Dec. 24, 2009 -- Nothing conveys the Christmas spirit quite like gingerbread houses, especially the best gingerbread houses in the United States. "Good Morning America" invited some of the winners of the National Gingerbread House Competition to stop by Times Square with their entirely edible works of art.
Ginger spice came to Europe in the 11th century from Asia and the Middle East. As the price came down, more cooks began to use ginger and gingerbread became a popular treat.
The first gingerbread figures were primarily made to represent kings, leaders, animals and religious symbols, until the Brothers Grimm fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel" introduced the idea of an edible candy house.
Nuremberg, Germany, is known as "the gingerbread capital of the world" but Asheville, N.C., might be a close second.
At the 17th annual National Gingerbread House Competition at Asheville's Grove Park Inn and Spa, entries ranged from castles to cathedrals and included representations of the North Pole, the Grand Canal in Venice, toy trains and even the movie "Star Wars."
Some of the winning entries in this year's competition included:
Grand Prize Winner: Jodie Stowe of Polkville, N.C.
"Two Turtle Doves"
Constructed of gingerbread, gum paste and fondant.
This was Stowe's sixth year in the National Gingerbread House Competition. She placed in the Top 10 in 2008. She didn't start on the house until late October and, she said, worked almost non-stop to finish it. She estimates spending about 150 hours working on the creation.
While her entry is not a traditional "house," it is home to two turtle doves, which impressed the judges because of her creative interpretation of a gingerbread home. As the 2009 grand prize winner, Stowe received $3,000 in cash, along with other prizes. Stowe and her husband will use the prize money to adopt a child, she said.
Adult 1st Place: Ann Bailey of Cary, N.C.
"The North Pole Library"
Constructed of gingerbread, gum paste, fondant, and icing.
Bailey started working on her creation in January and worked on it off and on throughout the year. This was her fourth year competing in the National Gingerbread House Competition. She placed in the Top 10 in 2007 and 2008.
Once again, the judges were impressed by her creativity and use of gingerbread. Bailey loves to read, so she used books to make a home the her mice in her creation. The biggest challenge, she said, was getting all the angles correct, resulting in her throwing her first two bookcases in the trash because they weren't perfect. She built her own molds out of copper to make some of the pieces. She estimates spending close to 600 hours before she got this piece just the way she wanted.
National Gingerbread House Competition
Adult 2nd Place: Billie Mochow of Burns, Tenn.
"Cathedral of the Angels"
Constructed of gingerbread, gum paste and icing.
Mochow was inspired by a photograph of Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Her goal was to design a gingerbread creation that appeared to have light coming from it. She built this house from the inside out, which, she said, was very challenging.
The mother and child are made of gingerbread and "dressed" in gum paste. Mochow made her own molds for the lambs and some of the angels. The faceless "people" are gingerbread cookies that were hand cut and dressed to appear dimensional. The trees are stacked ice cream cones.
The judges were impressed by the combination of different geometric shapes. Mochow was the grand prize winner of the National Gingerbread House Competition in 2008.
Adult Top 10: Carolina Montoya and Fernado Puga of Miami
"First Family Holiday House"
Constructed of gingerbread, fondant, gum paste, coconut, crisped rice cereal and breath mint strips for the windows.
This was Montoya's and husband Puga's first entry into the competition. She worked 302 hours on the creation in the course of two months, she said.
Montoya wanted to design something traditional and, although she says she is not a political person, she said, the Obama family set a good example of family togetherness. She said she wanted to inject a top of humor, which is why it looks as though President Obama has climbed out the window and up onto the chimney with a bag full of toys.
All gingerbread house entries have to be entirely edible and, Montoya said, the judges actually pulled off a piece of one of her windows and tasted it, to make sure it was indeed made from breath mint strips.
National Gingerbread House Competition
Adult Top 10: Suzanne Kanaly of Liberty Township, Ohio
Constructed of gingerbread, fondant, sugar paste and salt dough.
This was Kanaly's second year as a competitor and, she said, the goal was to do something different. Because fruitcakes get a bad rap this time of year, she decided to give them a little respect. Her first couple attempts collapsed because of the humidity, she said, so she didn't start the piece until two weeks before the competition.
She had to bake her gingerbread three times to get it hard enough to stay intact and, she said, her oven died five days before the contest. Kanaly spent 133 hours putting her entry together, she said.
Even more photographs of the winning entries can be seen at the Grove Park Inn and Spa's Web site. You can also see the houses on display at the inn in Asheville, through Jan. 3.