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FOR THE KIDS : The Big House : It’s 19 feet tall, it weighs 3,500 pounds, and it’s covered with candy. It’s the Doubletree Hotel’s gingerbread creation.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The challenge was to make a gingerbread house. Yes, said students in six area classrooms.

Their creations are on display next to the Ventura Doubletree Hotel’s own giant gingerbread house, and guests have been invited to vote for their favorites. The winner will be announced Saturday.

One group of students, fifth-graders at Pierpont School in Ventura, created an edible carousel using frosted cookies in the shape of horses and candy canes for poles. Third- and fourth-graders at Oak View School designed a cutaway view of the inside of a ship, using graham crackers.

Another of the entries, a Victorian house with a lollipop roof, came from the kindergarten class at Our Lady of the Assumption School in Ventura.

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“It’s all edible, except for the Santa and Mrs. Santa,” said Darlene Foulks, mother of twins in the class and mastermind behind the project.

The standard the children have to aim for is high, indeed. The Doubletree’s staff, which has built gingerbread houses for four years running, this year has conjured a 19-foot-tall, 3,500-pound gingerbread house.

Its pitched roof and sides are loaded with candy--300 pounds of it, to be exact. Among its ingredients: 450 sheet pans worth of gingerbread, baked over four days; 10 pounds of cinnamon and 120 pounds of egg white. It is not edible.

“Unfortunately, it’s all dried out and very hard,” said Jim Cady, the hotel’s operations manager. When it comes down after Jan. 1, crews throw it all in the trash.

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For more modest gingerbread construction projects, Foulks offered to share some house-baking tips.

First, with her own kids’ help, she made eight batches of ginger cookie mix for a 19-by-19-inch two-story house. (A mix will work as well as a recipe from scratch.) She had cut pieces of cardboard the size of the walls and roof, and cut out holes for the windows. She rolled out the dough and cut pieces the size of the cardboard. Then she baked the dough.

For the stained-glass windows, Foulks prepared a lollipop recipe by heating sugar and water. She put the house together, “cementing” it with a thick frosting mix of powdered sugar, egg whites and cream of tartar. “Once it dries, it’s like glue,” she said.

The kindergartners did the rest of the work, sticking lollipops, licorice, M&Ms; and candy canes into the frosting. They also added penguins on sleds made out of frosting, candy canes and graham crackers.

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If children want to make a smaller, easier house, she recommends using graham crackers instead of gingerbread.

It’s not likely that the kindergartners will eat the gingerbread house after Christmas. “That’s a lot of sugar,” Foulks said. “We may shellac it and save it.”


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