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Craft in America



Tips from the chefs:

  • Have a picture or drawing of a "house" that you want to work from.
  • If you are making your own gingerbread house, make sure the structural part of the house is baked before decorating.
  • If you don't have a gingerbread house mold, you can use cardboard to build a template.
  • Use a microplane on the edges of the baked gingerbread house to ensure straight edges.
  • Gelatin sheets work well for windows. Attach it to the house with royal icing.
  • Royal icing is made of egg whites and powdered sugar. Make sure to sift the powdered sugar 3-4 times to get the lumps out.
  • When you use royal icing to attach the gingerbread house sides together, make sure it's a thicker consistency.
  • When gluing the roof of your gingerbread house, make sure to use extra royal icing and hold the roof in place until secure. Let sit overnight.
  • To create small stones, build it out of gingerbread and bake it at a low temperature to dry it out.
  • To decorate the roof, you can use cereal, crackers, fondant.
  • Fondant, a sugar icing, can be placed in the time machine, kneaded, and rolled out to loosen it up.
  • If you drape fondant on the gingerbread house, the thinner the better.
  • Royal icing can be used to look like snow or icicles as well as attaching decorative elements like candy.
    To make icicles, use a small pastry bag tip.
  • Have fun!
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Tips from Susan Garson:

  • For beginners, a low-fire earthenware clay is very easy to work with.
  • When building the base of the menorah, make sure the walls don't get too thin.
  • The base of the menorah should dry out a bit before placing the bird on it.
  • Make sure the body of the bird is a bit thicker so the candle holes fit.
  • Scratch, score, and add some slip when attaching pieces of clay to each other.
  • When finished building the bird menorah, cover it with plastic and let it dry for about a week.
  • Make sure to bisque fire your bird menorah before painting it.
  • A turntable is very useful when building and painting your menorah.
  • Slip can be made from a little bit of clay and water. Mix it together.
  • Supplies can be found at a craft or hobby store.

Ceramic artist Susan Garson paints a bird menorah.

Ceramic artist Susan Garson talks about the materials needed to build a bird menorah


Decorate the holidays with luminarias

To create your pattern, you will need to create a symmetrical design. Start with a piece of paper and fold it lengthwise, then again in half. Draw a curve to signify the edge of the snowflake and draw your pattern.

Cut out the pattern and open it up to reveal a snowflake. Place a dark piece of paper behind your pattern and xerox it.

To create a luminaria, you will need:

  • pastry bags
  • scissors
  • hole punch

Cut your pattern in half lengthwise. Fold your pastry bag in half lengthwise. Attach your pattern to your pastry bag with paper clips. Kathleen Trenchard suggests cutting your pattern starting with the section on the fold. Then work your way out.

When you have finished cutting your pattern, remove the pattern and unfold and open your pastry bag. Fill it with sand and a tea candle, and you have a luminaria.


Tips from Harley Refsal:

  • Draw a few lines on your wood to guide your first cuts.
  • Start carving in broad strokes, then fill in the details.
  • This style of woodcarving lends itself to carving with facets.
  • Harley Refsal prefers using a single whittling or carving knife.
  • Harley Refsal prefers to use basswood, as it is soft enough to carve but takes detail well.
  • Strap your knife with aluminum oxide and a leather strap, preferably glued to a piece of wood.
  • Harley prefers to strap his knife every couple of hours, strapping it 10-12 times.
  • A sharp knife is safer to carve with.

Woodcarver Harley Refsal talks about the materials needed to carve a holiday figure.

Woodcarver Harley Refsal sharpens knife.


Tips from Veronica Castillo:

  • Veronica suggests using longfire clay or a clay with a little sand in it called raku.
  • If your hands are dry, put a little water on your hands to avoid drying out the clay.
  • Make sure there are no air bubbles in the clay so that it does not explode in the kiln.
  • Tools you will need: wire tool, needle tool

Veronica Castillo builds a Tree of Life Part 2 - Making a Poinsettia

Veronica Castillo builds a Tree of Life Part 3 - Making an Angel

Veronica Castillo builds a Tree of Life - Assembling the Tree of Life

Joulutortut (Finnish Christmas Stars)

makes 36

For Prune Filling:
5 oz. pitted prunes
water to cover prunes
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup sugar (1 ¾ oz.)

For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour (9 oz.)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ cup heavy whipping cream (12 oz.)
1 cup butter, at room temperature (8 oz.)

For finishing:
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
Pearl sugar, for sprinkling

Place prunes and water in a small saucepan and simmer until prunes become very soft, 15-20 minutes. Pour prunes, lemon juice and sugar into a blender and puree. Set prunes aside to cool.

Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside.

Sift together flour and baking powder, set aside. Measure 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, beat whipping cream until it starts to thicken (soft peaks). Using a spatula, add flour to whipped cream, mixture will be crumbly. Now using your hands, work the soft butter into the mixture until well combined, the dough will be sticky. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees F).

Making sure your work surface is well floured; roll the dough out to a rectangle. Fold dough into thirds, rotate dough a quarter of turn and fold into thirds again, making a small square. Turn over dough. Repeat rolling and folding another two times. Finished rolled out dough should be 15×18 inches, trim off edges to get straight lines. Measure and cut dough into 3 inch squares. Then make small cuts in towards the middle of each square. First move each cut square onto baking sheets, and then place a small teaspoonful of prune filling in the center of each square. Fold every second corner into the middle of each square, creating a star shape. Brush with egg wash making sure the center gets a good amount of egg wash to prevent the star from opening up during baking. Sprinkle with Pearl sugar (or regular superfine sugar). Bake for 10 minutes or just until golden. Cool on baking sheet for 1-2 minutes before transferring stars to a cooling rack.