMON GLAZE

• 1½ cups water

• 1 cup raisins

• 1 beaten egg

• ¼ cup sugar

• ¼ cup softened butter

• ½ cup molasses

• 1 cup all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. baking soda

• ¼ tsp. salt

• ½ tsp. cinnamon

• ¼ tsp. ground cloves

• ½ tsp. ground ginger

• ½ cup hot water

Pour 1½ cups boiling water over raisins, and let stand for five minutes. Drain well. In a mixer, beat egg. Add sugar and butter. Mix well. Beat in molasses. Mix well. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Beat in flour mixture alternating with hot water until smooth. Fold in raisins. Sprinkle tops with cinnamon sugar. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 18-20 minutes.

Lemon Glaze

• 1¾ cups powdered sugar

• 5 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• Whipped cream (optional)

For lemon glaze, whisk powdered sugar and lemon juice in small bowl until smooth. Spoon glaze over tops of warm muffins using 1 Tbsp. for each muffin. Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired.

GINGERBREAD ROLL WITH BRANDY NUT SAUCE

• 3 beaten eggs

• ½ cup sugar

• ¼ tsp. salt

• 2/3 cup cake flour

• 2 tsp. baking powder

• 1 tsp. cinnamon

• 1 tsp. ground ginger

• 1 tsp. allspice

• ¼ cup molasses

• Sprinkling sugar

Sweet Cream Filling

• 1 cup chilled whipping cream

• ½ tsp. vanilla

• 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Walnut and Brandy Sauce

• 1 cup brown sugar

• 4 Tbsp. salted butter

• ¼ cup cream

• 2 Tbsp. light corn syrup

• ¼ cup brandy

• ½ cup toasted chopped almonds

In a mixer, combine eggs and sugar, and whip until fluffy. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Beat flour mixture into egg mixture thoroughly. Fold in molasses and mix well. Spread mixture into prepared jelly roll pan, a 10½ x 14½ greased pan, lined with greased waxed paper with a 1-inch overhang. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 12-14 minutes. Dust with granulated sugar and turn out on a piece of sugared waxed paper. Remove paper from cake. Roll up width-wise and chill for 4 hours. When chilled, unroll and spread with cream. Re-roll and chill until serving.

For the cream, in a mixer, combine whipping cream, vanilla and powdered sugar. Whip until peaks form. For the sauce, in a saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter, cream and corn syrup. Bring to a boil while stirring. Reduce heat and cook five minutes. Add brandy and toasted walnuts. Simmer one minute. While cake is on serving platter, spoon sauce over the ginger roll and individual servings.

GUMDROP GINGERBREAD COOKIES

• 1 beaten egg

• 1½ cup light brown sugar

• ½ cup Crisco shortening

• 2½ cup all-purpose flour

• ¾ cup soda

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1½ tsp ground ginger

• 1 tsp cinnamon

• ¼ cup milk

• 1 cup tiny gumdrops

In a mixer, beat egg. Add sugar, shortening, and mix well. Sift flour, soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Alternating with milk, add flour mixture to egg mixture. Mix well. Fold in gumdrops. Drop by spoonful onto greased cookie sheets. Top with a slice of a gumdrop.  Bake in a 375-degree oven for 7 minutes until edges are brown

GINGER PUDDING WITH BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE

• 2 beaten eggs

• 1/3 cup sugar

• ½ cup molasses

• ¼ cup Crisco shortening

• ½ cup hot water

• 2 cups quick or regular uncooked oats

• 1 tsp. soda

• ½ tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. allspice

• ½ tsp. cinnamon

• ½ tsp. ground ginger

In a mixer, beat eggs. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add molasses. Melt shortening in hot water, and add to egg mixture. Mix together oats, soda, salt, and spices and blend well. Add to egg mixture, stirring lightly. Bake in a greased 1½ quart baking dish in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes. Serve warm with sauce. Top with a dollop of sugared whipped cream and drizzle with butterscotch sauce.

Butterscotch Sauce

• 1½ cups dark brown sugar

• 4 Tbsp. flour

• Dash of salt

• 1 cup boiling water

• 2 Tbsp. butter

• ¼ cup whipping cream

• ½ tsp vanilla

In a saucepan, mix sugar, flour and salt. Slowly add boiling water to sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat for eight minutes while stirring. Add butter, cream and vanilla. Serve warm over cake.

GINGERBREAD SOUFFLE WITH GINGER CARAMEL SAUCE

• 3 Tbsp. salted butter

• 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

• 1 cup whole milk

• 1/3 cup sugar

• 1/8 tsp. salt

• 1 Tbsp. cognac (optional)

• 1/8 tsp powdered ginger

• ½ cup chopped preserved or crystallized ginger

• 4 eggs, separated

In a saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour and blend with a whisk. In another pan, bring milk to a boil and add to the butter mixture while stirring with a whisk. Add the sugar, salt, cognac, and ginger. Remove from heat. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Cool. In a mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into the flour mixture. Bake in a greased 2-quart casserole in a 375-degree oven for 35-45 minutes. Top individual servings with ginger caramel sauce. Serve immediately.

Ginger Caramel Sauce

• 1¼ cups light brown sugar

• 2/3 cup light corn syrup

• 1 Tbsp. molasses

• ¼ cup salted butter

• ½ cup heavy cream

• ½ tsp. vanilla extract

• 4 Tbsp. preserved ginger

In a saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, molasses and butter. Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil or 242 degrees on candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add cream, vanilla and ginger. Blend well. Cool.

GINGER SYRUP FOR BEVERAGES

• 1 cup water

• 1 cup sugar

• 1 stick cinnamon

• 10 whole cloves

• ½-inch square of thinly sliced ginger

In a pan, bring water to a boil. Add sugar, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil for seven minutes. Cool. Strain and remove cinnamon stick, cloves, and ginger. Prepare hot or cold beverage of your choice and add 1-2 Tbsp. of ginger syrup.

CREAM FILLED GINGERBREAD COOKIES

• 1 beaten egg

• 1 cup light brown sugar

• ¾ cup Crisco shortening

• 2½ cups all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. baking powder

• ½ tsp. soda

• ¾ tsp. salt

• 1½ tsp. ground ginger

• ½ tsp. dry mustard

• ¼ cup molasses

In a mixer, beat egg. Add sugar and shortening, and beat well. Sift flour, baking powder, soda, salt, ginger and mustard. Add flour mixture into egg mixture alternating with molasses. Mix well. Drop by spoonful, and bake on a greased cookie sheet a 375-degree oven for 12 minutes or lightly browned.

Cream Filling

• 1½ stick salted butter

• ½ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

• ½ tsp. kosher salt

• 12 oz. softened cream cheese

• 1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar

To make the filling, in a saucepan, cook the butter with the vanilla bean and seeds overheat while stirring for four minutes until butter turns brown. Add the salt and stir. Let cool and solidify. Discard vanilla bean before completely solid. In a mixer, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add brown butter and confectioner’s sugar. Beat until smooth. Refrigerate one hour. When ready to use, stir until spreadable. Use 1 Tbsp. between two cookies.

HOT GINGERED CIDER

• 2 quarts apple cider

• 1 cup dried apricot halves

• 1 cup golden raisins

• 1 cup dried apple slices

• ¾ cup ginger-flavored brandy

• 2 cloves

• ½ tsp. ginger

• ¼ tsp. cinnamon

• 1 cup Bourbon

• Cinnamon sticks

Combine all ingredients except the bourbon and cinnamon sticks in a large pan. Let stand at room temperature for at least one hour. Head the cider mixture over medium heat until hot; Remove from heat and remove the cloves. Stir in the bourbon. Garnish cups with cinnamon sticks. Not one to let anything go to waste, I recommend using the leftover marinated fruit to make a yummy spiced cake or fruity cobbler.

CHRISTMAS MILK

• 4 cups milk

• 4 Tbsp. raisins

• 2 Tbsp. chopped, candied ginger

• 4 tsp. honey

• ½ orange, thinly sliced

• ¼ cup whipping cream

• Cinnamon sugar for dusting

In a saucepan, combine the milk raisins, ginger, honey, and orange slices. Heat until almost boiling. Divide the mixture between 6 cups. Whip the cream until foaming and spoon over the drinks. Using a paper stencil in shape of a star, lightly dust the cinnamon sugar over the drinks, leaving star form on top.