Working out of her tiny Cambridge apartment with a pint-size oven, Kristen Coniaris creates gingerbread houses more akin to installation art. Her latest creation of Santa’s workshop required more than 100 pounds of royal icing and took 3½ weeks to build. It won “best in show” at the 25th Anniversary of Housing Families Inc. Gala in Boston earlier this year and was later auctioned and purchased by the Charlestown Working Theatre. It is currently on display at The Cooperative Bank in Charlestown.
To make her houses, Coniaris first designs the ediface using paper and cardboard, repositioning the pieces until they’re a perfect fit. She then codes each piece and deconstructs the model, all while taking careful notes for reassembly. After mixing up batch after batch of gingerbread — from her mother’s recipe, without the leavening — Coniaris uses the coded templates to cut replicas from the dough. Once the pieces are baked, she matches the gingerbread panels together and decorates them one at a time.
Only after everything is dry does she begin construction, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. The key to the gingerbread house longevity: a dehumidifier and full-coverage royal icing. To keep the structure from absorbing moisture, Coniaris painstakingly coats each piece of exposed gingerbread with tinted royal icing, inside and out. To top it all off, Coniaris fashions her own characters and decor out of gum paste and uses a colorful array of candies including jelly beans, candy rocks, sourfruit strips, and hundreds of non-pareils.
The Framingham native earned a degree at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, then moved to California, where she opened Wicked Goodies, to create designer wedding cakes. While there she upped her game, entering into several gingerbread building competitions. Since moving back to the Boston area, Coniaris suffered from a debilitating back injury restricting her abilities in a professional kitchen.
Despite the setback, she bakes on, focusing on gingerbread construction and writing cake decorating instructional e-books. Her first self-published book, “Cake Decorating With Modeling Chocolate,” is set to be released this spring. She has plans for books on baker’s tools, industry tips, and eventually a coffee table-style book of all her gingerbread designs.
Kristen Coniaris’s gingerbread house is on display at The Cooperative Bank, 201 Main St., Charlestown. To see more of her work and download her
upcoming book, go to www.wickedgoodies.net.